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Raw vs Polished Production Quality: Which Should Your Band Utilize?


Have you ever discovered a band and liked their sound, only to think their production sounded a bit too rusty? Or maybe you’ve been following a band ever since their early days, and now that they’re gaining success, their recordings sound a little polished.

You’re not crazy for thinking these thoughts. All of these nuances have to do with the production quality. Production encompasses everything that occurs when a band records an album and how the engineer mixes and masters the album.

Want to discover what makes an album sound raw and what makes an album sound polished? Continue reading for more information.

What Makes an Album Sound Raw?

An album can sound raw for a variety of reasons:

  • How the band/musician recorded the track(s)
  • The amount of additional production
  • The quality of the recording equipment used

Let’s go into the first point — the number of times a band records a track or the whole album. Why does this matter? One aspect of the “raw” sound are minor imperfections.

For example, let’s say a vocalist sings off-key for a bit or the drummer misses a beat. While these may seem like flaws, many music fans think these imperfections add character.

If a band or musician records a whole track in one or two takes, there will more than likely be some errors on their part. However, the artist will likely sound perfect on recording if they record each track little-by-little or redo parts where they messed up.

This leads up to our next point — additional production. The examples depend on the artist, the style of music, and what occurs during the mixing and mastering phases. But additional production has one end goal: ensure the recording sounds as perfect as possible while still pertaining to the band’s sound.

Which is why recording equipment quality matters. If you were to record your band on an eight-track tape, it will sound more raw and old-school compared to recording your band in a professional studio.

Does this mean only DIY bands and basement audio engineers utilize the raw production style? Not at all. You can hear raw recording style in many well-known modern bands who went to a professional audio engineer for their recordings. We will discuss this and some raw classics later in the article.

What an Engineer Does to Perfect an Album

As stated previously, the exact recording and production process falls into the individual band and engineer. But the same general premise happens during the recording and producing phase.

In order for an album to sound virtually perfect, the musician will likely record multiple takes of each song. They may also record each separate part; for example, they can record the verse and then the chorus separately. If they slipped up at any point, the engineer may instruct them to re-record that part.

From here, the engineer will cut and splice the track with all of the good takes.

Other examples of this are fixing any tuning issues and even reprogramming any instruments that sounded off or weren’t present during the recording (for example, a band without a bassist or a drummer).

After the band records, it’s time for the mixing engineer to do their work. They will take all of the tracks that the recording engineer gathered and will mix all of the elements of the tracks. They will edit these tracks so they all blend in perfectly, ensuring one instrument doesn’t dominate over another.

This process prevents the band from recording together, i.e. in unison. The mixing process highlights each separate instrument and leaves out any flaws, resulting in a more polished mix.

From here, mastering perfects the sound as a whole. The mastering engineer ensures the album is optimized for all formats (digital, CD, etc.).

In addition, mastering ensures the album has a consistent sound. These small details also help make an album sound polished.

Pros and Cons of Both

Raw production quality will:

  • Ensure the listener is hearing the most organic version of the band
  • The band will sound more like the album live
  • Many listeners prefer raw production
  • Raw production works for specific music styles (metal, etc.)

But raw production quality also has some setbacks. This includes:

  • More mistakes and flaws
  • Risking no sound uniformity
  • Risk getting tracks “lost in the mix”

This is why many music artists opt for better-quality and more polished production. Reasons include:

  • Better album quality overall
  • Band will likely be satisfied with their final masters
  • Ensures the album is optimized for all formats
  • Sound uniformity

But there are drawbacks of polished production. For the bands and their label, all of this work is usually more expensive. Some bands may not be satisfied with high-end production and they want that gritty feel to their album.

Best Examples of Raw Albums With Great Audio Quality

You can listen to raw production quality in just about every album from your parent’s record collection. Well-known artists such as Neil Young have an underproduced and organic vibe to their music. Other great examples include bands from the psychedelic era, such as early Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Country Joe and the Fish.

Today, raw audio production is favored in metal music. Most metal fans will think of bands such as Gojira or Mastodon when they think of that perfect mesh between raw and audio production. On the more raw side, you can hear this production in modern extreme metal bands, such as Bloodbath and Exhumed.

Rock and metal music aren’t the only styles to utilize raw production. You can hear this style in hip hop, where the beats are basic and don’t overcrowd the rapper’s lyrics.

A great example is Eminem’s classic “The Marshall Mathers” LP. The beats are powerful enough to get stuck in your head. Eminem’s classic aggressive rapping style will give any listener goosebumps. But the album isn’t overproduced or polished and you feel like you’re getting to the core of Marshall while you listen.

The Final Verdict

So should your album sound more raw or more polished? Well, you decide what’s best for your album! There’s no right or wrong way to produce an album.

If you want a highly-polished album that accentuates every detail, discuss this with your production team. If you prefer a raw and aggressive sound, there’s a producer who can offer this for you.

Knowing your desired production value will ensure you’re satisfied with your album!


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About me

About Björgvin Benediktsson

I’m Björgvin Benediktsson. I’m a musician, audio engineer and best-selling author. I help musicians and producers make a greater impact with their music by teaching them how to produce and engineer themselves. I’ve taught thousands of up and coming home studio producers such as yourself how to make an impact with their music through Audio Issues since 2011.

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