The recording industry is constantly on the lookout for new talent, new sounds, and new styles. Music producers and artist and repertoire (A&R) executives are responsible for finding the new talent and arranging the contract negotiations for a recording contract. They keep track of the musicians that are performing in clubs and concerts. They also keep in touch with the recording artists that are well known.
A new artist is either approached by a representative of a record company, or the artist sends in a three-to-four-song demo tape to the A&R department of one or more companies. If the representative is interested in the artist's work, arrangements are then made between the company and the artist or the artist's manager. The contract may be for a single recording or a series of recordings.
For relatively unknown artists, an independent label is the most likely place to arrange a contract. The A&R staff for independent labels are most active in finding and representing artists or less mainstream types of music. Multiple-release contracts are common for independent labels, and if the artist becomes extremely popular, the contract may be bought out by a major record label. The independent label promotes albums to a lesser degree, and for the smallest labels, the artist may be responsible for all album promotion. In rock, jazz, country, and rap music, many currently successful artists began on independent labels. In the last decade, to avoid buying-out expensive contracts for bands on independent labels, many of the major labels now have smaller subsidiaries that seek out progressive, up-and-coming artists who, once they have reached a certain level of success on the subsidiary label, will make a smooth transition to the major label.
For the established performer or group, contract negotiations may be carried out between several companies vying for rights to publish the performers' work. Musicians generally benefit as each company tries to make the best offer.
Once the contract arrangements have been settled, the process of recording an album can begin. The songs that are to be recorded are decided by the artist and the music producer assigned to the artist. Artists on a major label may have to compromise their music to fit mainstream music tastes closely observed by industry executives. Independent labels generally allow musicians to record whatever they want and often encourage experimentation. The record producer hires studio musicians, recording technicians, and support staff.
During a recording session, more than one recording is made of the same song. With each recording, audio recording engineers vary input levels, microphone placement, and other factors that affect the recorded sound. The best sections from each version of the song can be put (or spliced) together for the best result. Each instrument and voice can be recorded separately onto its own track and combined later by recording engineers, who specialize in mixing different recorded sounds into a unified whole. Mixing the recording is one of the most important jobs performed in the production of a recording and can influence the sound as much as the musicians can.
For popular music, recording engineers use their tools of recording in a variety of ways to influence sound or to create entirely new sounds. With modern computer-aided recording and manipulation equipment, engineers and producers have increased control over the final sound, mood, and intensity of a recording. Recording engineers can change the sound of individual instruments, speed up or slow down tempo, correct missed or skipped beats, edit out unwanted sections and splice in a new section, and perform numerous other tasks in preparing the final version of a recording.
To record a live performance, the technical end is just as important, but the performer only has one shot at the recording. After the performance, the engineer can work with the different tracks of tape to edit flaws and outside noises and juggle with the volume and intensity to smooth over rough patches in the performance.
One of the most important aspects to the recording of a live performance is the position of the microphones. The location of microphones for a symphony determines the strength of the different sections of the orchestra. If solo performers are to be heard, individual microphones may be assigned to their positions on the stage. To maintain a balanced sound in the reproduction of a large performance such as a symphony, the sound recording technician's goal is to match the recorded sound with the balance that is achieved for the audience sitting in an orchestral hall.
Once the recording is finished and the album put together, or mastered, the production department takes over. This department is responsible for producing the actual recording in CD and occasionally vinyl versions. The press run (the total number of releases produced) is determined by previous sales of the artist, and the anticipated increase or decrease in sales for the release. For new musicians, labels establish a new artist press run ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 copies. The A&R and promotion departments are responsible for knowing the market and the estimated value of a recording. Repressing a recording that is selling well is an easy process once the master is made.
While the album is in production, the art department is producing cover art and inside art if there is any. Type design is chosen for all written matter. Various designs are presented to the company representative, the artists, and the record producer for approval. For smaller companies, the artists may make all the final decisions on art and packaging. A final design is selected and then completed by the artists. For reissued albums, the art department may decide on its own what design to use on the cover. Musicians on independent labels are often responsible for creating their own artwork.
The marketing department of the record company creates the ads that will run in music magazines, on the radio, and on television for each album produced. Posters, show cards, displays, and any other promotional material are designed and developed in the advertising department as well. Advertising can greatly enhance sales of an album by generating an interest in the album either before its release or after it has been moved into the stores.
One of the chief methods of generating interest in a release is airplay on the radio. The promotions department is expected to keep up to date on the staff and audience of radio stations. They should be aware of what audiences are covered in each region of the country and how to best promote the new product to the audience interested in that type of music.
Possibly even more important, than radio play for commercially successful rock, country, and rap music today is having a strong presence on social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, releasing videos through YouTube and similar Web sites, and exposure on highly rated television shows.
The promotions and publicity department is responsible for sending out copies of the recording to reviewers, along with press kits providing information and photos of the artist. This press package is mainly geared toward the airplay time that can be generated by favorable reviews and frequent audience requests to the radio station. Other forms of publicity used to create an interest in the recording include concert performances, interviews on television and radio, press coverage in the printed media, public appearances, and any other promotion that brings the artist into the public eye.
Once album sales are underway, determining the success or failure of a recording is directly linked to the number of recordings sold whether via download or on physical media. For a successful classical album, the number sold may be 5,000 to 10,000 copies. For a popular music album, the numbers are more likely to approach or exceed 1 million copies. Well-known performers regularly have sales that exceed 1 million copies and/or downloads. Sales of most albums decline quickly after release, while other albums may be marketed successfully for years.