Record a Full Metal Song (Complete Guide)

By Jason Stallworth

September 11, 2020


You’ve got the process down for laying your own guitar tracks. Heck, you’ve got 20+ metal riff ideas in your studio as we speak!

Now it’s time to take it to the next level and record a full song, from start to finish.

This is more than just music. This is YOUR song and it’s part of your legacy. It’s your creation and you have a duty to complete it and put it out there for the world to hear!

That’s why I created this complete guide for recording a full metal song. I’m going to show you every step of the way. And I’ll also address all of the questions you’ve been asking yourself like…

‘what do I do for drums?’
‘how do I mix my song?’
‘how do I get my song on Spotify, iTunes, etc?

Don’t fret! I’m going to answer these questions for you and will be covering every aspect of recording your metal song.

Contents

First Guitar Track and Establishing Tempo
Expanding Your Initial Drum Patterns
2nd Rhythm Guitar Track ’Secret Sauce for Rhythm Guitars’
Recording Clean or Ambient Rhythm Tracks
Recording Your Bass Guitar Track
Getting Real Drums for Your Song
Recording Vocals Tracks
Recording Your Lead Guitar Track
Your Final Mix: DIY vs Outsourcing
Mastering Your Song
How to Submit Your Song for Release

**Below is the video version of this post. However, this post contains more updates and details than the video, so I encourage you to read the entire post.

First Guitar Track and Establishing Tempo

This first step is a two-part step. And this is the most important part of the process because everything else is going to be based on this one thing.

You have your initial riff. In fact, if I had to guess you’ve recorded that riff idea in your DAW.

However, let’s start from scratch. Here are the initial steps I want you to take:

  1. Open your DAW
  2. Create a new session (song)
  3. Create 2 new tracks in this session
  4. One track will be for your first rhythm guitar (if you’re using amp sims, you can drag that plugin into this track now)
  5. The second track is going to be for your initial drum patters, and I’ll go more into that below…

IMPORTANT: These are not the drums you’re going to be using for your final song. I’m going to show you exactly what to do for the real drums later in this post!

For now, you will use a program like Toontrack’s EZDrummer.
**You can get access to EZDrummer and all of the studio gear I use here: Jason’s Gear Page.

If you don’t have a drum program, I suggest getting one as this is going to help you with the songwriting process and recording these initial guitar and bass tracks.

If buying a drum program is simply not in your recording budget, then look for loops or drum beats in your DAW. Most recording software programs come with some sort of drum patterns you can use.
If all else fails, you can always use the click track.

Finding and Setting Tempo

recording metal guitar studio

Now you have everything you need in place to establish the tempo for your song. So you’ll need to adjust your BPM (beats per minute) in your DAW. Typically this is somewhere towards the bottom of your DAW.

Set your BPM to what you think your song needs to be. If you don’t know where to start, here’s some guidance for finding what your BPM should be:

SongBandBPM
Ghost Love ScoreNightwish101
PoisonAlice Cooper119
Watching Over MeIced Earth129
South Side of HeavenSlayer138
Peace SellsMegadeth140
BlacklistExodus150
Practice What You PreachTestament188
DownfallChildren of Bodom198
Master of PuppetsMetallica212

Below are the next steps for establishing your tempo. Just know that this will require a little back and forth, so be patient.

  • Set the BPM in your DAW
  • Go into your drum program and start listening to different loops
  • Once you find a loop that best fits your riff, drag that loop into the 2nd track you created for your drums
  • Continue adjusting the BPM until you lock something in that feels right for your song

At this point, you’re ready to record your first initial guitar track. So there are two steps left within this first step, and this is a neat little trick I use that will save you time and frustration…

  1. Take that loop and duplicate up to about 4 minutes (most DAWs will have a shortcut option for this; in Presonus Studio One, it’s the ‘D’ key, so I’ll just hold that down until I have about 4 minutes of loops)
  2. Record your first guitar track!

**Those duplicated loops are just to help you keep time as you record that first guitar track. You will be refining these in the next step.

Expanding Your Initial Drum Patterns

You may be wondering why you’re spending so much time on programmed drums if you’re not going to use them for the final mix.

There are a few reasons for this…

  1. It’s more inspiring to record guitars to an actual beat than a click track
  2. This next step is going to help you formulate your song structure (verse, chorus, bridge, etc.)
  3. This will also give your drummer a better idea of what you’re looking for in the song when it comes time for real drums

So now that you have your first guitar track recorded with that initial series of loops, it’s time to go back into your drum machine and start figuring out where the changes are in the song.

You’ll want to explore different loops and patterns so that you can have those differentiations throughout your song. I recommend focusing on the big parts first, the verses and choruses.

  • For example, you may like the initial loop you’re using for the choruses of your metal song.
  • The next step would be to find an appropriate loop for the verses.
  • And to make it easier, you can use the same loop for all verses and the same for all choruses.

Here’s an EZDrummer video tutorial that will help you with this process…

You don’t have to spend relentless hours on this part. But you do want separate patterns for each part of your song.

Next, work on the smaller parts by finding different loops for the bridge, solo parts, intro, and outro.

**TIP: Once you expand and enrich the programmed drums, you may find it beneficial to go back and re-record that first guitar track.

Whew, it’s been a lot of work up to this point! Well, I’ve got some awesome news. It’s pretty much downhill from here.

From here on, it’s going to be focusing on the performances until you get down to mixing. And this next step will more than likely be your favorite…

2nd Rhythm Guitar Track ’Secret Sauce for Rhythm Guitars’

playing Ibanez guitar in the studio recording

This next part of the process is going to be awesome because it’s the thing that’s going to make your metal song come to life!

You’re going to record another rhythm guitar track. But there’s something I like to call my secret sauce…a specific method that I’m going to share with you.

  1. Duplicate your first guitar track to create another guitar track (don’t duplicate the actual recording, just the track…this will carry over any amp sims and effects to that new track)
  2. Now pan your first guitar all the way to the let
  3. Pan the track you just created all the way to the right
  4. Record your 2nd rhythm guitar track

Here’s a video guide how to pan your guitar tracks in the studio when recording your metal song…

This is going to give you a true stereo effect. And it’s also going to help you keep the timing of your riffs tighter and in sync as you record this next guitar track.

**TIP: If you decide to add more rhythm guitars to your metal song, you can just replicate this process for those tracks. You don’t necessarily have to hardpan all of your guitar tracks.

Just don’t let all of the guitars up the middle…that will make your mix sound muddy.

Recording Clean or Ambient Rhythm Tracks

Your metal song may call for clean or ambient guitar parts. You can simply add another track for these the same way you did with your other guitar tracks.

These types of tracks will normally be recorded up the middle or in stereo (you know how us metal guitarists like to use stereo chorus on our clean tones).

And some ambient tracks have delays and reverbs that may sound better in stereo. So if that’s the case, make sure you set that specific track to stereo before you record it.

Here’s a video guide on how to record clean and ambient guitar tones using plugins…

**TIP: If you want an organic stereo effect, try using an analog chorus, record two clean guitar tracks, and hardpan each like you did your metal rhythm tracks.

Recording Your Bass Guitar Track

You may get to this point and think ‘Ah, this is the easy part!’

In theory, recording your bass track will probably be the more simple part of the song recording process. But you don’t want your bass to be the weakest link.

Many of us guitarists prefer to lay our own bass tracks. And that’s fine. However, there are some things to think about so I’m going to give you three ‘basic’ rules for recording metal bass…

  • Rule 1: The bass does not have to play every single note that the guitars are playing – in other words, don’t play your bass like a guitar!
  • Rule 2: On the contrary, make sure the bass is filling in those dead spots and carrying a solid rhythm throughout the song
  • Rule 3: Make sure the bass guitar has a nice balance of not being overpowering but is also pronounced and heard (we’ll talk more about this when we get tot he mixing section)

**You can read more about learning the proper way to play and record bass for your metal song in this post: How to Not Play Bass Like a Guitar Player

Getting Real Drums for Your Song

In the beginning, you spent a lot of time on drum programming. For that reason, you may be tempted to just continue using that and not worrying about real drums.

I get it but hang in here with me for a second (and learn from my mistakes!).

First, let’s talk about the challenges you have with recording real drums for your metal song…

  • You’re not a drummer!
  • You don’t know any drummers
  • You play or know someone who plays drums but you don’t have the professional drum mics or the proper space to record drums
  • Your song has a tight budget and hiring a session drummer or paying for studio time is expensive

For starters, I highly recommend making sure real drums get first consideration in your recording budget. You can get away with using fake drums in most genres, but not metal.

**There may be exceptions for programmed drums, such as for instrumental music or if you’re going for more of an industrial metal sound. But even then, your song will be so much more impactful with real drums.

This is the one thing that can hold up your music project for months. And some musicians will throw in the towel completely.

But don’t give up, and don’t settle…

How to Hire a Drummer

I’m going to give you some viable options for getting a real drummer to record drums tracks for your metal song:

First, recording just one song is not going to break the bank (you can probably skip down to the next section at this point and just go hire a real drummer!)

  • Ask your musician friends if they know a drummer who has their own home recording studio setup
  • Consider bartering services with a drummer (you record guitars or vocals for one of their songs and they record drums for yours)
  • Search for drummers for hire on places like Fiverr, Airgigs, or Soundbetter
  • Reach out to the drummer I hire for my albums and projects, Cameron Fleury

There are so many drummers and musicians for hire and are eager to record for you. Yes, it costs money. But it’s one investment that you will never regret.

**TIP: When hiring a drummer, make sure you provide the BPM of the song and whether they should follow the guidance of the programmed drums or if you want them to just do their own thing with it. A combination of both will usually work best.

It’s also a good idea to write out the times of each section of your song to provide to the drummer like this…

0:00 – 0:27 – intro
0:28 – 1:07 – verse 1
1:08 – 1:43 – chorus 1
…and so forth

You get the idea. This really helps the drummer differentiate those parts of the song and will make their process smoother.

Recording Vocal Tracks

recording death metal vocals

Recording vocals is the most delicate part of recording any song. There’s so much at stake because the vocals are the forefront of the music.

**If you’re just recording an instrumental song, you can skip to the next section that talks about recording your lead guitar tracks.
Or better yet, you should probably read the vocal part anyway because it’s going to be helpful information!

There are two things of huge importance when it comes to recording vocals in the studio:

  1. You have to have the right type of gear setup and ready
  2. You need to the right environment that’s going to inspire an amazing vocal performance

Here’s all of the hardware and software you need for recording metal vocals…

**You can also read the blog post version of this in my post: Complete Guide to Recording Death Metal Vocals

The gear you need for recording vocals is similar to recording guitars or anything else. But there are a few extras, which are…

  • Proper mic (you can’t beat the Shure SM7B mic for metal vocals!) and mic stand
  • High-quality closed-back headphones (open-back headphones will allow bleeding into the mix)
  • Proper vocal plugin chain (you can use the plugins that come with your DAW to create this…compressor, EQ, reverb, delay).
  • Proper room treatment

For the most part, you can easily set this up in your home studio. But it’s also not a bad idea to go to a larger studio that already has the proper vocal setup.

Now your greatest concern is the vocal performance. This is kind of like working out at a gym with all the mirrors and motivating atmosphere versus working out with only 1-2 pieces of equipment cramped in the corner of a room.

Whether you’re singing or you have someone else singing on your song, you want to create a certain ambiance that’s going to inspire the most awesome vocal performance in the universe of metal!

**For more on this, be sure to check out Metal Mastermind’s Golden Rule of Recording.

Recording Your Lead Guitar Track

metal tone with a real amp

Recording lead guitars for your metal song is either going to be your favorite or most frustrating part of the process!

If you’re like me, it’s nothing to record 100 takes of what should be a simple 20-second guitar solo. Us musicians can be our own worst enemy at times.

The process for recording your guitar solos is the same as recording any guitar track. But I’m going to share a few things that will make this process smoother for you.

  • It’s a good idea to go ahead and create 2 lead guitar tracks
  • Break your solos up into sections
  • Record the first section on one track
  • Use that other track for the 2nd section
  • Repeat until you have your guitar solo recorded
  • Afterwards, you can leave it as-is, or create a 3rd lead guitar track, mute the other two, and record the entire solo in one shot

I’ve found this process to eliminate so much frustration! So I encourage you to try it.

In addition, here’s a video I made showing you how to construct guitar solos. This may help you get over some of those creative humps…

Harmonizing Guitar Solos

Also, you may have some leads where you want that harmonizing effect. Many guitarists will just use a pitch shifter or harmonizer plugin. But there’s a way to make your solos sound more organic and more awesome.

Create 2 lead guitar tracks for this specific purpose. Hardpan each track just like you did with your two rhythm guitar tracks.

  • Lead Track 1: play the melody lead
  • Lead Track 2: play the harmony lead

This will sound absolutely beautiful!! It does take a little time to figure out the harmonies. But it’s so worth it.
HINT: play the 3rd note for the harmony and you can’t go wrong!

Also, if you’re using this method for the harmony leads, keep these two lead tracks separate from the others (in other words, allow these to have their own tracks).

The reason is you’ll want to cut down the gain and amount of delay for the harmonizing solo parts. Too much of those can make these particular types of solos lose clarity.

Here’s a video tutorial that shows you exactly how to write and record harmonizing guitar solos for that organic pitch shift sound…

Your Final Mix: DIY vs Outsourcing

It’s the ‘Final Countdown!’ Or rather the final mix…

The final mix is the thing that can make or break your song. You can have done everything perfect up to this point but a bad mix will destroy your art. And that’s not cool.

There are two ways you can go about mixing your song:

  1. Mix it yourself
  2. Hire someone else to handle the mixing

Of course, there are pros and cons to both.

Mixing your own song might make sense at first because you already have a good idea of what you want the finished product to sound like. You’re also familiar with almost every aspect of the song and all of the components of each track that affect the song.

The downside to mixing it yourself is that another audio engineer may hear things that you don’t, which can add more potential and substance to the song.

Hiring someone else to mix your song can add new dimensions to your song that you may have not thought of before. And I really good engineer or producer can make our song sound bigger.

The downside to this is not wanting to let go of certain elements of your song and the fear that the producer may not share your same vision.

**TIP: The best solution is for you to spend time mixing your song but also have someone else mix it. Then compare the two. But also have other people that will give you the brutal truth compare the two mixes as well.

And if you’re going to mix your own song, I challenge you to really spend time learning about mixing. Don’t just wake up one day and decide you’re going to mix your song on a whim.

Take the time to learn the process, and learn your gear.

Mastering Your Song

First understand that mixing and mastering are two separate processes. And this often calls for a segregation of duties.

**If the same person doing the mixing is also doing the mastering, have them to these processes on separate days.

Many, and this was me at one point, think that mastering is just increasing the loudness. But it’s actually much more.

Mixing is all about each individual track while mastering is looking at the song from a higher lense. Sure, loudness is part of that. But there are also things like limiting, adjusting frequencies that might be clashing, adding warmth, reducing harshness…things like that.

In most cases, I strongly recommend that you hire someone else to master your song. Even if you’re mixing your own song, have a pro handle this part.

You need that extra pair of ears and you also want to put this in the hands of someone who masters songs and albums consistently.

How to Submit Your Song for Release

Your metal song is recorded, mixed, and mastered. Now it’s time to share it with the world?

In the old days you had to hope to get signed by a label. But today, you can release your music as an independent band or artist.

There are several digital music distribution services you go through for this. A few are:

  • Bandcamp
  • CD Baby
  • Tunecore
  • Distrokid

You’ll basically sign up with the service and they will instruct you on what steps to take, song format, artwork, etc. In fact, you can read this post on how to do all of that here: Release Your Song – Part 3: Submitting and Scheduling Your Song

Now, the benefit of being independent is that is you get to keep the majority of your profits. The downside is you don’t have some major label promoting you, so you’re now responsible to promote your own music.

You can read more about how to promote your new metal song in this post: Release Your Song – Part 4: Promoting Your Song.

**Parts 1 and 2 in that series are also worth reading, so be sure to check those out.

Your Music, Your Legacy

I truly hope this complete guide to recording a full metal song helped you.

I encourage you to save this post in your favorites so that you can quickly refer back to it.

**And also because I made updates to posts like these when things change or if I learn something that will be helpful to add.

Jason Stallworth Metal Music

Remember, this is your legacy. Your music is your own creation.

There’s nothing more beautiful, more authentic, and more powerful than that.

Be encouraged, never stop or give up, and press on!

Keep it Metal,

Jason

Jason Stallworth

About the author

Melodic death metal with a side of thrash is what my music is all about. My goal is to deliver quality metal music you!

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