If you know me, you know I’m an advocate of saving your money and not buying pointless gear. But in some cases I’ve been a little on the cheap side. Some things are simple studio basics that we all need. Back in my college days I was making enough money to buy what I needed, but I kept the cash for myself and did stupid stuff like what I explain below. Enjoy.
So another week is upon us and I have more confessions of dumb things I’ve done as a recording and mix engineer. Now, I’ve been freelance recording for over a decade now and when I was first starting out, one easy way to make some cash in college was to record a lot of the music major’s senior performance recitals. We’re talking pianists, violinists, and of course vocalists.
I made little fliers all across campus advertising that I had a mobile recording rig and for a flat fee of a few hundred dollars I could give them a “professional” live recording of their recital. People lined up to pay!
Stereo Recording Is Simple, Right?
And it was somewhat true. I owned a simple Pro Tools rig (i.e a laptop and an Mbox) and one condenser microphone. Now, I’m no idiot, and I knew people would want a stereo recording of their concert. So I was in need of one more microphone. Simple, I’ll just borrow another mic from a friend each time I do a recital.
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It’s amazing to me how quickly I can jump to silly conclusions when things go wrong in the studio. Earlier this week I shared a confession about how I recorded an entire album’s worth of drums without ever listening back to the tracks to see how they sounded, and without doing any mic placement. Today I have another bogus drum recording confession. Enjoy!
But The Gain Is All The Way Down
It all started one sunny Florida day when I was setting up mics for a drum tracking session for a talented friend of mine. We had “rented out” a massive empty house with a super cool entry way. It had a nice built in reverb and was the perfect place to record some drums.
The drummer got the kit setup and tuned, I placed mics in some initial spots around the kit, and then we began to get signal levels into my DAW. The drum overheads came first and once I had set an appropriate amount of gain on the preamps I moved on to the close mics, namely kick and toms.
The moment I asked the drummer to give me some kick drum hits I noticed something strange: I was getting a ton of signal into my preamp and DAW, even though the gain knob was all the way down. In fact, at times the kick drum was even clipping.
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Newsflash: I do dumb stuff in the studio and have made a ton of mistakes over the years. Today I have another classic mixing fail for you. When I was first introduced to the concept of using a reference track in the mixing process, I thought it was great because virtually every time I referenced a track, my mix sounded better than the pro mix. At least it did in my home studio…
I’m not sure if you know this or not: I’m not the world’s greatest audio engineer. In all seriousness, I spend a lot of my time teaching people like you how to record, mix, and produce music in the home studio, but that doesn’t somehow make me some super engineer that knows it all.
I’m just a home studio guy, like many of you, who has learned a lot over the years, made a lot of mistakes, and continues to hone this craft. I’m proud of the work I do and the mixes I create for clients, but today I’d like to get real with you guys.
Some Of The Dumb Things I’ve Done
Today I’d like to start a brief little series of articles and videos called “Confessions Of An Engineer.” Over the next couple of weeks I want to share a handful of the dumb (read: amateur) things I’ve done in my home studio adventures over the years.
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Did you know that mixing can be summed up in just one word? It’s true. Mixing isn’t about plugins, converters, or studio monitors. It isn’t about acoustically treated rooms or golden ears. All of those things play a part (potentially) in getting a good mix, but to focus on them when mixing is to miss the entire point. Let’s kick off Mixing Month with this critical video…
I’ve got some bad news for you. Not every song you write will be good. In fact, you probably will have to write some crappy songs just to even get to the good ones. It’s a sad truth about songwriting that all of us must embrace at some point or another. The sooner you can come to grips with the fact that not every song is good, the sooner you can have the guts to cut your losses and throw away the bad ones; even if you spent a day of your life writing like I just did.
So you want to actually release a new album or EP this year? Fantastic. Do you have a deadline in place? Smart move. But there’s one final piece of the puzzle; a “not so” secret to actually finishing your project on time. And truth is, I know most of you aren’t doing this. Skip this video at your own peril!
Today I want to make the case that what your plugins look like in your DAW is critical to your track’s success. Now, let’s be clear up front. What the graphical user interface (GUI) of a piece of software looks like has no actual affect on the sonics of your music, technically speaking. However, so much of music making is emotional and psychological and that plays a big part in what I want to discuss today.
The “Cool” Factor Is Important
I’m firmly of the mind that inspiration in the studio can come from visual stimuli. If you’ve ever been in a high end studio with a gorgeous console, racks of compressors and preamps, nice lighting, and walls of vintage guitars to play with you get pumped up to make music. It’s part of the intangible nature of gear. Beautiful (i.e. cool looking) gear makes you feel cool. At least it does for me.
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Nothing irritates me more in the audio world than seeing impressionable home studio owners being led down pointless rabbit trails in the name of “getting better recordings.” There is a gospel of “better gear” being preached day and night on popular internet forums and all around the inter-webs that not only doesn’t help get people the results their after, it leaves them more confused and disenchanted than ever.
Why Are We Obsessed With Converters?
If can’t tell by now, the title of this article is chock full of sarcasm. But the sad thing is, this statement is being made all the time. Many of you even have been “convinced” by someone online that your converters are bad and you need to upgrade. You might not have even known what converters were, let alone that the ones you already own in your audio interface aren’t “good enough” to do serious audio work.
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