What Lie Is Holding Your Music Back?

| Mixing, Rant, Tips

We all listen to (and believe) lies every day. Specifically in the audio world we hear a constant barrage of recording myths that are spread around so thick and so often that we come to accept them as truth. For whatever reason I find it part of my calling in life to refute the myths, elevate the truth about recording and mixing, and encourage people like you to actually get out there and make some killer music!


TRR200 What Lie Is Holding Your Music Back?

Via Cat Branchman

But Something Is Holding You Back

I can tell from my recent low cost, one microphone challenge that many people are still struggling with myths and lies. Are you? Something might still be holding you back from actually making music. Do you still feel that you are the exception? That everyone else is making great music but your situation prohibits you from experiencing great productivity and quality in your studio?

Let me share just a handful of the “lies” I’m hearing people say about why they couldn’t do what I just did in last week’s video challenge explaining why they couldn’t actually go out there and make great recordings and mixes with affordable gear.

Lie #1: You Need Some Magic Mixing Technique

Some of the YouTube comments I received about the video insisted that I was doing something sneaky in the mixing phase to get the tracks to sound the way they did. I can assure you there was absolutely nothing fishy happening in post processing. I was limited to 16 tracks, a handful of plugins, and my headphones. In fact all I used was EQ, compression, delay, reverb, and distortion. Don’t you have those effects? I thought so.

Lie #2: Graham’s Room Is Acoustically Treated. Mine Is Not. End Of Story.

I hate to break it to these people, but as much as I think there’s a big case to be made for acoustic treatment, if I had recorded this track in an untreated room it would have turned out practically identical. Why? I used close mic technique on everything, even the drums. For years I recorded albums in an untreated 1950s apartment on the side of a busy highway without any sonic issues. You can do the same.

Lie #3: This Is Just A Fluke. You Can’t Get Good Recordings With Budget Gear.

This is just denial setting in. I think at our core, we have a hard time suppressing our own brand snobbery. We like to believe that more expensive gear always results in better sounding tracks. Why? Because it’s fun to own expensive gear. And if we buy expensive gear we must justify it somehow, like by spreading and believing the lie that budget gear can’t compete.

The problem with this lie simply put is: it doesn’t help anyone. Whether you own expensive gear or affordable gear, enjoy what you have and go make great music. The point of all of this is that it doesn’t take a lot of money to make pro sounding tracks anymore.

The Truth Of The Matter

Do you still need a great song? Yes. Do you still need talented performers? Yes. Do you still need solid recording and mix technique? You bet! But the equipment variable is not the issue anymore. It’s true, and you know it!

So just embrace it. Let it liberate you to actually have fun and the music you’re burning to make. Stop making excuses. Stop believing the lies that float around on the web. Start trying things for yourself and see what you’re actually capable of if you allow yourself the freedom to create.


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29 Responses to “What Lie Is Holding Your Music Back?”

  1. Jeff

    Limitations are only a form of creativity. It’s not that you have limits but how you overcome. In so many aspects of my life, had I not had a limitation in front of me, I would not have needed creativity to overcome it.

  2. Norman

    I mostly agree with Graham on most subjects and also on this one, except on point #2:
    It might not make any difference to RECORD in an untreated room, as you’re trying to capture the sound as it sounds in the room, but MIXING in room with bad acoustics is a different thing.
    I say bad acoustics, as an untreated room doesn’t necessarily mean bad acoustics; so your room may not be treated, but still the acoustics may not be bad, then you’re in luck.
    Someone might have the luck to cross a busy highway blindfolded without getting hit by a car, but that doesn’t make it good practise.

    I too have made good mixes for years in my untreated room until, due to waterdamage, I had to replace all my self-made wood cabinet and furniture by nice modern steel cabinets and threw all my many books and music magazines away. After this I was plagued by bad (non-translating) mixes.
    Apparently the old furniture, layout and books were unintentionally making for good acoustics.

    I do agree with the statements that we shouldn’t let anything stop us from making music, recordings and/or mixes and not to find excuses for our stagnation, but to take responsability.
    But just as practising our instrument, our recording and mixing skills, tuning our guitar before a session, finding the proper microphone placement, having a nice couch to get in the right vibe, etc., taking responsability also means taking care of the acoustics in our working place.

    But on the whole I do subscribe to what Graham is trying to get across.

  3. Gareth

    I have been recording for just over a year now and I have to say I absolutely love it. My rig is very low budget gear, slightly more than the one mic demo of the video tutorial but not that much and it’s all cheap gear.

    I did this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ftu0GolbV-I – it sounds pretty great I think.

  4. Carsten Lave

    The reason you can make it sound good, is experience. Knowing what you aim for, before miking anything, and then knowing what to look out for when miking. Having experienced ears, that hears when the mic is not placed where it sounds good enough. Miking an amp is an art in itself.
    It’s much easier for me to get a great drum OH sound using my 451’s than with any of the cheap new condensers out there. -Because I know my 451’s, and .. They do sound better (!)

  5. John

    The biggest thing holding me back musically is… Me. I constantly get in my own way.

  6. Bryant Wilson

    For me, it used to be the whole “I don’t have this so I can’t make a good recording/mix.” But I’ve created this cover with an AT2020 USB Cardioid Condenser Mic and some free software on a PC.


    I only used reverb, delay, a compressor, a limiter, and a stereo-widener. All of which were free plugins.

    I recorded this where my desktop computer is: in the kitchen/living room. No acoustic treatment. In fact, it’s probably one of the worst places to record because of the echos that tend to happen.

  7. Dinosaur David B

    Great recording gear CAN really be the frosting on the cake if you know how to use it, and you’ve already got everything else working for you. But it’s not THE CAKE. Great producers say over and over: If I have a great song, and a great performance, I could hang two room mics and make magic. And it will be received better than a crappy song recorded in the most state-of-the-art studio in the world.

    Beyond that — as for sounds — my thing was always get it right at the SOURCE. I still believe in garbage-in, garbage-out. That isn’t a myth, IMO. If your guitar amp or cab sounds like crap, don’t spend your money on mic pres, and plug-ins. Get a decent sounding rig, and it’s pretty easy to record good sounds. If you don’t know how to tune your drum kit, or dampen the heads as needed, more expensive mics aren’t going to help you. Get it sound right before you hit record. You can’t polish a sound in a mix that is inadequate to start with.

  8. Smurf

    ” MIXING in room with bad acoustics is a different thing.”

    ” I was limited to 16 tracks, a handful of plugins, and my headphones. ”

    He mixed this in headphones, and it sounds better than half the “released” stuff I here on the radio every day…so the Room Acoustics did not play into the mixing of this track. Tho I agree that treatment is important, LEARNING your speakers & setup is WAY more important!

    The only thing holding me back is lack of motivation/inspiration & life, it has got in the way of my fun WAY too much lately! I still record almost every day, tracking ideas, bits & pieces & such, but to sit down and do another release…..

    • Norman

      Let’s be clear that I was not disputing Graham’s results or his skills, nor was I saying that treatment is the most important thing.
      I was just making clear that there is a difference between an untreated room and a room with bad acoustics, what does not need to be the same thing, and also that acoustics come more into play when mixing than when recording, I wasn’t referring to Graham’s situation mixing with headphones.
      In fact Graham DID take his acoustics into consideration to decide to close mic the instruments when recording and to useheadphones when mixing, but he found a way around the acoustics and did not let it stop him from recording and mixing.

      You’re aware of the fact that, unless you’re listening in an open field or anechoic chamber, the way your speakers sound is for a very big part determined by the acoustics in the room they’re placed in?
      Then we can agree that “learning your speakers” automatically involves learning your acoustics as well.

      So, acoustics may not be important enough to stop you from recording/mixing, but it is important enough to know when and how to work around, or even take advantage of, when recording/mixing.


      • Smurf

        “Then we can agree that “learning your speakers” automatically involves learning your acoustics as well.”

        Yes, that was implied/assumed in my post, sorry I was not clear enough…

  9. David Komel

    Yep, yep. Good song, performance and technique always win! Thanks for reminding us that we indeed can make good sounding recordings!

    God bless….

  10. Michael

    I think that people are blaming their recordings on the wrong equipment. The most important factors are the player and sound source, whether it be the guitar, amp, drums, voice, etc. The mixing stage is just the topping on the cake, and mastering is the aesthetics, just spicing it up a little.

  11. Chris

    Always a proponent of doing more with less, I often struggle to put mixes together that I feel good about, having been recording national artists for a couple years now in a studio with a lot of technical limitations and acoustic challenges.

    Always nice to see some extra reassurance from other people doing it all seriously, that when you make the most of the gear that you’ve got and make use of the right techniques, great results come from modest means.


  12. John

    Hi Graham,

    I’m in the process of setting up a a beginner home studio in my house and I have the options of a spare bedroom (small room, carpeted floors, bare walls) or the garage (bigger room, hard walls and floors). Which would be better for recording drums? And what should I do for acoustic treatment?

    • Norman

      Though your question was directed to Graham, if I may, I can give you some advice:
      I would go for the bigger room, for the bigger the room, the lower the severity and frequencies of the room modes.
      For room treatment, you should start by putting basstraps (=rigid glassfiber panels) in front of as many corners (including wall-ceiling) as possible.
      This will tighten the bass response in the room, especially important for recording instrunents such as drums.
      Secondly, you can put acoustic panels on one of each two opposing walls to take care of flutter echo and taming the higher frequencies; you can put more or less, depending on how lively you want the room to sound.
      Don’t forget that the ceiling can be a source of problematic reflections as well.

      Success :-).

  13. resty concepcion

    Well said Graham… I’m just glad to share the same vision on music production… and that I have learned (and confirmed) a lot of what i know about mixing and music production here at the recording revolution.

    I hope you could release a 15 minute series to a better mastering too in the near future. Thanks and keep up the good work guys! You’re doing great!

    -Resty & M1stop Philippines!

  14. Tryggvasson

    I agree with you, but I think the urge to buy comes from something less “demonic” than snobbery or just plain permeability to marketing. I think it’s more human and it’s actually got to do with insecurity. Actually, a lot of the people displeased with their mixes (which is mostly everyone at a do-it-yourself level, unless you’re just of those guys naturally pleased with themselves) just try to find an explanation for that that can turn pressure away from themselves. It’s not me, it’s the gear. I’ve can go past this wall, what should I do, should I stop here or give it up all together? Oh, I get, it’s the gear! And the cycle repeats itself, with the new wall, on the new gear. And the third nuance of this is just trying to find the “sure thing”, the thing that you can rely on, the “recipe”. The magin button. I believe a lot of people buy gear just in search for that, the magic button. Let me just spend 1000 bucks on this and all the world is gonna improve, the arabs are going to make peace with the israelis, the eco-system will get better and I’ll just be producing great mixes. If mixes don’t work, it’s always because the gear is not good enough. This way, you deflect tension, but you also find a “solution”, a good, simple and convenient explanation for the wall and a way to get out of it. As with a lot of things in life, snobbery, disdain and looking down, with gear as with cars and anything else, comes for a deep sense of insecurity about who you are and/what you are doing or you are to do. So, it’s understandable. Not that it’s recommendable.

  15. Chris

    I really enjoyed your article. I realize I’m a little late to the game as this article is a few years old but I had to get this off my chest. I own a recording studio and I also do live sound reinforcement for a church. I have used mic’s ranging from dirt cheap to expensive only to find that there is not a one stop solution when it comes to microphones. I have spent countless hours editing tracks of vocalist just to get the right punch and that sweet spot in the mix, only to be disappointed, because I chose the expensive microphone. I thought it would make things easier when in reality, I should have chosen my mike based on the vocalist ability. It’s too easy to get caught up in the hype thinking $1000 microphone will make anyone sound like a superstar. Some of my best recordings came from a Behringer B2Pro. There, I said it. Now you know my dirty, little, secret. By the way, two songs I recorded for an up and coming artist were made with the B2. He couldn’t tell the difference and I doubt many people would either. Wow, all of those years of hiding that and I feel better! By the way, don’t tell my buddies about my secret or next they will find out I sometimes mix with just headphones. Yikes! Happy mixing!

  16. Dave Davis

    Yes, yes, and yes. I started recording (as a drummer) in studios back in the early ’80s, when you needed a pro room, with expensive gear: a big console going to 2″ tape, an engineer, and an assistant engineer (or 2) …and a really big budget! Now, for the cost of a few *days* in that former environment, I can purchase an entire home studio, complete with a computer, a DAW, a bunch of plug-ins, a mic, a keyboard and a guitar. (which I have actually done) The former limitations to producing professional-grade music have been removed. Now it’s just up to our own creativity.

  17. Kenneth Jackson

    Hey Graham, a little non confident about recording and mixing because i have a hearing lost in one ear , the right ear, and can’t hear stereo. So speakers are on one side and I try and hear what comes out of them both. A challenge. Amy suggestions or encouragement, PLEASE!

    • Graham

      Whew – tough for sure. I would simply mix in mono, getting the balance and EQ right (only need one ear for that anyway!) and then maybe pan a couple of pairs of tracks hard left and right, leaving everything else up the middle. That way you get a bit of width but you know the mix will sound good anywhere.



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