The Biggest Home Studio Lie We Tell Ourselves

| Rant, Tips, Video

Six years ago I found myself telling this lie to not only myself but to the band I was recording at the time.

It didn’t serve me or them well and it certainly won’t serve YOU well if your goal is get amazing sounding recordings and mixes.

Watch this video and see if you’ve made the same mistake I’ve made…and don’t worry, we can turn it around and make the change needed to actually get results in our home studios!

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Get Better Mixes By Simply Changing How You Start

The first 60 minutes of your mix will affect everything. Here's my proven method!

103 Responses to “The Biggest Home Studio Lie We Tell Ourselves”

  1. Thomas

    Hey Graham,

    Which of your videos series would you recommend I look into if I wanted to learn the most about Tracking?

    I’ve found your tips for what to do in the Mix very helpful over the years, but I think the biggest thing keeping my mixes from sounding “Pro” is that they don’t always sound pro in the recording phase.

    My main instrument is guitar, I can play to a metronome well so the tracks I do record are on time and in key.

    My main interest is learning more about when to double track, how to approach recording overtones to blend with the main instrument riff, etc… and get everything set in the recording phase so that I can get it sounding to as close to a finish product as possible before I even start the mixing phase.

    Thanks,

    Reply
    • John M

      Very true my friend! The music as got be alive when you play it on just a guitar. The tracking has got to be tuned in. Your should be jamming to the project long before you touch one fader, pan, eq, or compression plugin. Then you know you’ve got something.

      However, your Photoshop example isn’t actually accurate as in fact a great photo starts with exposure and composition when shooting. It like tracking. F stop, shutter speed, and where you’re pointing (like mic placement).

      Reply
    • Paul Pavely

      Graham, you have helped me so much over the last couple of years. This is the most helpful video yet! So true and the most fundamental! Thanks again !

      Reply
    • Ben Kruse

      Best thing I’ve found to improve my “ear” during recording is this: If I think of it, I try it. Maybe not all the time, but I especially like to experiment with something until it “works” with the particular song, mix or instrument. I always start with the basics, as well, because many times, the simplest thing is the most beautiful. That’s just my experience. Graham’s stuff on mixing has been indispensable, though. It’s given me a simple plan for mixing that lends me confidence through the process.
      Here’s a link to a recent song we’ve done. We tracked it in our home studio, I mixed it, and LANDR’s robots mastered it. It’s quite a simple mix and smaller track count than many of our previous songs. Hope you enjoy it and Merry Christmas (it’s a Christmas song)!

      Reply
  2. T.

    The first steo is wrong instrumentantion, the wrong tuned amp or mediocre recording qualiry.
    Secondly it is changes in the Arrangement after recording everything, which turns into problems, because the Sounds doesn’t work together anymore.

    I bought one decent mic as well as a preamp (no fancy stuff, but solid specs) and was able to decrease mixing time by 30 percent.

    Long Story short: polished garbadge is still garbadge…

    Reply
  3. Jamie Muscat

    Done this so many times in the recording phase, was always thinking I could push it to Mixing and make it better then, and then it never happened quite the way I wanted it so now I I’m always pushing for a better recording and using different recording techniques.
    Changed everything!
    Your videos are awesome man!

    Reply
  4. Scott

    Sorry Graham, but in trying to make your point about recording better you made a statement that about song writing that is just plain wrong. When you tell people they just need to write a better song in the first place you are setting them up for writers block and this will nose-dive their creativity. Writing songs is a usually a creative and iterative process. In the early stages a song can (and should) grow and change to become what it needs to be.

    Recording is more of a technical skill because you are trying to accurately something as it exists at a moment of time.

    With this one statement I feel like you are misleding people about song-writing in order to sell your recording course, and as a result your credibility is taking a hit.

    Reply
    • Jeremy Shere

      Why would encouraging people to write better songs lead to writers block and less creativity? “Better songs” is subjective, of course. So perhaps what you mean is that putting too much pressure on yourself to write a “hit” or to achieve an unrealistic standard is likely to discourage writers. In that case, I agree. But while what constitutes a “good” song is to some degree a matter of opinion, it’s not entirely subjective. Certain parameters remain constant when it comes to the relative strength and weakness of a song: structure, melody, harmony, orchestration, the quality of the performance, etc. There’s wiggle room within each of these elements, but, again, they are not entirely subjective. Either a chorus pops, or it doesn’t. Either the guitar part is played well, or it’s not. The lyrics are either fresh and original, or they’re not. And so on.

      Reply
    • Chris

      Hi Scott. I think Graham is dead on with this one. If you are tracking and the sounds are good, but your stuff isn’t quite sounding right, then it’s either not grooving or there is something wrong with the arrangement or the writing.
      In fact a good song poorly recorded is still a good song but speaking from experience, I now know that if I am thinking I can make it sound better or “right” later that there is definitely something wrong now. This applies to all stages of writing and recording or just about anything else you do for that matter.
      As for Graham trying to sell his recording course than if what you say is true he would be proposing the opposite by saying you can fix everything in the mix stage so don’t worry about the song or the arrangement.

      Reply
      • ademola

        You’re correct, Chris.
        Graham would have said don’t worry about writing better song, cos you can fix it in d mix stage.

        Truly, Graham is absolutely correct on this one. I have found myself almost in every stage except mastering stage (of course nowhere else to turn) saying it will be better at the next stage. I think I have to be conscious about this now and start getting it done right noe.

        Thanks again Graham

        Reply
    • Bob

      Scott, I have to disagree with you. I think what Graham is saying is, at each stage of the process try to do the best job you can do. ie if you write a mediocre song , no mater how good the recording process goes you are still going to end up with a mediocre song. If you start with the best ingredients you are more likely to end up with a better product. Just saying .

      Reply
    • Eric M Rubenstein

      Really quite a cheap shot, and a deliberate misconstrual of Graham’s views, which he has carefully explained numerous times. Of course there is pressure to write a “good song”. That will always be there. And there are things to do to address THAt problem. But there is no getting around the need for a solid foundation. It just has to be a good song– but if you think of some of his other tips, say the 80/20 rule, you can minimize the volume of that inner-critic.

      Reply
  5. Daze

    I absolutely did this – pretty recently too. Earlier in the year I wrote an EP, when I came to record guitars I dialed in an alright tone on a new amp sim unit. I didn’t really know what I was doing so I thought, “That’ll do, I can probably tidy it up later.” Nope… Came to mix and ended up doing so much EQ on those guitars that I just decided to give up on them. Went back and to properly learn my tools and worked on dialing in a way more useable tone *at the start*!

    Reply
  6. Benjamin

    Awsome advise but I think this is more like a secret because everyone is talking about mixing tips and tricks but no one talks about this. Thank you Graham and keep doing what you do.

    Reply
  7. John C.

    Graham,
    Fully agree! Since I’m a ‘one-man-show’ here I tend to try to fill the rare 3-4 hour block I have to record (that week, weeks, month) and try to jam in as much as possible. The result is that I’ll have vocals and guitars that have tiny areas that are just unacceptable, which means I got NOTHING done in that time.
    Better to do just one thing and do a good recording.
    Plus, I started using a preamp, and if the settings don’t match what I need later in the mix I’m sorta stuck. No doubt I’ll hone in on a system…
    Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Ed Guerra

    I’d be lying if I said I haven’t done this in almost every stage of making a song, especially when tracking my own vocals, but eventually you need to realize you need to step up your game and “git gud” (as gamers say) to actually deliver great results from the very beginning. Getting the best results possible from the start is the only way of actually getting the best work you can put out.

    Reply
  9. Jonas from Germany

    Graham, you´re absolutely right. A good mix is alsways starts with a good recording and that´s one point why pro-recodings and pro-mixes often sound better than our homestudio-recordings. It all begins at the source and that should be as an important craft as learning to use an equalizer.

    Actually my biggest mistake was to believe, that a PlugIn would be able to fix my not so good room-acoustic to the better. I bought the IK Multimedia ARC 2 and it didn´t work for me. But even worse was the fact, I couldn´t trade it to someone else (one-user Registration only, not transferable) and (!) the Mic broke after a second try. So 249 € for my trashcan!

    So better learn to know your recording-craft, your mix-capabilities and of course your room-acoustic, reference bass on headphones and spare your money for something better!

    Reply
  10. Lee Thomas

    Fantastic advice as usual Grahame!
    I have a question. My biggest issue is finding people to record. I’m tracking drums this weekend with the band I worked with about 3 months ago, sadly that was the last time I even fired up my protools system.

    I’ve tried advertising for free and for money but I can’t get any interest. And when I do get some enquirys they ask for a portfolio which obviously I don’t have because I can’t find people in which to create one. It’s a viscous cycle. Not to mention every man and his dog has a home setup now.

    Any ideas Grahame? I’m not much of a song writer either so doing my own projects is not really an option.

    Thanks
    Lee

    Reply
  11. John Paul Riger

    You make some excellent points. I used to record music not knowing how to fix things in my DAW, living with imperfection. That actually helped me press on further to flesh out new inspirations without holding onto something too long. But after listening to those songs many times over and cringing at those “uncorrected” mistakes I decided to do as you say, get it right in the recording phase. As my personal choice that’s fine and my recordings are getting better because of that. However, I’m putting together a new quartet and our first album is almost “finished”. We all agreed up front that the purpose of the recording phase was to build songs for the purpose of then learning them from those recordings. Our intention is to be a GREAT live band, and the recording phase is one ongoing process we’re trying to exploit so that we have a template of songs that serve us in this way, “That’s how the song is supposed to sound live”. Once the original recording is finished, we then learn each song so that we can play it and video record it live to use as our presentation to the world as a statement of who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish as musicians.

    It’s a fair topic and though I’ve always considered the recording phase to be the ultimate and final phase of any project, now it seems to be a tool that we’re using to help us achieve being a great live band. So we’re kind of like backwards with it, but it’s working beautifully to serve those purposes.

    Reply
  12. Keith Rogers

    Great post. When you started to introduce this idea a while back it was a revelation. It fits, of course, with the idea of not needing tons of expensive equipment to produce quality, but really gets more to the point. If the playing/singing isn’t the best it can be, whether due to lack of preparation, not being in tune, or whatever, it just can’t result in the best recording. To me, it’s like woodwork. If the detail work and surface finishing aren’t as perfect as possible, no amount of stain, lacquer, etc. are going to make your craft look as good as it might have, i.e., if the up-front work had been done at the highest level you were capable of. Even if you *can* fix it later, it always costs more in terms of time, and like another video said, “where’s the joy in that?”

    Reply
  13. Shloma Rosenberg

    Mister Graham.. Do you really have some small device in my brain?

    How do you know exactly what i think?

    Thank you so much for telling me all my mistakes so i can get better and better!!

    Reply
  14. Luke from the UK

    This is such a good video – I’m gonna make my band watch this! 🙂 Once again, thank you Graham for all your help and advice. Been following you for nearly 2 years and (whilst there is still lots to learn and get right) my mixes and recording have improved dramatically. Thank you! 🙂

    Reply
  15. Grayson Peddie

    I have no need to watch the entire video and could easily stop at 1:50. End of story. Although my compositions are MIDI-based, I choose the sample-/synth-based instruments I wanted and if it sounded great, I go with it. If the sample is okay, but then I need to do some tweaking to make it better, I just do it right before I record MIDI into audio in the “post-production” phase.

    And the same can be applied to bands as well. Find an instrument and get the sound from that instrument the way you want it to sound.

    Reply
  16. Chuck Sadosky

    Thanks Graham for the insights. Been there done that. Wrong or right, I have never mastered or had a song mastered that I personally released. I’ve learned to do the best that I can with the skills that I have during that time frame, whether at the recording or mixing stage. I found a partial fix for the lies: deadlines. I create a deadline, a release date for the process or far more important the song. A drop dead date pushes me to exercise my skills at the moment and forces me not to drag out projects (works 75% of the time). At the drop dead date it’s finished. Myself, like most artists are perfectionists. If I allowed that philosophy to control me, I would not be writing this paragraph. Peace. Chuck

    Reply
  17. Robert Martin

    “Think about the recording phase as if there is no mixing phase at all”.

    Great advice.

    Thanks Graham.

    Reply
    • Henry Raymond

      Yeah, I completely agree. If you don’t rely on recording to FIX something and get the sound right, and the mix if it’s a band, just think of it as playing. Playing it right, and getting the right balance of sound etc. “Working ON, the sound of the band,” as Clapton says. You get that right and the recording becomes more transparent as it should be. Peace.

      Reply
  18. Kyle Patterson

    Yep sure have and I love hearing this thank you for the inspiration. I did the same thing when I recorded a band this summer and the I actually got it mixed ok but the timing was off and the songs really became unusable so in essence a complete waste of time all though a good learning experience on what not to do. Again thank you .

    Reply
  19. Gamaliel Rios

    Love your mindset on “Record like there’s no mixing process” Is perfect because when recording you’ll go with the mindset of I’ll make it sound like a record from the get-go as best of my abilities. insightful as always. Thanks.

    Reply
  20. Hubert Jackson UK

    Hiya Graham
    Thank you for your comments, I have a song that I recorded in Cubase in 2005 and thought I could make it sound better latter and have tried in Cakewalk Sonar then with Pro Tools and now again in Studio One my current DAW but you are right, as I have heard you say that before, why can’t I accept that this song will NEVER be any good I don’t know ? but still keep trying. I must accept that my vocals are bad in that song.
    Thanks Graham, have a good day.

    Reply
  21. Autoclave

    The more Attention I have spent on Each stage of production, the better I Have Become.

    There are only 3 people i know in the Audio world who tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and you are one of them Sir.

    Thank you very much for your honesty. the lord bless and expand you the more

    Reply
  22. Heinrich

    “Think about the recording phase as if there is no mixing phase at all”.

    Great advice, Graham. One can apply this philosophy all over.

    In the mixing stage, for example : ” Balance volume/gain as if EQ, compression and reverb don’t exist”

    Reply
  23. Olle Hedman

    Well I produce mostly dance/EDMmusic, so there’s often no “real” recording phase. But when I pick my samples and create my sounds I way to often rely on the tracks/instruments to sound better after mixing. Almost never that’s the case..
    Great video as always! You made this problem clear to me and hopefully that will help me avoid this problem in the future!

    Reply
  24. Jerry Baldy

    Most drummers I have recorded I generally go back to edit the drums to be more in time. And I will edit the Pitch on vocal tracks (Melodyne Celemony) even the really good tracks just to polish them up a bit. I have found that my better recordings have always been with better players and song writers, even though my process is pretty much the same. but lining things up and correcting some vocal spots have helped me to get a more radio ready recording.

    Reply
  25. Terry

    The lie I tell isn’t that I’ll make it sound better later, it’s more, “this guitar part (or vocal, or solo) is a placeholder, just to get the idea down. I’ll go back after the song takes shape and tweak it up, or record it again”. More often than not, I never go back and re-record.

    I primarily work with midi and samples, so I, more than often, have great sounds to work with – it’s not about good sound. It’s about performance. I’m in such a rush not to lose the idea, that I don’t take care when I track.

    Reply
  26. Jeffrey Pitcher

    I have the same philosophy as you mentioned when I am mixing: mastering doesn’t exist. I try to create the finished product during the mixing phase. I took some online courses on mixing and at times, during some of the more sophisticated techniques I was learning, I was thinking to myself, “wait a minute, are we mixing or mastering here?” When I asked that question, the answer was: “yes, we are doing both”. Backing up a step, I think – for the most part – the same could be said about the recording phase: mixing/mastering doesn’t exist. Get it done right, get the sound you want the first time, and not worry about what we can do later to “fix it”. Thanks for the video. Great job.

    Reply
  27. Paulo Clayton

    Brilliant points, and definitely mistakes I have made in the past. The other thing that comes into play which I really wish you had mentioned is the main finite resource other than money for gear (which you’ve talked about before) where we run into challenges.: TIME. So often, we try to rush through the process, we don’t schedule enough time to get it done right, we want to try to bang something out for ourselves or for an artist because we want to be respectful of people’s budgets. While that’s all well and good, you’re forcing yourself to be under the gun in the creative & production process. Now, I’m not talking about the series you did on doing a full mix in an hour, I learned some awesome techniques in that video series that I still used to this day whether I am trying to make something quickly or take my sweet time.

    I recently recorded a single for a band at a local studio. They had a pretty low budget, and I agreed on a lower budget that I would normally prefer but being that I’m friends with the guys I wanted to give them a bit of a break. In addition, I am and in the box producer, so I don’t have a studio space to work with. We had to rent a studio that gave us a good deal for the day, but all we had time and money for was the single day. I found myself having to fight a little bit harder to get the mix to sound the way I wanted it because we didn’t get to spend enough time getting a great capture of their sound right off the bat. The end result was pretty good, not the best that I’ve done, but it was certainly the best that I’ve done up to that point as I had just watched a bunch of your videos and felt like I had a lot more knowledge to glean from and getting a well produced song for them. It would’ve been that much better if we had just one more day to take our time with mic placement, drum tuning, etc. If at all possible, having more time than you need, especially in a borrowed or rented space where you can’t go in anytime you want, definitely makes all the difference in the world because you’re giving yourself that space to make mistakes and to hunt for the right sound.

    Reply
  28. Mark Appenzellar

    This is excellent advice, Graham. I’ve often times painted myself into a corner by moving beyond the recording phase before I really should have. The result was an extremely frustrating mixing phase where I wound up spending a seemingly endless amount of hours trying to salvage what I didn’t address properly on recording day. It’s a cumulative effect — bogging down in the mixing phase causes the momentum of the entire project to collapse, and in the end the dreaded “I never finish any recordings” mindset starts to creep in. Thanks so much for the encouragement to do better work earlier on!

    Reply
  29. rex l weible

    i think we all have done this at 1 time or another heck I think I have even encouraged it before by telling my guitar player who was having some trouble getting what he wanted that I think I can work with that (great big mistake) We all know where that went, so I have used that one as a learning process. Thanks Graham for the reminder get it right the first time and things will work out fine

    Reply
  30. Jeremy Shere

    True, as always. There’s simply no substitute for writing good songs. Given how obvious this seems, I wonder why many songwriters and producers, as Graham notes, keep making the same mistake of assuming that a mediocre songs can be punched up and improved during recording/mastering? Is it laziness? Writing a really good songs usually takes a lot of time and hard work, especially when it comes to revising.

    Reply
  31. Allen Burnett

    I have said that to myself when recording vocals. Sometimes it was because the vocalist wasn’t all that good. I do realize now that I can’t part the Red Sea and make crappy into fantastic. I have learned to accept that I am limited in what I can fix.

    Reply
  32. Carlos Perdomo

    I’m new at this and have told myself the lie.
    Thank you Graham for your honesty and not feeding us the lie.
    You’re responsible for great music being created. Your encouragement is priceless.

    Reply
  33. Mike

    I get the best of both worlds of lies! First- who do I think I am believing I can make a quality song. So I wear my confidence thin in attempting perfection during tracking. Then when I resolve that the tracking is as good as it’s going to get, the “fix in the mix” syndrome kicks in and as a result of this double mindedness, I haven’t completed a song yet!

    Reply
  34. miguel costermans

    hey graham,

    i did the same mistake few months a go, with the drumer, so i said the same thing, i can make it sound beter in the mix, so honestly it created more work cause i had to use samples, and what happend, they told me that it dosent sound like the real drum of the drummer, so i had to spend more time finding the right tone/sound of the drums, same mistake i did when the guitarrist has playing his solo, he played few notes that sounded to sharp so i said its a good take, those little notes i can fix them, so i had to do few things to make sound those notes beter without affecting the rest of the solo, in the end i got a good result, but with more work than needed, if only i had ask lets do it again, or lets try this way, it could had save me all that work….

    thanks for your video, helpfull as always

    saludos
    miguel

    Reply
  35. carl d martinez

    i am working on a project by my self; doing all the instrumets and vocals, including horns, using a drum machine. on (my own originals.) what i do is; a final mix and i listen to it every morning and from there i start to figure out what needs to be improve and how. i also compare my music to other music i hear in our local raido stations or state wide station. my music consist of spanish, with jazz and salsa involved. i would like to use a drummer but to expensive and with a drum machine all you have to do is be creative with it, has endless capabilities. (DR808) Enjoy reading and checking out your web site.

    Reply
  36. Scott Saya

    I have believed that after the initial recording I would have to do things to make the song sound professional. But I’ve been fully aware that my problem has always started at the recording phase. My playing ability is not an issue. But through Studio One I still get that Garage Band sound after the recording’s finished. With Garage band the acoustic guitar sounded 50 percent authentic. With Studio One the acoustic guitar sounds 80 percent authentic, and I’ve been thinking now I need to do something to get the 100 percent authentic tone, so it sounds like a real acoustic guitar. I spends hours achieving a super glorified 80 percent authentic tone. So I hear what your saying. But what the fix is I haven’t found.

    Reply
  37. Luc Martinez

    I resume your advice to myself EVERYDAY in the studio with this very short sentence :
    “ Garbage IN, garbage OUT… .“

    Reply
  38. Carlo

    100% agree. Assuming that you have a good song, recording like there’s no mixing phase and committing to sounds is crucial. And also saves you a ton of time. I hear the phenomenal Sylvia Massy saying “You should record like when you pull your faders up, the song is already mixed!”. Holy grail of the truth. Not only you won’t have to spend infinite hours in the post with the hope of getting something decent, but your song will sound better NOW. So, less hours spent, more quality.

    Reply
  39. Elisabeth Popp Sambleben

    Thank you for that video, great advice!

    I have been writing songs and singing for several years, but I’m just now starting out at learning how to mix and master my own recordings, so I’ll take all the advice I can get. 🙂

    I’m working on my first track right now, but I’m still in the arrangement fase so mixing and mastering is further down the road.

    At this point I’m practicing patience….after working on the arrangement for many hours and getting very tired and thinking: oh, I think it’s finished now (when it isn’t, lol), I’m teaching myself to step away from it, relax and get some sleep and then listen to it again when I’m refreshed and can actually think again…..that is what I have to get better at: to not rush it, but keep working at it until I think it’s the best it can be. 🙂

    Kind regards,
    ~Elisabeth

    Reply
    • Carlo

      Elisabeth, if I may give you an advice.. don’t over listen! Countless time I lost interest for a song because I listen to it so many times that I got sick of it. If you find yourself there, step away for a few days and then come back. Otherwise, like you said, patience is your best friend 🙂 good luck for your music!

      Reply
  40. recai

    YEP!!! For Years!! Many years ago, I recorded an album in a professional studio in Chicago. As a band, we struggled with capturing the sound and performance we crafted in our basement rehearsal space. In the rehearsal space the sound was tight; everyone was relaxed and our songs sound great on our 4-track Teac reel-to-reel (I’m dating myself). The sound was not the same in the professional studio. The engineers told us, “don’t worry we can fatten it up in the mix” and “we can fix it in the mix”. Needless to say, the final product “Lack Luster”. I was not satisfied with the finished product of the mix and the mastering told the story. Today, I work alone. I have not band or other musicians to perform. So, I spend more time with crafting the song, crafting the arrangement and capturing the sound in my head and ears onto to my DAW.
    The DAW world is same as the computer business world; it’s all data. Garbage In equates Garbage Out. How you perform is what you hear in the Mix and Master.
    Thanks Graham for reminding me of the importance of the Basics.

    Reply
  41. Adrian

    I have never had this. Problem.. and I don’t like icecream too 😛
    Ok ok I agree, you definately have a point

    Reply
  42. Jim Richards

    My lead singer friend would always say “we can fix it in the mix”. So actually what we did with what he was talking about was fixing things in overdubs. Great videos, I learn something new every time. And I as a drummer always try to sound my best and play my best in and out of the studio. I pick what I think is the correct setup, cymbals and sticks for the job. Thanks Graham.

    Reply
  43. Mike

    Sometimes it helps me to decide I’ll just make it better later (or just revisit it later) if I’m spinning my wheels on something and I’ve already got it recorded just about as good as I can get it. And I do think it’s Ok to say “I’ll fix that later” if you really do have a specific plan for how to fix it later.

    For example, sometimes I’ll play a part and a few notes are off – maybe a little off time or something. And I think “I can play it better” and so I try 8 more takes and I finally get it “right” but it’s lost the feel of the original take. I should have just come back later and edited the few bum notes in the first take.

    But for me, most of the time it’s like you advise, the best final song happens when I work really hard at the step I’m currently on and stick with it until I’m happy.

    Reply
  44. Mark

    Graham, just want to say Thank you. This may be the best piece of musical advice I’ve gotten from you so far. You’re awesome. Appreciate all your help.

    Reply
  45. Ryan Van Slooten

    I find it happens for me with backing rhythm tracks. It’s so easy to say “oh, well this isn’t going to be a stand out part, it’s just to help widen this, or thicken that”. BIG mistake. All that does is make for muddy, noisy mixes. Typically, those parts end up unintentionally standing out anyway, or make you over-mix other things, and ends up wasting A LOT more of your time. EVERY part counts. This is a great reminder, Graham. Thanks for reminding me!!!

    Reply
  46. sal

    I know what you mean..get it big and clean…but I do say to myself ‘later’ when it’s a synth line that can be MONSTERISED later

    Reply
  47. Henry Raymond

    Yes, I agree completely. However, and I think this is an adjuct. That having an actual band with actual players really helps. I’m NOT saying for everything. Some things I like are more machine oriented but overall one of the huge things that is missing is real players and musicians. How many guys are recording in their studio but never playing live. Sure you get better sound, tweaking, mic placement, etc. from a recording environment but can you learn how to actually play and get better? The emotion, the one night stand experience, the maturity in some senses is missing from some of our music nowadays. I was listening, I believe, to John Mayer playing with Clapton and Sheryl Crow and yes Mayer had that emotion, that experience. Sheryl, yeah she’s good, but definitely a lower level than Clapton and Mayer. She just didn’t have the emotion particularly with the blues type stuff. Just too whitebread and flat. I see that stuff missing in a lot of our current music. We need to get it back. That live experience, Playing with OTHER people to learn the craft. I see a lot of technical stuff, click tracks, melodyne engineering, find the latest COOL patch, approach but when I hear them play they aren’t that good. When someone IS good you hear it right away. It’s not just recording it’s the way they play.

    Reply
  48. Wayne morrison

    I agree for most of it. You can’t polish a turd. I record at lower volumes which gives me more headroom. I make sure the sound of the guitars are perfect, even programming drum tracks etc. Once the sound is down you can’t change it unless you do them all over again.,..No matter how many effects you try or how much panning etc. it doesn’t change the fact that the original recording was crap….. I think songwriting is a personal thing. I write songs and try to get better all the time. I don’t believe in trying to write a HIT….I write whatever comes to mind.
    I think most of the stuff you hear on radio these days is garbage anyway and shouldn’t even be heard, but thats what the kids listen to. I come from a different era when Bands were BANDS.
    There was no YOU TUBE etc. and you got by on your OWN MERITS AND TALENT.
    Anyway, thanks Graham and keep the Vids comin’

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Martin Weeks

      AMEN BROTHER!!!
      Thank you for saying it. Yes most of the music today is garbage.
      I grew up and “cut my teeth” as they say in Washington DC in the 1970’s. I was surrounded by folks like Little Feat, Danny Gatton, The Nighhawks, Roberta Flack and so on. Weekends were Jazz and Blues in Georgetown, Motown and R&B along New York Ave. N.E. and great country rock and blue grass out past the beltway in Maryland and Virginia. Not to mention and amazing Buskers Community of Street Musicians. Not quite the same as New York City but very close. So I know exactly what you mean about bands standing on their Merit
      That was most likely what made me get better faster, as I couldn’t b.s. those players. If I was asked on to their stages during a show, I’d better have my S*** together or I’d pay painful dues for my neglect.
      Rock On Brother.

      Reply
  49. Robert Coppini

    I’m 64 years old, started recording my father’s high school band that he taught with a single microphone using a mono Ampex in 1962. It was not very exciting back then, but like everyone else after the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan I traded my clarinet for a guitar, then started writing and ordered the first stereo then three track recorders, then 4, 8, 16 etc. During the late 1970’s and 1980’s I had a studio in North County San Diego, recorded many bands looking for that original band with magic like the Beatles or Motown, which for me never happened, so I moved to Los Angeles which turned out to be bad timing as my studio was destroyed in the 1994 quake along with my face, broken nose, jaw, lost teeth and damaged my neck so I was forced to for the first time in my life work for someone else, and I chose to go into making movies which was plain to see that was where the money was! But I will say this… I have been trying to get time to start recording new song ideas, for many years but things weren’t meant to happen yet. Anyway, you are right! Whatever step you are doing is always limited by your original sound before recording it. Yes like the old saying garbage in garbage out! I used to have a drum set owned by a drummer which he kept tuned and ready because almost every drum set that came in the studio needed hours and sometimes days of work before it could sound good. So we made his extra drums available for rental. Problem solved, and once everyone heard it they used it. Same thing with every sound in the recording. The old adage of we can fix it in the mix only goes so far, and even today with all the marvels of auto corrections and pitch shifting available now, all they can do is help correct a problem, which like he just said should never be there in the first place if it can be avoided. Then you have nothing to fix or delete later. One of my last studio configurations I let someone else pick out my mixer… (thinking that he knew more than I did…) which turned out to be the biggest problem for me, and I was never happy with the sound it had so I eventually got rid of it… so it was the weakest link in the audio chain, and I was never so happy as I was when I got rid of it, and now I almost exclusively use Old World Audio analog products with the exception of my vintage Urei and Universal Audio boxes and now plugins… mixing in the box, boy things have come a long way in the Digital age of UA and Apogee, but the rule still stands garbage in garbage out. Most of my stuff has been in storage for several years due to health issues, but I’m hoping to get back to recording in 2017.

    Reply
    • Martin Weeks

      Keep on Rocking Sir. I can relate. Not that far behind you in the age thing. I no longer can play out or perform due to health stuff, so recording original music has become the passion.
      My fiancee writes our lyrics, and gets very impatient with me sometimes as I will wait…then wait some more, then wait some more till I know every inch of the new song. My goal is always to get it right the first time if at all possible
      In spite of the efforts though, often times I will notice mistakes from listening to songs in other people’s stereo systems that don’t sound “wrong” or “bad” in the studio. Often times it may not be a mistake on my part but rather, the way newer more modern car stereos and sound systems alter the actual songs. Many home music systems have there own outboard EQ’s and so on and sometimes those differences are right or wrong.
      Nonetheless, being a performing musician most of my life, I’ve always emphasized things like rehearsals (as opposed to just jamming or practicing) often to the point of getting fired from bands for being too annoying. (They would also often hire me back after flopping badly on stage after the fact due to not having disciplined rehearsals before their shows.)

      Reply
  50. Castin

    Thank you! This is confirmation. I’ve been practicing this good ethic for some time now. I appreciate it Graham.

    Reply
  51. Philip Murray

    Hi Graham,

    Thanks for the inspirational video.

    Your comments resonated with me. I found it was backing vocals that I applied the “can fix that later” approach to and as you day it was a big mistake.

    I am working on a song currently and am adopting your “this is it” principle.

    Will let you know how it goes

    Cheers

    Philip

    Reply
  52. steven

    I have started this type of thinking at the very first stage: recording. Later as I mixed many demo type of songs… I told myself crap. These songs are bad!

    Reply
  53. Dave Davis

    Yup. Been there, done that. LOL I said that same thing when I was recording and mixing my first home studio project, (years ago, when we were actually recording to 1/4″ tape!). The finished mix sounded bad… that was the beginning of my steep learning curve.

    These days it is a bit better, partly because the source material is usually better, drum samples and guitar tone emulators, classic mic emulations, etc.

    But the lesson still holds true: mix as if it’s the last step. (because it might be)

    Thanks for the post Graham!

    Reply
  54. John M

    John M

    Very true my friend! The music as got be alive when you play it on just a guitar. The tracking has got to be tuned in. Your should be jamming to the project long before you touch one fader, pan, eq, or compression plugin. Then you know you’ve got something.

    However, your Photoshop example isn’t actually accurate as in fact a great photo starts with exposure and composition when shooting. It like tracking. F stop, shutter speed, and where you’re pointing (like mic placement).

    Reply
  55. Melissa Thorson

    Preach! This is so helpful — an encouraging, inspiring reality check. Thank you!!

    Reply
  56. Doug Langbehn

    Yep, there’s a lot of truth in that. I get into the habit too often when I’m doing the recording performances (especially with singing or banging out drum parts on my keyboard). After all, there’s Melodyne; there’s midi editing. But I’ve often wished, long after the fact that I’d just done a few more spot takes and sung the song better in the first place–or kept practicing the drum part until the natural groove of playing it was more in the pocket. The really dumb thing is that it’s usually inefficient as well. Redoing a performance (or parts of a performance) several times is usually much faster that all this editing after the fact!

    Reply
  57. Martin Weeks

    Yep guilty as charged.
    I don’t do that as much these days, however, I do find often that I do have to “fix in mix” not because I did a lazy job in recording, but rather, because I always listen to rendered mixes in different environments. Example I have in our living room a laptop and large monitor that we use as the “House Computer” for normal stuff like letters, bill paying, Netflix etc. The living room laptop has rather crappy speakers (NOT STUDIO REFERENCE MONITORS) Simple volume knob (more like a gain/volume knob so it “throws or pushes” the sound out and away from the speakers).
    I also listen to these mixes in my neighbors car stereo which is really good and has the option to kick in sub woofers or not.
    So often times what sounds good to my ears in the studio and/or headphones, doesn’t sound the same in the car, or the living room. More accurately, I hear things soundwise that I don’t hear in the mixing sessions. And then I have to go back and fix. Often it’s just one or two little things, so going back to square one and recording (like an entire vocal) is just not practical really. I have to do punch in/punch out. Sometimes the manner in which I pan two guitar tracks sounds great in the studio, but sounds tooooo…. far left/right when played back through other speakers. And yes before you say it…I always check my mixes by going back and forth from stereo master bus to mono and then back to stereo while mixing just to make certain I’m not fooling my ears.

    So I’m getting better at not lying to myself but there are simply times when I still have to fix it in the mix.

    Marty

    Reply
  58. Dr C.J

    Well said Graham. When I started out It was in a analog studio, so pre-production and having performances and arrangements nailed was everything. As a tape op I remember hearing the Engineer saying to a band eager to come in. ‘Nope, you’re not ready yet, give it another month of rehearsal’. This was back in the day when we used to visit bands in their rehearsal space or see them live to get a sense of what we wanted to do in the studio with them. Recording or tracking was driven by the philosophy ‘get it right at source’. I’ve spoken to and received mentoring from top producers such as Mike Howlett, Hayden Bendall and Pip Williams. They are all say the same. At the moment I’m working with some guys in Japan who run a small studio. They are just starting out. I was alarmed to find out that the engineer’s routine is to always replace the snare/bass drum using a slate plug-in. The room in fine, he has decent mics, so what’s the problem. It’s exactly this idea of ‘I know I can fix it later in the mix with this or that (plug-in). When I look at his mixes, I’m staggered by the sheer amount of plug-ins he uses on every track or mix buss. I believe less is more and if I don’t like the sound I’m making or recording, I don’t record it, simple. I rework the problem, mic selection/position, instrument/ amp set up, all those permutations and 9 times 10 you find the problem. So when you hit record you know you are getting great source material and you hear your song come alive right through the monitors. It feels so much better than sitting there making a mental checklist of things you’ve got to fix, and compromises you will have to make in the editing and mixing phases. Part of the problem as I see it in the small studio business is time. In the case of my friend’s studio, he’s getting bands in to record 3 or 4 tracks in a session and he’s mixing it the next day. I’ve yet to see a session in full, but I bet he’s spending little time on instrument/amp setup and actually listening to the qualities of the sound in the space. He’s just getting the tracks down and moving on. He’s getting reasonable results overall, but it’s blood sweat and tears and a lot of hacking in the mixing phases. It needn’t be that way. I used to teach music tech and sound engineering at universities and you see this pattern of deferring problem solving to the next phase in a lot of students. Great post Graham, such an important concept.

    Reply
  59. John

    Nope…never told myself any of those. /s

    I’ve told myself that at least once on every phase of the production process. It has came back to bite me in the bum every time. Slowly learning from experience to “nip it in the bud” as it were. Get it sounding great at tracking. It makes everything easier (at least in my line of recording/mixing).

    Reply
  60. C. Michael

    LMAo! Yep, I’ve told myself that before. It wasn’t until I recorded at Atlantic/Warner that I realized that I should be making the song sound good “Now,” versus later.

    Reply
  61. Jack W.

    I wouldn’t call it lying, Graham, just different ways of trying. The greatest musicians were all trying to achieve a sound or inspiration they heard in their heads…before anything else. Jimi Hendrix, Brian Wilson, EVH Green Day, Pink Floyd, many others..all had a sound or vision fin their heads. Everything after that was just trying to find a way to repeat that sound or idea to share with the rest of us. Most were told they’re doing it wrong….Wether you achieve that sound at the mic or as some EDM cats know, in the machine, the result of matching your ideas IS the skill set. That’s not lying. In the right hands, a twisted stick becomes a great violin. There are no short cuts for great sounds, all the greats have put years into capturing their sound. Don’t offer easy outs for a lazy generation. We’re not sinners but practicing saints…If you want a great song, a great sound, a great life, stop doing what everybody else does…if you dig fixin in the mixin, or pissin with mic’s & acoustics all day long or if loopin n sampling yer brains out drives you..then put the time in, put the heart in, put the passion in…all the proven ingredients for the truly unforgettable… I tell you the truth man, something wonderful will happen! Even if it comes to realizing, “man I just suck!”…you will be smiling my friend, no lie!

    Reply
  62. Vincent Calcavecchia

    The most important thing to learn is how to capture sound. And that does not mean having the most expensive mics. If you understand the physics of sound you should be able to use a 57 on anything and still make it sound good. However, the musician and the musician’s gear are also very important. If you do not have a good artist and a good song, you’re gonna have a tough time. If you have the right performance and you know what the end result should be, for instance, if your artist’s vision is to have a “Beatles” sounding recording, or that “John Bonham” drum sound, or whatever it is that they envision for their project, do not be afraid to capture as much of that as possible on the way to tape. If you know what you’re doing and you know the limitations of the gear that is at your disposal, EQ to tape, compress to tape (I don’t recomend gating to tape) , but once you learn how to track correctly, you are well on your way to making better recordings. Mixing should be more balancing the sounds you have already captured. The mixing phase should almost be a part of the mastering phase.

    Reply
  63. Eric

    Shame on you gram, isn’t this what I have been telling you all along?!
    Fine example of this is the it was 40 years ago, today video (https://youtu.be/b-tMEFLgxso)
    where 7 bands Bryan Adams, Magic Numbers, Kaiser Chiefs, Stereophonics, the fray, razorlight, and Travis had ONE day each to record a song from Sgt. Pepper, on the original 4 track equipment, with the original engineers.
    As one band member so succinctly put it, “You have to learn how to play” after FAILING to get it after the first few hr. after figuring it out they got it and did affine job.
    All basic track were cut live. Gram as I once told you “if the song not great, and the artist doesn’t play great then the record won’t be great no matter what you do! Do you remember the comment I sent you about Bruce Swedien (Michael Jacksons Engineer) the guy who doesn’t use compression, and George Martin?
    you are you’ll never bring life to a dead song, making a great recording is so easy it’s pathetic if you have a great performance. The way they record is the reason it holds up today. I could go on, but I’ll stop here.
    P.S. As for mastering I like T-Racks

    Reply
  64. Frank Gustafson

    The devil is a large river. The quality of your song stands in direct function to every SINGLE LITTLE STEP of making the song.

    Some people even build their guitar as the first step. 🙂 Some people are just crazy (good) like David Bowie (RIP). Did you know that on “Heroes” he used a metal reel of a tape because he couldn’t find a cow bell and didn’t think he had time to phone somebody up and wait for the person to bring one? The song sounds marvelous and today it still sparkles, nearly 40 years after.
    Follow the link below to an Interesting docu of the recording of the song by Tony Visconti:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mp1iutsWnho

    Another important parameter of song making is “Do it!” For Christ sake and do it now! The following link is an interesting quick video from Patreon about finishing your music now. For what it’s worth for you 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r5VIlMhftM

    Reply
  65. Miranda

    Thanks Graham. I live in Austin, TX where there are a plethora of Pro and high-end (pro) home studios like yours, and I have had the privilege of recording in several of them. After hearing your advise and reasoning I realized on pre-production (writing, arranging) and dialing in the sound first is something I have seen these pro producer/engineers do every time… not a coincidence, ha! Great thing to keep in mind as I learn to record myself.

    With that said… Now that I am thinking more technically I struggle to get good performances after I’ve been concentrating so hard on dialing in the sound, I get tired and can’t make decisions on whether something sounds better or not. I am wondering if you have any advise for those of us bouncing back and forth from the creative to the technical worlds. I am sure that taking breaks, a brief walk or a coffee break is something to do intentionally. Any other advise for recording yourself?

    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
  66. George Roxburgh

    Yep, guilty as charged. My issue is impatience during recording and to a lesser extent in mixing. Thank you Graham for being honest with us.
    I have a question regarding a problem I have encountered during recording. One of the musicians isn’t really playing at all well. Now, if you want a chance of good recording it has to be a good song and it has to be PERFORMED well. How does one tactfully address this issue of poor performance with the musician involved ??
    Has anyone experienced this and more importantly how did you deal with it?

    Reply
  67. John R Aguilar

    I have had that very thing said to us several times. The don’t worry we can make it sound better later. Thanks for the video . great information about attitude and progressive thinking. Later never comes at times or you don’t realize how much better it could have been.

    Reply
  68. Varun Murali

    Hello Graham,

    I so agree with you on this and I am guilty of admitting this mistake a lot and honestly speaking quite often. When I first started recording music at home, I was still trying to figure out how a DAW worked and what were plugins and what could they do etc. At that stage, the best thing I could do is use presets on plugins, which just made things louder and I perceived them as better. So I began believing that you can just about get a decent sounding recording and use these plugins and fix almost everything. Besides, my limited circle of friends I mingled with back then who were also fairly beginners like me said the same and I felt well we all are right until I started recording my band’s albums at some of the prestigious studios in the country alongside really good established producers and that introduced a change in the way I thought of music making. Later I enrolled myself for a music production Diploma programme from PointBlank online music school and that really gave me an insight to understand what plugins actually do, what does each knob on it do and what can I use it for. That naturally made me restrict to just the factory plugins that came with my DAW because I wanted to get the basics right which is when I came across your site and everything you have teach has benefitted me and I really do second you on practically all the videos and really admit making these mistakes myself.

    Reply
  69. Tom Miller

    Fix it in the mix…that was the cliche we used 30 years ago, and I can see it as an even greater temptation now with DAW technology. The big driver back then was studio time, trying to get things done for the least amount of $$.

    Great post, Graham!

    Reply
  70. Bob

    Well Graham I totally agree, but still sometimes it is nice to have the ability to fix things later. A year and a half ago I did a multitrack recording of one of my bands live performance so I could mix it with the video we were taking. On one of the songs are guitar player had to go from a harmonica solo right into a slide guitar solo. Well through the process of butting down the harmonica and starting the slide solo he was about 3 seconds late hitting the volume boost on his amp. very noticeable on the recording. Well thanks to the normalizing function on the DAW that little problem was taken care of. 🙂

    Reply
  71. Michael Rose

    Good post. I used to record everything dry and unprocessed thinking I was leaving myself more options & flexibility later in the process. Unfortunately, I was never able to make those tracks sound the way I envisioned them. Lately, I eq and compress almost everything as I record (to some degree). The results have been tracks that sound better to me, and in less time. I use fewer plugins than I used to, my computer is happier and the process feels much more intentional than it did. I highly recommend making the effort to capture as much of the finished product as possible on the way-in to your DAW.

    Reply
  72. Ryan

    Definitely have. I usually rush the recording because I don’t want to “waste” my bandmates time which only adds up to wasting mine later. Mostly songs are arranged around the vocals but I add a lot of perc, synths and gtr layers after the vocals/gtrs are recorded and then rush through levels and EQ to get to the sweetening phase quicker. The process is actually getting better but I know if I spend an extra hour up front getting the initial tracks down sounding great I’ll have a lot easier and more enjoyable time of it as the mix comes together. And I know if I keep working towards the best sound I can get at each step along the way then I’ll finish with a clear representation of where my skills are at rather than how good I am at covering up and editing out the crap.

    Reply
  73. Trey Demmond

    “I’ll fix in in post.” “I’ll fix it in Mastering.” “What you were doing was creating mediocre music” [in the recording phase]. [And assuming that post will correct the problem.]

    Excellent comments, Graham! You have taught me so much in the art of mixing and mastering!
    I am very grateful for you and The Recording Revolution! But I hear another, barely spoken, topic in this video. It came to me when you were talking about the recoding phase and creating quality tunes.

    Granted that one can enhance and balance tracks in post. And a crappy track can be buried in the mix (if one is lucky that it isn’t super important). You use the term “track” and I think “musical line,” but I hope that we are on the same page in our thinking.

    Composing good music to me means creating lines/tracks that fit together in a way that creates a unified whole greater than its parts.

    If a guitarist decides to play very busy music at the same time as the keyboardist’s very busy music, they create a confusion of texture at odds with the moment and the rest of the tune. The outcome is what I think you refer to as crappy music. This is something that can’t be fixed in post. It needs to be fixed during the creation/writing phase, NOT during the recording phase. I applaud you for being so direct in your video.

    Nonetheless, I sense a bit of unease in your comments on this matter. Should a recording engineer tell an artist that they are recording crappy music? Such a comment might not be good for business. Furthermore, exactly what could a recording engineer tell an artist in the effort to improve the tune at the recording phase?

    Changing the timbre of an instrument or re-placing a mic cannot correct poor musical texture. If you, the engineer, tell them to rewrite the passage on the spot, you will derive more income from increased recording time (unless you agreed upon a set fee). But what if the artist can’t think on their feet very quickly? How do you calm them down? Do you tell them to go home and come back when they’ve fixed the tune? Will they? Do you tell their producer (or lead composer) in private and let them sort this out? I find these to be very uncomfortable questions to ask! Even if I ask them to myself, which I’ve done more than once while recording or mixing some crappy tune that I wrote!

    Reply
    • Bob

      Well Trey, I think this where the producer comes in (providing you’ve hired one) to tell the band to rewrite and redo a part. If you are just a hired recording engineer then there isn’t much you do. Your job is to then capture the best recording of the bands performance that you can and if that performance is crap then you’ve just record some of the best crap ever 🙂

      Reply
  74. Corey Reynolds

    I definitely fall for this, even still. Before it was instrument tone and mic placement, now it’s more the tracking stage. We’ll leave with mediocre takes, either because of time or frustration.
    Recently, a recording (that should have been easy to mix) suffered because I didn’t speak up to the performer. They were trying a technique that was compromising their timing and it was on almost every measure of the song. I thought “I probably can go back and move sections around, or copy paste other instances”. I got it a lot better but how much greater would it have been if I would have brought the issue up and even see if they were content with doing that less times.

    Reply
  75. Juliette

    Thankyou for this video. Really good advice. Coming to songwriting and production from a theatre performance and spoken word background, I try to approach each phase as I would the process of or a performance. Thats is work on it until i can get the best result possible at each phase at that time. Although i have to admit in the songwriting phase when i use logic, in an attempt to capture the idea quickly i am guilty of what Terry earlier describes, maybe getting the jist of it down and saying i’ll re-do it later properly. That said, for other reasons, i am up against limited time on the computer so have to either work quite quickly or stop mid flow at times. Thanks again and I look forward to watching your other videos over time!

    Reply
  76. Titan

    I totally agree! I tell my clients all the time… If it takes 100 times to nail it, it takes 100 times. They hate me then, but love me later. Great masters come from great mixes. Great mixes come from great recordings. Great recordings come from great production and arrangement.
    TitanTraxx

    Reply
  77. John Ludwig

    Good advice, Graham. Thanks. I tend to tell myself I can fix it later. I am a novice at the recording and mixing, and it is a big mistake on my part to think I can improve on bad takes. And Titan also hit the nail on the head. You can’t make silk out of a sow’s ear. What you can do is make the ear better, though.

    Reply
  78. Vaughn Meck

    1. Performance of the artist is 1st and foremost, it’s the most important element for me period.
    2. Tracking , clean correct recordings is 2nd most important. Gotta have the best tracks you can!
    3. When the first two are done right, great sound and simpler mixing creates better sounding songs much easier and faster. Songs sound closer to mastered right from the start!

    Reply

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