Getting Organic Recordings In The Digital Realm

| Mixing, Tips

So much of the debate about digital versus analog has do do with feel and vibe. At the expense of over simplifying the issues, analog supporters say the digital realm is lifeless, sterile, and lacking that “warmth” or punch that is inherent in consoles, tape machines, and outboard compressors. But in recent years many purely “digital” albums have been released that sound just as analog as the old stuff.

Digital Can Sound Analog, If You Do It Right

At the recent NAMM show, lead singer of Fitz and The Tantrums, Michael Fitzpatrick talked about their DIY home studio first album Pickin’ Up The Pieces (2011) and how they got it to sound so analog and vibey even though down all in-the-box:

When I first was a Pro Tools user I got heavy into the “tweakability” of the system. But the more I work with it, I’ve lessened [how much I tweak] letting the mistakes and imperfections of the performance show through. [I’m also] more sparing in my use of EQs and effects. – Michael Fitzpatrick, Singer/Songwriter

In his mind, Fitzpatrick has never seen digital recording and mixing as prohibiting him from achieving that warm, classic, “analog” sound. He’s just making it work. But there are two critical points he makes in the above quote that I want to highlight real briefly.

Leaving In The Imperfections

Fitz brings up a huge point about too much editing. DAWs are powerful platforms to work on music. The ability to edit and tweak everything is a life saver. It can also be your music’s worst enemy. Too much tweaking can steal the soul and the vibe out of your tracks. So much of what makes a track have energy and musicality are slight imperfections of humans playing instruments together. Take it all out (by quantizing or lining up everything perfectly) and you lose that “performance” element.

I think that is a huge part of the lack of “analog” vibe that people miss. We usually think of actual sonic characteristics, not performance. We’re looking for plugins to put the “vibe” back in our tracks. While there are some great plugins that can help, nothing can put real vibe back into a track if you edited it out. Moral of the day, leave in some imperfections on your next mix and see if it doesn’t help create an organic feel.

Sparing Use Of Plugins

I hear this a lot from mixers and engineers, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your tracks is to not do so much to them. I know my tendency is to put plugins on every track and get to work. But each plugin you instantiate is one more thing affecting the audio in your mix. The more affecting you do, the more you can potentially rob from your original recordings.

In theory, if you have pretty well recorded tracks (and it’s not that hard to do with the proper time and attention paid to the instrument, performance, and mic placement) then a little EQ and compression might be all your song needs to come to life in the mix. This comment in particular struck me as challenging. In fact I’m making a conscious effort on my own band’s latest EP to mix it with as few plugins as possible for this very reason. I want to let the tracks stay as natural and full as they were when I recorded them.

Who Says You Have To Choose?

If you’re a home studio guy or gal who has ever felt stuck, as if you must somehow choose between the power and affordability of digital OR the sound and vibe of analog, then I say that’s rubbish. Modern DAWs are beautiful tools that capture and process audio with wonderful transparency. They don’t make your tracks sound harsh or cold. And you don’t need anything to “warm” them up. Just capture great performances, leave in some of the human imperfections, and be a bit more sparing in your plugin use.


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56 Responses to “Getting Organic Recordings In The Digital Realm”

  1. Bud

    Seems like the “digital vs analog debate” has become a public issue now,(sound city documentary for ex…)and i hear now and then people that don’t know anything about mixing, slamming digital productions because they heard or read that digital sounded weak and lifeless..Analog is fashionable these days.That’s completly nonsense.I mean, people should really care and focus about the music first. And Graham, you’re totally right in your article.

  2. Marco

    I’m of them thinking that analog is still better sounding than digital. But I have recently experienced how far has digital gone. I’ve order two Maag EQ4 from Vintage King, because I thought they were really amazing (I still do), in the meanwhile I bought the Brainworx Maag EQ 4 Plugin with a really special offer. Well, when I received the hardware I tried to do A/B hardware and software, and they sound bloody amazing the same!! Spent 1600 Bucks for 2 Plugins…

  3. greg

    I believe the most important thing about recording is to get it right before we hit record. If it sounds good to start with then it will work with digital analog.

    • greg

      I believe the most important thing about recording is to get it right before we hit record. If it sounds good to start with then it will work with digital or analog.

    • Dave

      If the medium is shit the recording will sound shit no matter how good the performance is. All you’re doing is wasting good music by capturing it digitally in the initial step of recording.

      • Graham

        That makes a big assumption that digital is a bad medium. Which it isn’t.

        • Dave

          Yes it is. It’s just easier to record with than tape but it sounds much worse. At least recording directly to digital does. If you record to tape then transfer it to digital it sounds great. The two blend perfectly but only in the order of tape > digital not vice versa.

          I don’t want (purely) digital recordings to be bad either. It would be better if you could get that sound from just a computer but you can’t.

  4. Randall

    You know, one thing I do as well is leave noise in, or, dare I say, add noise. A lot of over-editing is the removal of noise. Some people go as far as removing every breath from a performance, cutting and fading… most of the time, JUST LEAVE IT! Aside from that, I actually add noise. I use mostly analog-modeling plug-ins. With a SSL model, Aphex, 1176 model, or Kramer Tape, I add noise back in the mix. A little hiss, a little dirt, if only perceivable rather than actually heard, I feel, goes a long way.

  5. Jonathan

    I would just like to point out that you can get some amazing plugins for free from Massey Plugins!:) They’re the demo versions but you can use them as much as you want. You just can’t save presets unless you buy them. The A/B comparisons are fifty-fifty…

  6. JV

    Love that you posted this. It suits my philosophy well. As a rock & roll fan, nothing could match the feeling that came with a raw live performance. Sure there were guitar effects, reverb on the vocals, etc, but nowhere near the degree that is now standard on industry recordings. In my band we try to keep things raw and real.

    At the same time rock bands such as Pink Floyd were pioneers in the use of gear to sculpt a unique sound. So gear/processing isn’t automatically bad.

    Use of processing should be viewed the way a painter views using another color of paint. Use it artfully or leave it out.

  7. Daniel Booth

    I am a strong believer in at least one of the processes being analog (i.e. mix bus outboard compressor). In a comparison I did last year between mixing in the box and mixing on a Harrison console, there was a big difference. ITB felt artificially placed within a space – it was, ahem, contained ‘in the box’. Everyone who I showed the mix to loved it though. When I mixed it completely on the analog gear, the mix seemed to take on this life where it jumped out of the speakers and enveloped you. The image was a bit more solid, the sound more natural, perhaps too much (not hyped-up like our ears are used to hearing these days). Both versions were warm, because I had used my ears to dial in the sounds I wanted to hear in both cases.

    Analog in my opinion is limited, but it also seems to stop us from removing some things because it is so limited. You can’t put 5 EQ’s on one instrument, unless you have the spare channels or outboard gear. Because of this I think it means we do less to the sound and tend to leave it with some of the warts for character. It also seems to remove some problems, just by simply running them through a console. Certain frequencies aren’t a major problem anymore. The biggest advantage it gives is a solid image and depth.

    Digital is amazing and I love its ease of use. If anyone has tried to do a simple parallel compression path on a console, you’ll understand how much faster and easier it is to do ITB – there is nothing faster than digital. But it really lets us down when we over use plugins. I have destroyed many mixes in the past through over application of plugins. The less you do the better, and each one you add, you should weigh up the rewards against the drawbacks.

    • Graham

      Your last point is so true. I have over used plugins a lot and I notice a difference sonically. Trying to reduce the number of plugs I’m using these days to experiment.

  8. Alex

    Let’s not forget that the use of a click track contributes to the lifeless feel of a lot of recent music. Rock bands might sound “tight” when recorded to a click, but it lacks emotion and interest. Leaving out the click and playing with a feeling for the natural tempo variations every song needs, will make it sound more analog than you’d imagine.

    • James

      Alex, I have to disagree with you. Click tracks only affect musicians who won’t take the time to play with them. A solid, steady meter is a mark of a great performance. Tempo variations in ‘pop music’ sound sloppy as a rule, not analogue, as you suggest. Even in ‘classical’ compositions tempos are strict and changes incredibly intentional. If you tell an orchestra to ‘just feel’ the tempo they’ll tell you you’re out of your mind! 🙂

      • Alex

        Than I agree to disagree. Music isn’t intended to be maths. Great bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, even some Metallica records weren’t recorded to clicks. The band just played together, tight, but it wasn’t a perfect “90 beats per second” at all.

        Those musicians “felt” each other while playing because the vibe guided them. That ment going a little faster while building op to the chorus and slowing down afterwards, for example. Nothing you achieve so naturally with a tempo map in a DAW for instance.

        Orchestra’s don’t have to feel the tempo, ofcourse. The have conductors. But those people aren’t computers, also. There might be a tempo variation in that to, be it probably a little less obvious to the listener.

        They, being bands and orchestra’s, managed for years to record perfect tracks that are remembered today, without a click. Nowadays, everything is recorded to it, and only few will stand the test of time in my opinion. Not because they made better music in the past, because there’s sublime music being made today. But I’m sure that the unnatural recording to a click just makes it less interesting and even fatiguing.

        That’s what I ment with the “analogue feeling”.

        • James

          Musicians have been playing to metronomes (you know, the predecessor to the “click”) since it’s invention in the 1800’s. Some of my favourite records out of the 60’s “SOUND” like they are super solid to a meter, and many of the projects I work with today have no click track. The difference has nothing to do with any argument of analogue vs digital. Now if you’d like to debate what sounds better, consistent meter or fluid meter, Graham might need to start a new post. 🙂

          • Daniel Booth

            The problem, I think, is people blindly aligning instruments to the bar/beat lines, which digital now so easily affords us – resulting in sterile performances with no feeling. But have to disagree with you Alex when it comes to a click track being something that sounds more analog. Any decent musician or producer/engineer knows that in most cases a steady pulse creates a comfortable place for music to happen, and it’s happened for years like that. I agree that a great performance digitally time-aligned to within an inch of its life is, well, lifeless! However, good musicians never always play the conductors baton. The time can stretch – even with a click track. Frank Sinatra was exceptionally good at it with his vocal phrasing; Quest Love manages to play the fattest drum grooves by choosing to play parts of his drums out of time with themselves. No one hears the click in the end, just the performance.

        • Norman

          I do not know how much truth there is in what Alex is saying, but he’s not totally wrong.

          A band or recording sounding tight is not necessarily because the music is played to a rigid tempo, but that the musicians/instruments are really locked and sway together (I’m not saying that a rigid tempo is bad, though!).

          It only becomes sloppy when certain musicians don’t follow the rest, besides, one can play sloppy with a click also.

          If we put certain old great recordings in a loop and keep listening over and over, we may sometimes discover that they start in a certain tempo and at the end the tempo has picked up.
          You’ll never notice while listening to the song for it sounds natural that way, but it will become apparent when the song ends and starts again.

          One very known practise (in the old days) was to drop the tempo a few bars before the chorus and then speed back up to give the latter more impact or dropping the tempo at a drumfill to make it sound more dramatic.

          Aside of this ‘ritardando’ or ‘ritenuto’ there is also the ‘accelerando’ which are all common practises also in the classical music genre.
          So, between a ‘rigid tempo’ on one side and a ‘tempo rubato'(ad libitum) at the other end of the spectrum, there is a whole arsenal of posibilities that musicians have at their disposal to express themselves rhythmically.

          Of course one can programm the clicktrack with the necessary subtle tempovariations, but then the clicktrack will be dictating the swing of the music, while otherwise the group of musicians will determine the swing of the music by their individual way of playing, timing, etc.
          That’s why replacing just one of the musicians can change the whole swing of a group, even when they’re all playing the same thing.

          Some music is at its best when the musicians have the room to maneuver and sometimes a sudden musical move calls for a tempo variation that will not be allowed by a clicktrack.

          I have the impression that this rhythmical interaction between musicians, that was more prominent in the days that complete bands played and recorded together in the studio and has progressively been replaced by the necessary clicktrack in order to keep all participants aligned, is what Alex was referring to.

          To be clear though; I do believe that good, breathing music can be recorded using a clicktrack.
          For instance I sometimes put the click only on the first beat, giving the musicians some room to drift when needed and come back.
          It’s not even necessary to use the usual staccato clave sound; a slow attack / crecendo sound can also keep the musician on tempo while giving him a different feel.

        • jmo

          “Great bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, even some Metallica records weren’t recorded to clicks”

          Great point, but most bands aren’t Led Zepplin, The Beatles or Metallica.

  9. Smurf

    The argument has been moot for years….digital/analog is what it is, a way to a song. And besides, if you use a mic pre, you are adding some “analog” magic anyway.

    Got to use one of those GA chains that included the Golden Age Pre-73 MKII with Carnhill transformer mod, Comp 54, and EQ73 a while back, and I have to say that it DID add some “mojo” that I could not hear using the Presonus or Mackie stuff the studio had….but was the chain worth the $2000 it cost him? (he had a stereo setup for acoustic recordings)

    To him, yes, for me……maybe….bottom line is just do it!

  10. Roger

    It all started on analogue for me (even as a listener), I can’t say that I miss it.
    I think that there are tons of great recordings made on analogue and on digital, but there are also bad recordings on both formats. Honestly, that is a non-issue to me.

    I totally agree that making the “perfect” take with digital workarounds can easily take the vibe of the whole thing.
    I also believe that there’s an advantage in mixing without visual cues (computer monitors), because the ear has prime time attention from our brain.

    But (IMHO) it doesn’t stop there, and the ‘Loudness War’ phenomenon has a major role in it.
    We can say that it has nothing to do with it, but as a music listener, there’s a major difference between one recording that has ‘space to breathe’ and one that is fighting for the last 5 or 6 dB of the scale.

    Most top mixing engineers say that it is not a problem because you can’t fight it and you’re better learning how to smash the dynamics – not because it sounds better, but because the music industry wants to sound louder.

    Are we talking about the same music industry that’s losing customers by the hour?

    Many recordings available on high resolution sound better mostly because they are targeted for a more demanding customer base and have less limiting/dynamic compression.
    We can downsample it to 44,1 K, and it still sounds better than the original CD release.

    It doesn’t matter if you have an amazing set of fine brushes if you’re only going use them to paint a wall. :S

    • Jordan

      I agree with all of your sentiments. I hate hearing crap about ‘the music industry’ as if it is actually a tangible, identifiable body of listeners that make it up… there’s 10 billion music industes!

      Lemme put it this way, the ‘music industry’ surrounding artists like Rihanna, and Adam Levine is NOWHERE NEAR the music industry surrounding the likes of Bon Iver, and Animal Collective. They might as well be 2 completely different things, and honestly, they are.

      I dont buy ANY of the crap that relates to a vague, entity known as the ‘music industy’. It simply isnt real.

  11. Roger

    I’ve read recently one interview with Steve Lukather where quoted someone that said “Today we have Pro-Tools. In our time we only had Pros!”.

    I must confess that it got me thinking about the basics of music. 🙂

  12. A.J. Steel

    Totally agree Graham. I’ve just ‘really’ learnt how to use eq judiciously along with compression and sparse effects and my last mix in progress is starting to excite me. It’s a little dull at the moment but it’s heading in the right direction. Drums are full and punchy up the middle, guitars are wide(no width plugins), vocals are clear and all the elements like space and dynamics have room to sit and breathe. What really sealed it for me was working my balls off seemingly getting nowhere trying find a way, then a week ago I read an interview with Tony Plat, AC/DC – Back in Black mixer, and it came flooding home. You know he used no compression on the drums! Reverb was natural room ambience provided by running the tracks out to a speaker (in a great sounding room, but the technique is applicable to everyone especially guitars, take a mic in bathroom and record the ambience for your guitars there, they’s never had such depth!) and recording that then mixing it back in and a tiny amount of really short delay. What does that tell ya!

    Thanks for all you do. I have some of your tutorials and they’ve been really helpful! I’ve watched them over and over along with intense listening to big time tracks and I feel I’m at the beginning of something. The penny on how it fits together has finally dropped. Room for improvement but the foundation is there! I finally get what you guys bang on about with mic choice, placement and performance! Not expensive gear just smart choices! The future is exciting again!

    All the best.


  13. Glenn Thomas

    I think it’s definitely the lack of imperfections that can prevent digital recordings from sounding analog.

    Back in the 90s we had a whole lot of different problems to deal with that don’t exist now. Things such as more excessive ground hum, tape hiss, sloppy MIDI timing, SMPTE bleed to the adjacent track, crackling pots and faders, MTC sync problems, noisy reverbs that you’d still hear without anything being sent to them, limited eq on budget mixers, delays that wouldn’t sync perfectly, low bit rate samplers, keyboards with noisy outputs such as Yamaha’s FM synths, and a whole lot more.

    I think it’s a lot of these imperfections that are missing from music being made today, that cause it to have that clean digital sound. Even when using expensive plugins that emulate some of the old gear.

    A few solutions I can think of might be to add a track of tape hiss, outboard reverb noise, or ground hum to your mix as background ambience, convert some of your tracks to 8 bit files and then back to 16 bit, do a bit of real time automation, limit yourself to one basic paramtric eq, as if you were mixing on a desk, and even try using the cheapest mic you can find for certain sounds.

    • Modis Chrisha

      As someone who worked already with music and sounds in the 80ies, run through all the hard times of analog recording, mixing and mastering I can´t understand that some one misses all that disturbing and sometimes horrible negative background sounds, hiss, all kind of noises from the mixer consoles and other hard- and software gear. I am happy today to clean my classical sound productions from any kind of noise.
      My mixes do sound analog when I want them to sound that way and they sound sterile and digital when I think it´s what a track needs. Kraftwerk made cool music in the 70ies… 😉 sterile music. If one wishes to have analog sounds and want to sound that way, work with analog recording and use plugins that support analog sound. To much EQ is not good when working with analog sound structure…but keep in mind, all those hardware and software EQs do exist for a very good reason…or do think that big studio´s invest millions in hardware equipment and don´t use it…think about it.

      I agree that many sound engineers and producers don´t just think enough out of the “box” and see what they can achieve by simply re-recording a track and bring it back in the DAW. I recently had a production from a good friend, typically cold emotionless and digital sounding, I took only the mid frequencies from the recorded sound file and converted this small part to 8bit and back to 24bit and brought this back into the mix…try for yourself…amazing results.

      …finally I think we have to understand that music is something that everyone experience differently, so don´t make everything sound like in the 60ies or 80ies..make it sound good not just louder, that is all that matters. And, by the way, I read in a thread here that music has nothing to do with maths….ehm, sorry but this is absolutely wrong and one should be careful to write such a nonsense…better study the history of music, sounds, cultures and frequencies 😉 …then get back to music….everything on this planet is mathematic.

      …I new to this blog…I like what I read and think here are many good people who try to do their best making great sounds and music 🙂 …and there is always something to learn…great!!!

      • Norman

        Hello Modis,

        I’m sure that the person that said that “music has nothing to do with math” meant the artistic/creative aspect of music, which, as far as I know, does not follow any mathematical law.

        While we’re on the subject; although our 12-tone music system was founded by the mathematician Pythagoras, it is not accurate to say that music and everything else on the planet is mathematic.
        Everything may be physics.
        Mathematics is just the method for organizing and structuring our knowledge of physics into coherent laws and rules.


  14. DC Cardwell

    I’m glad to finally read somebody writing what I (and many others) have known since the beginning! And it’s also good to read the same in many of the comments.

    I record on a PC with very cheap digital gear and Adobe Audition, not Pro Tools, and people always ask me how I get my warm, analogue sound, and how I get it to sound like something from the 60s or 70s. My answer is always, “Don’t do anything to it!”

    I really don’t believe there’s anything wrong with “digital”. But there’s something wrong when people process the sound too much and clean up the track too much. Engineers have a lot to answer for and they destroy a lot of perfectly good music because of the Pandora’s Box of tricks that digital opens up.

    And Daniel also hits on a dreadful problem that infects too much “music” these days: “people blindly aligning instruments to the bar/beat lines”. I’ve seen it happen in front of my own eyes, where a perfectly good bass line had almost every note manually adjusted to fit precisely with the (already beat corrected) drum track, and right there and then the feel disappeared completely!

    I don’t mind adjusting the odd problematic note left or right a little if it means you don’t have to do another take. The Beatles often did 20, 30 or 40 takes to get enough perfect song sections to edit together into a masterpiece for the ages, so if we can fix a dodgy take by moving a note or a beat USING OUR EARS, that’s cool. But fixing every single beat blindly to the clock – don’t do it!

    One thing I’ve noticed though, that I think may contribute to the perceived “warmth” of analogue. It’s the fact that any little pops, or glitches, or abrupt signal changes, or string-squeaks, or sibilance, or those little clicks, tongue smacking and licking, salivary sounds in vocals, often have to be manually corrected in my tracks because they’re too harsh to listen to. I suspect that if I recorded to tape, with its less-accurate transient response, these things would be fixed automatically. But with digital they stay there and if you have a lot of tracks they can build up and create a subtle sensory nightmare that’s barely audible but still annoying. I’m currently working on ways to remove them more automatically (e.g. mic choice and placement) rather than having to go through the tracks and remove them. Thankfully Audition has really good click/pop removal so you can easily go through, say, a vocal track and remove any of the BAD imperfections (while leaving the good ones!)

    • jmo

      “But fixing every single beat blindly to the clock – don’t do it!”

      more like “DEAF-LY”. i totally agree that it’s okay to nudge here and there when you can HEAR a problemlematic early/late hit.

  15. Gabriel Lazcano

    That’s the approach I’m trying to follow since some time: just put a channel strip simulator to do a little EQ and compression, plus the reverb bus and that’s it. If the performance is good, it will shine on its own.

  16. Larry

    I’ve been doing mediocre home recording for a couple of years until I came across Graham Cochrane and Joe Gilder. My recordings aren’t mediocre anymore. Thanks guys! I’ve been a Pro Tools user since I started. This pass Christmas holiday I found a DAW created by the people how make Harrison Consoles ( They created it for the purpose to sound like analog. I recorded tracks on Pro Tools and imported them to Mixbus to hear the differents and the sound was like day and night. Mixbus had so much headroom and warmth and clarity and I couldn’t clip it. Each channel strip has it’s own EQ, compressor and sends sections built in so you can concentrate on mixing instead of plugins(you can still add plugins if need be). Harrison uses Adour as there edit window, not too crazy about it(no midi tracks) but there console(mixing window) to me is well worth it.

  17. David

    I like vinyl because it is what I grew up with, but a lot of what is said above is absolutely true. In many ways digital audio is great and then again I like the sound of an analog record, but the difference is in the recording procedures. First, vinyl analog was cut in a professional studio by an engineer who would say ” get back in there, that guitar doesn’t sound right. Second, modern daws have created a certain amount of laziness, rather than recording the track until it is right, they try to tweak the sound rather than record it over. Given a nice tube amp and a decent guitar “warmth” can be duplicated. Those on the digital vs. analog bandwagon are going by a handful of subjective opinions. I still record “old school” style and take after take until its right — given that , with the exception of a reverb, flange etc plug in, all you should need is little eq and may be a compressor, and for ‘loudness mixing” a limiter. Some human error, i.e. quantized audio is not necessary a way to achieve this “warmth” we all hear about.


    I have had this very problem where you get all of these plugins that can do so much and you end up taking the “soul” out of your music. I am a singer/songwriter/producer and I find myself over editing ALL of the time. I I think stripping your setup down to the bare essentials forces a kind fo creativity that goes back to when you didn’t have the luxury of having 10 different reverb fx and compressors.

  19. Pete

    While I mostly agree I think a cheap interface with lousy converters and bad pres along with inferior mics and intrsuments can definitely make recordings sounds lifeless and harsh. I would definitely not skimp on that stuff because you’ll definitely want to reach for the plugins and eq to try to “fix it” which introduces a whole other variable compounding the problem.

  20. jmo

    Graham, when you say your mixing your latest EP with as few plugins possible, are you still filtering the low end out of most of the non-bass instruments?

  21. Tom Juarez

    Great point! I’m convinced that if Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” were recorded today, they would have synched-up the part where the guitar and drums get off beat from each other and we’d lose one of the most memorable moments from that song.

  22. Sue Rarick

    I started doing demo sessions in the 1960’s. Most were done with the band in a small room looking at each other and we listened to each other and did as many takes as needed to get a good recording.

    Today I record totally digital but still keep one thing in place. I record full tracks. Then I take the best take that blends with the other parts. If there’s a glich I usually leave it in to keep it human sounding. The only exception has been occasionally a vocal may have a note or two out. I may at that point use a very light auto tune to pull it back into the mix. Even then it may be out a tad, but it fits.

    I also use compression lightly so that the 3rd part of music (dynamics) has a chance to shine.

  23. Terry Cano

    Hey folks,
    The article is good. Here is some thoughts from a ROG (really old geezer)
    that has been doing recording on both sides of the glass for many years.
    Many of us lay down the majority of the parts in a track without other musicians. In my case this is usually MIDI parts except for Guitars and some horns. Since often I do Jazz/Swing stuff the challenge can be huge.
    Get live playing experience know what it feels like on stage
    this is true in any style
    Listen and watch look at the drummers snare hand his feet his cymbal work do they hit every attack the same
    Where does the bass player add vibrato, slide up o r down to notes, play shorter or longer
    Observe then talk to the musicians and ask questions. Hey I noticed you choked the stick more on the last bridge in the tune…..they are usually more than happy to tell you
    When recording live A little leakage is not a bad thing….unless you have to punch later then make sure the part is close to the same….avoid changing the part a lot unless you can get rid of the leakage in the other mics. If you are doing all he parts yourself, run some stuff through a amp, kyds, etc. mic up the amp and let a little monitor of another inst bleed through….leakage fattens and gives a slight “tape” feel.
    I hope these ideas are useful and food for thought/

    • Rusty White

      Great comments, Terry! I too have played live, guitar, in a variety of genres but mostly honky-tonk, 70’s rock, or southern rock, for a really long time. My current situation though is solo, and I’m recording a CD via DAW home studio where I am composing all parts myself. I want the drums to sound like a human played them on an actual kit even though they are performed midi, done so because I now live hours away from my drummer friends. My memories of listening and watching real drummers, bass players too, is what I have to go by.

      I miss having the ability to record parts with other musicians, and I know it hurts the vibe, not b/c I don’t have the chops, but b/c when its only me then I tend to accent the same way all parts and it can turn out cold. I also can’t reproduce all the subtleties of the drum parts with their different timbres and feel that comes from a real drummer composing a roll on a snare, for example. If I don’t watch out this limitation causes me to alter my style just to avoid the coldness. Nothing can replace a real live drummer if you really want an authentic vibe. Nothing. I can come close, but like calculus demonstrates, you never quite get there.

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    Personally, I find this whole digital vs. analog thing is kind of funny.

    While there are differences in the sound of analog gear and todays digital simulations, the far bigger differences are how we approach recording in general, and less about the gear. Remember a bad craftsman blames their tools, not their technique.

    “Back in the day” when a band wanted to record an album, they would all be in the same room at the same time giving each other visual queues as they went. The drummer would count off, and away they would go. Tempos would fluctuate as they went from verse to chorus and back, and the musicians only had a limited number to takes before the tape degraded too far to be used. Singers had to be able to sing, and players had to play, with each performer adding their own little bit to the overall song.

    With the advent of digital recording, more and more recordings have consisted of each instrument recorded by itself with out that interaction of a full band being in the same room.

    Today he have far more control over the end result in our recording using various plug-ins and digital editing, to the point where we can “fix” everything, thusly eliminating those things that make it sound like a human performed this music at all if we want to. The trap we can easily fall into now is editing based on the numbers and pretty graphics we get to look at instead of using our ears.

    If you use your ears and not your eyes when recording and mixing, your recordings will come out great, whether its digital or analog. For example, Eric Clapton playing a Squier Strat would still sound like Eric Clapton. You never will, even if he let you use his equipment.

    Digital equipment and Analog equipment are just tools. It’s all about how you use them.

  27. Sugar4 Freddie

    The 1960’s get a good mention here. I encourage you all to read this piece about legendary UK producer Joe Meek for a bit of historical inspiration.

    Joe recorded hundreds of songs and a number hits in his flat – the ultimate in home recording. All multi-layered analogue mono recordings, with the singer supposedly in the bathroom for reverb! No plugins in those days either.

    Note also that he aimed for a particular teen market and the low-fi equipment they would listen on (Dansette and AM radio) – so his recordings and songs were always calculated to be commercial.

    A triumph of knowledge and technique over the available equipment of the day. Maybe a few old-school tricks to learn here too. Have fun!

  28. Haut New Balance 574

    Hey there! I’ve been reading your website for a long time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Austin Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the excellent work!

  29. Economical Nike Running

    Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa? My site covers a lot of the same topics as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you’re interested feel free to shoot me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Superb blog by the way!



  1.  Some fresh views on Digital and Analogue « therecordinghomepage
  2.  The Minimal Plugins Mindset [Video] » The Recording Revolution

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