I watched a video interview with Eddie Kramer a few weeks ago. He was talking with the folks at Waves about some of their plugin emulations of analog gear.

He was recounting the way they recorded back in Jimi Hendrix days. They would record everything to one 4-track machine, then mix those down in stereo to two tracks on another 4-track machine, leaving two tracks for additional overdubs.

They would repeat this process over and over, adding new parts as they went.

The really interesting thing is that they were not only adding new parts, they were mixing as they added them.

Back then, you didn’t have the recording phase then the mixing phase. It was all kind of mashed into one big creative process. Once you mixed those first four tracks down, you couldn’t go back and tweak things.

“Fear of Commitment”

Several times Eddie referred to the “fear of commitment” so many engineers encounter today. We’ve got a million plugins and settings to choose from, and we never make a decision. We always wait around until later to really commit to something.

While options are good, they can really thwart creativity.

Imagine sitting in that studio with Eddie and Jimi. You’re getting ready to bounce down the drums and bass. Once it’s bounced, you can’t undo it. Talk about a rush!

You had to make decisions. You had to commit those decisions to tape…literally. Then you moved on to the next step.

“Commit to the final sound” from the beginning

That’s something Eddie said that stuck with me. They had to commit to the final sound throughout the entire recording process.

That means you had to KNOW what you were aiming for, what sound you were trying to produce. You couldn’t just record a bunch of garbage and make sense of it later. Technology forced you to commit.

Sometimes I wish that was the case today.

How to limit yourself

You may think limitations are a bad thing, but they’re just not. Without limitations, you’ll never finish a project. You’ll just mix it into oblivion.

Here are a few ways to practice limitations:

  • Set a timer. Editing a bass track? Give yourself an hour. And STOP at the end of the hour.
  • Don’t go back and tweak. If you always EQ, then re-EQ, then re-EQ…try mixing without “undo-ing” a single decision. Once you decide on an EQ setting, don’t allow yourself to go back and make changes.
  • Set deadlines. Really…it’ll help you finish things.

Are stuck on an endless merry-go-round of decisions? What are you going to do about it?

[Photo Credit]

  • Philip Sapp

    Joe?  Do have a link to the Eddie Kramer interview you speak of?
    Thanks
    Philip Sapp

    • It’s one that plays in the Guitar Centers on their computers. So…no. 🙂

  • Jameskarlson

    Chris Lord-Alge is my favorite engineer. Here’s an interview.

    Chris Lord-Alge agrees that in the case of ‘Welcome
    To The Black Parade’, which builds and goes through different sections,
    some of which are of a massive wall-of-sound nature, EQ is important,
    but says that level automation is even more important. “The mix was a
    challenge because there were a few sections in the song, especially
    during the solo, where there were a lot of mouths to be fed. But fader
    moves are even more important than EQ. No matter what song you have, you
    have to help it to build. You have to make each move more dramatic, and
    dynamics are judged by ear, not so much by level. You also keep your
    dynamics so they won’t fold under the radio compression. What will anger
    me is when someone tries to make my final mix 9dB louder by L1-ing
    it to the wall, and flattens out my impact, just to make the CD louder.
    I will already have done all the compression and limiting that I think
    necessary.

    “Panning is something I’m not subtle with. It’s
    either left, right, or centre. Absolutely. Unless you’re panning an
    orchestra and you’re trying to make it sound like real life, as we did
    on ‘Black Parade’. But I try to make my panning extreme, so it jumps out
    at the sides.

    Chris Lord-Alge is an endorsee and fan of Waves’ SSL plug-ins, and used the EQ to brighten the piano on its way to the 3348.

    Drums: Urei 1178, Neve 33264, Sony DRE2000

    “As far as outboard effects are concerned, the drums were mostly treated with a [Urei]
    1178 at 4:1 and a Neve 33264 at 2:1, all slow attack and quick release
    stuff with 4-5dB movement. The reverb was the Sony DRE2000, set to one
    second in length, just a short room. In terms of EQ, I tend to suck out
    the mid from kick drums, add top to snares, and make sure that the
    cymbals are not coming from everywhere. The whole thing with drums is
    once you have your overall mix in good shape, ride the faders to make
    they sit well in the track. You have to do one automation pass just for
    that. It’s a lot easier to ride faders than to EQ. A lot of people
    over-compress and over-EQ drums, which lessens their impact. So get your
    hands on there and ride them to make sure the drums are balanced in
    each section and that each section works.”

    Bass: Urei 1176

    “The bass has a black [Urei] 1176, 4:1, 7dB
    gain reduction. You begin with checking that the bass is in phase, and I
    also add plenty of top end, so it fits in the track. You may think that
    the bass sounds bright when you solo it, but once you put the heavy
    guitars on, it always seems dull all of a sudden.”

    Electric guitars: SSL EQ, Teletronix LA3

    “The guitars were multi-miked pairs, usually three
    microphones per amp, so during comping it was a matter of balancing the
    different microphones on each amp onto one track. It’s a bit like
    finding the sweet spot with the drawbars on a B3. It’s like adding salt
    and pepper or salad dressing, you flavour to taste. On the console I’m
    pretty sure that my main compressor on the guitars was the [Teletronix]
    LA3, moving 2-3dB, maybe 5dB, and I added some console EQ, 6-8dB around
    8K. I’m not scooping mids out, because these guys have worked hard to
    get the mid-tone that they want. It’s more a matter of making sure that
    the guitars are bright enough in the track. I don’t think there were
    reverbs on the guitars, they were just dry.”

    The lead vocal on ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’ was limited using Waves’ L1 during the transfer to 3348.

    Vocals: Waves L1, Urei 1176, Inward Connection TSL3, Dbx 263x, Roland SDE3000, Line 6 Echo Pro, Marshall Tape Emulator

    “The lead vocals all got blue 1176 compression, 4:1, quick release — this in addition to the L1
    compression during comping. The backing vocals were compressed with the
    Inward Connection TSL3. I also did some de-essing with the Dbx 263x.
    There were several delayed reverbs. The amount varied from section to
    section. I used some of the long Ensemble reverb [see below] on
    the lead vocals in the beginning. There are also a few long delay
    spills that I automated. I would have done those with the SDE3000 or
    Echo Pro, both of which I like for longer delays. The delays would have
    been tempo-set to quarter or eighth notes, perhaps the bridge section
    had dotted eighths on them. I also used the Marshall Tape Emulator for
    slap echo, which was kicked in just for the vibe, probably at 15ips with
    varispeed. With the vocals you try to get the overall tone for the
    whole record with the compressors, and then you’re chasing the faders to
    get them really in your face. It’s all about automation.”

    Orchestral reverb: Lexicon 300

    “They did a good orchestral recording, so the
    orchestra was just automation and panning to get the blend. I think I
    also put all the reverbs I had on the orchestra, just to give it a 3D
    effect. The organs were dry, but the piano had Inward Connections TSL3
    compression on it and the same long Ensemble reverb the vocal had in the
    beginning. The Ensemble reverb was a giant Lexicon 300 hall with a
    seven-second decay time. That really gave the orchestral stuff length
    and character. Some of the background vocals may also have had that long
    reverb and even some of the big drum fills in the beginning. That was
    the more anthemic reverb, but once the song turns into a rock song, all
    the long reverbs get shut off, and it’s back to the tight band sound.

    “You have these moments in the track where it’s open
    and soaring and where the big reverbs open all the floodgates, and then
    in other sections it was the one-second room. It’s an artistic choice
    how things change from section to section, and you have your line of
    effects for each. The song was a challenge to mix, but it was a hell of a
    thrill and great fun to do. It was also a great accomplishment for the
    band.”

    And, one could add, for Chris Lord-Alge

  • Darren Landrum

    I’m finishing up a song.

    My vocals aren’t all that great. It’s taken many, many tries to finally get something that sounds okay.

    Many of the sounds are found sounds. Some of them have some tuning issues.

    There’s an electric piano line that I opted to play live rather than sequence. There are some minor timing flaws here and there.

    There’s a synth solo that I again opted to play live instead of sequence. It doesn’t always exactly line up with the timing of the electric piano line.

    But if you take it all together, it still sounds good enough.

    Modern production technologies and techniques have created the expectation of perfection. Even vocals can be made to sound so amazingly good in a way that can’t be achieved live by even the best singers. I think we’ve gotten too used to this perfection, and need to remember that this is first and foremost a human art form.

    Do I object to such computer-based perfect performances? Not in the least. I love my computer-based music studio, and wouldn’t trade it for even a top-notch Studer. I just decided some time ago that if I’m to grow as a musician, I have to do at least some of the work myself.

  • Felipe Noronha

    Nice point! As a beginner, I’ve noticed that I get better mixes when I achieve a nice sound right at the end of the recording phase, without plugins.

    One thing to add though: beginners need time to study gear/plugin/instrumentation tweaks. For that, I try to record a few bars of a simple musical idea, and then I try things out without any time limitations or rules. That’s what I call a experimental session.
    For real music sessions, rules and limitations really helps you finish a project.

  • Frank Adrian

    I don’t know if I could time-limit editing. But I don’t think that I do that much tweaking in that realm. When I’m done editing, I’m pretty much done editing – the only exception is if I add a bit more compression to a vocal track and then have to turn down breath sounds again.

    I don’t generally “undo” a lot, either. If I get a sound I like, I run with it. The only kinds of undos I tend to make are the macro kind (i.e., reverting to an earlier version of the project or removing an effect altogether). And that only when I don’t have any other option… Well, with the exception of reverb. There’s something really fiddly about reverb wet/dry level that seems infinitely tweakable (at least to me).

    Deadlines work. Really well. Deadlines will save you. Don’t start mixing without one.

    Another thing to do is to actually commit – bounce what you have for a track or submix to stems in the DAW and use the stems from there on out. Move the stems to a different project, if you have to. Even though the old tracks are still around, having to find them and unhide them and re-open them and muck about with the originals acts as a barrier to re-entry. This is especially true of vocal tracks.

  • Dave

    I started out with a 4 track cassette recorder so I can definitely understand the importance of limitations.  Even now, I find that if I don’t set limitations when recording, my 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. takes start to become worse than if I had just kept one of the first 2 takes.