Lessons Learned From My Band’s Latest EP

| Mixing, My Music, Plugins, Pro Tools, Tips

So just this week my band released our most recent EP entitled Lower. It’s a simple 5 song album that was tracked, mixed, and mastered in my own project studio. I thought today I would not only share it with you, but highlight a few lessons (good and bad) that I learned from this specific project.

Less Is More

I would say the biggest lesson that was re-enforced on this project was that less is more in the recording phase. I think I did this well when it came to guitars. During the tracking process I kept stripping away guitar parts until we were left with the absolute foundational parts. This made the songs easier to mix and they sounded bigger in the long run. Go figure.

On the flip side, I didn’t apply this lesson well with drums. I only used 8 microphones on the drums, but honestly it was a few too many. I recorded top and bottom snare, inside and outside kick, two toms, and a pair of overheads. In the mix I ended up deleting the bottom snare mic on every song and panning the overheads in super narrow. In the future I would probably drop to a mono overhead, one snare mic, and maybe even one kick drum mic.

Percussion Is Your Friend

I am convinced that just about every song could use some element of percussion in addition to the drum kit, at some point in the track. In fact so many songs I go back and listen to have shaker or tambourine in them, but I could have sworn to you that it wasn’t the case. Over the years I’ve become sold on the power of a simple tambourine loop so I finally went out and bought one for the studio. An actual tambourine that is.

On past albums for myself (and clients) I’ve simply brought in a tambourine loop from my loop collection where needed, time stretched it, and called it a day. This time I bought the darn thing, had by drummer rock out with it, and just like that we had instant energy and texture to make the mixes engaging where they needed to be. The same is true for shakers. Grab a salt shaker from your kitchen and mic that puppy up. It really works!

Deadlines Really Work

A major non-audio related lesson that was proved true yet again on this project was that deadlines not only work, but they are your tool to creating great art. We started tracking drums late last fall with the hopes that the whole EP would be recorded by Christmas. It’s only 5 songs for goodness sake. Turns out people’s schedules (and work) got in the way. I’m sure you can relate.

As the new year rolled in I knew I had to set a few deadlines if we wanted to actually finish this thing. I gave us till the end of January to record everything. Guess what? We somehow made it happen. Then I gave myself till the end of February to have it all mixed and mastered. Guess what? I got it done.

In the back of my mind I thought it would be awesome to release the whole thing on March 31st (which was Easter and my 30th birthday), so I coordinated with our artwork designer and the duplication house and scrambled to get it all in on time. You know what happened by now, don’t you? We got it all done and released the EP both digitally and physically on March 31st. Exactly on time! The power of a looming deadline should not be underestimated my friends.

What We Used On This EP

Everything on this EP was tracked in one room in my project studio, starting with drums and then overdubbing from there. The only exception is Let Us Plead For Faith Alone, which started out with a live guitar and vocal recording and then we layered from there.

For drums we used a pair of Rode NT1as for overheads, Shure Beta 52 inside the kick, a Kel HM7U outside the kick drum, Kel HM1 and HM2d on the toms, and a Shure SM57 on the snare top. Bass was tracked direct with a SansAmp Bass Driver (which is pretty cool), guitars amps were miked up with a Kel HM2d and sometimes with an SM57. The acoustic guitar was miked with a Kel HM1. Vocals were recorded with a Rode NT1a. Anything else you hear was a virtual instrument with stock stuff from Pro Tools.

We used a PreSonus Eureka and my Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56 for preamps/converters and tracked it all to Pro Tools 10. Once it was all in the box, it stayed there. This EP was mixed and mastered with some of my trusty plugins from Avid, Waves, Slate Digital, and Ozone. In fact if you watched last month’s 5 Minutes To A Better Mix then you saw a lot of what plugins I used to bring these mixes together.

Take A Listen

So, how does it sound? You can decide for yourself. I think it came out pretty darn well. I still have a handful of things I’d do differently, but that’s not unusual. Please take a listen, and if you feel so inclined, download your own copy. Thanks in advance!

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87 Responses to “Lessons Learned From My Band’s Latest EP”

    • Dustin

      Yeah the EP sounds great! It would be awesome to maybe see how you went from your dry vocals to the finished mix vocals on this record. I’m guessing just reverb, comp, and delay? Anyway great vocal and guitar sounds!!

      Reply
      • Graham

        Yeah, just the SSL Channel Strip on vocals, and the CLA-2a following. Some verbs and delays where needed.

        Reply
    • Graham

      Nothing really to configure. Just the NT1a into the Eureka and dialed in the gain as needed. Just a slight bit of gentle compression to catch peaks.

      Reply
  1. Michael R.

    Songs sounded awesome!

    How did you do your vocals? That always seems to be the one thing I can’t figure out.

    Reply
  2. Mikey W

    Hi Graham. The mixes sound great!

    Your tutorials have been a massive help for me whilst mixing my own band so thank you for that.

    Did you say that you mastered these tracks yourself too? They sound nice and loud, and clean.

    Any chance you could make a vid outlining the kind of processes you used?

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  3. Dan Updegraff

    Great tunes Graham, and a good job ordering and balancing them on the album!

    Regarding percussion, how did you decide on which tambourine to buy? I’ve been looking getting one too, but they all sound different (some brighter than others). Is it just personal preference?

    Best of luck on the album. Hope it goes Platinum!

    Reply
    • Graham

      I just grabbed the first one I saw at the store :-) If it needs to be brighter there is always an EQ :-)

      Reply
  4. Noah Copeland

    Sounds great! But we already knew that from the 5min series ;)
    I have to ask, why did you not record live? From what I’ve collected, you’re pretty big on recording live, so why did you feel it’d be better doing it overdubbed for this situation?

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi Noah, I generally DON’T record live. I like the control I get with overdubbing the band one at a time. But it’s always a trade off.

      Reply
  5. Jojo

    Hey Graham,
    this sounds awesome.

    And, a bit late, but from my heart, best wishes for your birthday and for your new decade.

    Jojo

    Reply
  6. Josh

    Hey Graham as always the new tracks sound great! I have actually been searching for a while about a trick you used at the start of “Lift Up Your Heads.” At the very end of the pre intro you have a swooping effect that cuts from the radio style effect to the full band sound. I was wondering what you used to do that? I’m hearing a ride symbol that comes in with the effect but is that all you used? Thanks in advance for the help

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi Josh, that was a series of things happening to get the effect. First I used EQ and distortion to make the drums/vocals have a dirty telephone effect. Also used some crazy delay to make them swim around. Then I used some lofi/vinyl type plugin to degrade the quality even more. Then used a reverse cymbal swell up until the snare drum hits come in. Just used automation to turn off all the effects at that point.

      Reply
  7. Diego

    Great sounding mixes and the most important thing is, great music! After all that’s what really matters in the end!

    Reply
  8. Eric C

    I’m really impressed, Graham! The EP sounds incredible, especially when it comes to the low end. You achieved a clear bass tone that jives well with the kick, and I can FEEL it! Just out of curiosity, do you have any pictures of your project studio? If not, how large is it? The drums don’t sound like they were tracked in a HUGE room, but I don’t hear any strange frequencies/boxiness that most smaller rooms cause. Not that my opinion has any weight, but I’d give this album a 10/10. God bless!

    Reply
  9. Luke

    Can anyone say goose bumps and chills? These tracks sound fabulous Graham! Great work. I aspire to get this quality and vibe. I think it’s time to watch EVERY 5 minute video again. Marathon time!

    Reply
  10. Vincent

    Hey Graham, it was a lot of fun to see these songs come together over the past month or so. The final mixes sound great! You always present excellent content for free, so I felt the least I could do was pick up this EP to show my thanks. The little excerpts of choruses and verses here or there in the videos had a tendency to get stuck in my head. So I’m excited to be able to rock out to the full songs now. :)

    Take care, man. I look forward to more RR!

    Reply
  11. Peter McLennan

    Hey Graham,
    Just a great sound so consistent across the five tracks,
    but the start to “We Draw Near” is as tasteful and moody
    as anything I’ve heard. Congratulations!

    Reply
  12. Luis

    First let me say, awesome praise and worship brother, This music really speaks to my spirit and brings me into God’s presence. And secondly congrats on an all around QUALITY product. I’ve only been doing this for so long and can only discern so much but, from beginning to end it sounds legit to me.

    Reply
  13. Adrian Tello

    Great songs! Great sound. Are you gonna sell it in iTunes?. Good job.

    Reply
  14. Zach

    Great EP! Good job, Graham. Wanted to say thanks for creating the 5 Minutes To A Better Mix. I’ve been mixing bands and sound designing for independent movies for almost ten years and I’ve picked up some great tips from this series. Everyday is a learning process and each project needs a unique touch.

    I agree with many of the posts here, great vocal sounds! Graham, any plans to do a 5 Minutes To A Better Tracking Session? I would love to see your philosophy on the recording process. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  15. Khaled Mosli

    Such a wonderful job Graham! You guys are super talented. Thank you for the gift, we enjoyed listening to the songs everywhere :) Here’s what I think:
    - Well written lyrics,
    - Rocking band and music.
    - It gives that feeling that’s complete.
    - Clean recording.
    - Powerful voice and great manipulation and control.
    - Can’t pick a favorite. They are all different in their own ways.

    You have such a wonderful gift! and I look forward to your next EP and wishing you guys the best.

    Best,
    Khaled Mosli

    Reply
  16. Paul Odiase

    Yeah!! It’s me again!
    Dear Graham !!
    I just discovered in I tunes a third record from your band!!!! “Prone to Wander!!”
    I just love all the Songs and especially the transparent breezy recordings you always seem to make!!¨
    I have now got em all and will load a couple of my favorite tunes into “LOGIC” as a pilot track! So when I try to (Master my Songs) I will have your sound as a reference !! Good idea huh !! ;-))
    That way I surely won’t go astray!!
    By the way I really dig “isaiahs-song”!!!
    God bless Graham!
    PS:You have a lovely dreamy voice !!..and thanks for answering my mail!!! by the way ;-))))

    Reply
  17. Stickman

    Absolutely perfect sounding tracks, Graham. Congrats on a brilliant body of music & may God’s Mercy & Love be with you always. Peace :)

    Reply
  18. Andy

    It Sounds Great! Can I ask 3 questions?

    1) what Mic did you use for vocals?

    2) a more general question, how do you motivate yourself to adhere to your own self-imposed ‘deadlines’ ? Because psychologically if you know that it is only a date you have created for the sake of motivation.. maybe it is hard to actually treat it as an absolute deadline. Just this is what happens in my experience

    and 3) How many hours total would you say went into this (production, tracking and mixing, etc. not including writing) to get your 5 songs? I am thinking of doing something similar soon!

    sorry for the question OD!

    Reply
    • Graham Cochrane

      Andy,

      1. Rode NT1a for vocals
      2. Guilt usually helps me stick deadlines :-)
      3. Hmmm, spent 40 hours or so tracking, hard to remember. Mixing was about 25 hours or so. Editing was perhaps 10 hours. Add in mastering one afternoon and we’re looking at 80 hours or so.

      Reply
  19. GrooveOn Produções Áudio

    NIce Work Graham.. I never tire of hearing … Fantastic work .. A true inspiration … Thank you for giving us the pleasure of enjoying this heavenly music and all your knowledge .. Big Hug from Portugal … :)

    Reply
  20. Colin

    Hey graham!
    You should do one of these tracks on dueling mixes!
    Also, is that a pedal slide guitar in the intro of Three Days?

    It all sounds great!

    Colin

    Reply
  21. Dave

    You are an inspiration to all of us struggling musicians/engineers, and the message you keep sending us has helped me over come many problems and issues in my efforts both musically and spiritually. Thank you so much Graham, God has blessed you, and you have blessed us!

    Reply
  22. Randy

    Thanks for being such a blessing to us…in so many ways. Awsome music and sound. Now, I’ve got some of your great tracks to “reference” in my mixes! God Bless (as you know he already has)

    Reply
  23. Jérémie

    Hey Graham! How are you?
    I think this EP sounds really great. One thing I really love about it is the drums, especially the snare sound in Lift Up Your Heads. I have some questions I’d like to ask you about how you recorded the drums.
    - I see you have used condenser microphones on your toms. Are Condensers better than dynamics on tom?
    - You used a pair of NT1a for overheads. Even if you seem to regret to have used a stereo pair instead of a mono OH, I’m gonna ask this: When you use a pair of mics, does it makes a big difference if you have a matched pair or not?
    - You used 2 mics on the kick: I guess the beta52 was to get the beater sound and the HM7U to get more body, am i right?
    Thank you!
    Please continue making awesome music and awesome tutorials, they really helped me a lot!

    Reply
    • Graham Cochrane

      Hi Jeremie,

      1. Sometimes I use condensers, sometimes dynamics (on toms). Either is great.
      2. Matched pair is ideal for stereo overheads but NOT necessary.
      3. Yes, the Beta 52 was inside the drum for the beater and the HM7s was outside for the bottom end.

      Reply
  24. Jerry

    The songs sound great as was expected. The drums sound very pro. I am wondering if you used any sampling here. Thanks!

    Reply
  25. John

    Man, Lower is a great song. Could have been a bad mix and I’d still listen to it! Fortunately it’s not! Thanks for all the help man! My band is putting out an EP later this month that I recorded and mixed – Im having it mastered by someone else, but your tutorials have really helped the mixes! Stay fresh
    -John

    Reply
  26. Armando

    Truly blessed by your music Graham, I appreciate your insight into music production, mixing, and editing. Its amazing that something so extraordinary could come from simplicity. you keep bringing quality education to us and im so thankful for it. God Bless you.

    Truly Inspiring
    - Armando

    Reply
  27. Wyman

    Great work man! The song lower is perfectly done bro. Great structure, great hook, and great production. It should be on the radio. I just happened to stumble on to your tutorials on YouTube and nice learned a great deal. Thank you much and keep up the good work!!!!

    Reply
  28. Seabeast

    Hi Graham! I just read this article which is helpful and inspirative as usually! I wanna listen it soon, but I have no options to listen it at work… :) Could you tell me, did you use Presonus Eureka just for vocals? What is it good for as well? Nevertheless, thank you so much for each article/video you post, because it is a great learning source!! Take care!

    Reply
    • Graham

      We used the Eureka on just about everything: vocals, guitars, bass, snare drum, percussion etc.

      Reply
      • Seabeast

        That Presonus looks interesting… But what really attracted my attention is Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56. Especially liquid preamp option to color the tracks. Did you use some of those emulated preamps to recorded tracks (just for adding specific color) and which?

        Reply
          • Seabeast

            great… by the way I finally take a listen of your EP and sounds really pleasantly! easy-listening with nice melodies, I like it. Sonics are well done Graham!

  29. Jake Barr

    I loved the EP, Graham. It sounded very well put together and crisp. In the last few months your videos and tips have really helped me to focus on the music rather than the mixing and gear acquisition. I’ve gotten down to bare essentials as far as plug-ins and instrumentation go. One question I do have, which is slightly off topic from the article, is this: I bought an ART tube preamp several weeks ago. I have tried using it a few times but the noise level seems to be much higher than the pre’s on my interface. Do you have any tricks or tips for getting a low noise level from it? I’m using an AudioBox USB that does not have a line level input, could that be it?

    Anyway, thanks for all the great mixing advice.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi Jake,

      Yes, if your interface doesn’t have a line input switch or jack then don’t plug preamp into it. Otherwise you are putting a lot of unneeded gain on top of more gain.

      Reply
  30. Bart Wolf

    Would you talk about the your song writing process, in as much detail as possible?
    Thanks in advance! So far at least 8 plays for the “Lower” ep and counting.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Bart, I always write with a guitar in hand. Working out chords and riffs until I find something I like. Then I write vocal melodies over top of that until they are solid and fit. Then I write lyrics to go with the melody.

      After that I bring stuff to the band and work out the rest of the arrangement. We tweak from there.

      Reply
  31. lo.mo

    Some good ideas here. Not really my cup of tea, but my wife would love it. I’ll pass it along.

    Reply
  32. iManuEl

    Dude, YAH bless! You’re an inspiration for me to keep going on recording in my home project studio!

    Reply
  33. Rafael

    Graham!
    I’m curious if you have some tips on singing and tuning the vocals, because your voice and pitch are actually perfect in this EP.
    Congratulations!

    Rafael – SAo Paulo Brazil

    Reply
  34. Brandon

    I am loving your website. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the work you put into this. I especially appreciate the posts on intangibles, like attitude and psychological aspects of recording. You are empowering and inspiring me as an aspiring producer!

    My question about the EP is this…the drums sound slightly dry and “small” I guess. Is that a stylistic choice, or what are your thoughts on that?

    Thanks again…You will likely be hearing from me more often as I comb through your site!

    Reply
    • Graham

      Glad to help Brandon. I feel that the intangibles are super important indeed.

      The reason the drums sound small and dry is because they were recorded in a small room with no room mics. Drums usually take on the sound of the room they are in.

      Reply
  35. Stephen

    Rofl that’s crazy you did those vocals with a NT1a I hear that mic getting trashed all the time on forums.

    Reply
    • Graham

      I know. It’s a fantastic mic. May not be for everyone’s voice (it can be a bit bright), but it sounds great and is well built.

      Reply
  36. Julio Cesar

    Hi brother
    I was looking for some stuffs about recording a EP. Love your songs.
    God bless you
    Julio Cesar, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

    Reply

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