Avoiding the Obvious

This one makes me uncomfortable.

Mainly because the people who really NEED to hear this probably won’t.

Well, they might read this article. They might even nod their heads and “agree” with me. But they’ll step away from their computer, fire up their studio and go back to their old ways.

Their problem?

They avoid the obvious.

Let me give you a few theoretical examples…

EXAMPLE #1: Bob emails me and says, “Hey Joe, I don’t have a very good singing voice at all. All of my vocal recordings sound bad. How can I mix them to make ’em sound better?”

BOB’S FOCUS: Mixing techniques to make his vocals better.

THE OBVIOUS: His source sucks. He admitted at the beginning that he doesn’t have a good singing voice. He needs to either become a better singer or find a good singer to sing on his project.

EXAMPLE #2: Bubba emails me and says, “Hey Joe, I can’t get the low end to behave in my mix. It’s always too bass-heavy no matter what I do. What plugin do you recommend to fix this?”

BUBBA’S FOCUS: Finding the right tool to fix his problem.

THE OBVIOUS: Bubba needs to learn how to mix using the tools he already has.

Okay, one more…

EXAMPLE #3: Betty Sue sends me a mix and writes, “I know the guitars are out of tune, but what can I do to make this mix sound great?”

BETTY SUE’S FOCUS: Mixing tricks.

THE OBVIOUS: The guitars are out of tune. Re-record them if you want any hope of a good-sounding mix.

Here’s the deal.

Ask yourself if you’re avoiding the obvious.

Do you find yourself actively ignoring parts of your recording, like an out-of-tune guitar or a bad vocal performance?

No amount of skills or plugins or magic fairy dust will fix those things.

I can sell you tutorial videos on how to use things like EQ and compression effectively, but if your recordings sound bad — if you’re avoiding the obvious problems in your projects — no amount of training will help.

It might hurt a little.

It might mean you have to work a little harder.

It might take more time.

But it’s worth it.

And once your tracks are recorded and you’re HONESTLY proud of them, then it’s time to move on to the fun task of mixing.

I love to mix, and most of my time is spent carving stuff out with EQ.

If you want to learn an effective, easy way to use EQ, go here:

www.UnderstandingEQ.com

Joe “Captain Obvious” Gilder

  • Lo Mei

    because the obvious answer is rarely the easy answer.

  • Jlird808

    Its funny how the idea of “fix it in the mix” has gotten so out-of-control. I think it probably exploded right around the same time as all of these HOME STUDIOS. Ppl start focusing more on the recording/mixing process than the actual music creation process and that part starts to suffer greatly. Ppl spend all this money on their cool DAWS and toys and forget about musicianship. I guess its only natural…

    My friend really is a horrible guitar player and singer…well, he’s DECENT but makes so many mistakes. Whenever we record, his FLAWS hit him in the face during playback and all’s he can say is ‘can u fix that?…..make me sound good!!’ LOL.

    He’s learning though…but Im not gonna sit there for hours and try to fix all his stuff. I told him if he paid me I might lol. I told him to PRACTICE but he never does. He’s too busy lol.

    • You’re hitting on something really important here. Recording technology is simply a tool to capture and preserve musical performances. If we start to see the technology AS part of the performance, we’re heading in a bad direction.
      Now I LOVE using technology (EQ, editing, etc.) to enhance a great performance, but if I’m also RELYING on that technology to CREATE a great performance, I’m in trouble.

      • It all depends really. This argument has been going on since people first started recording crappy noises on to tape, cutting it up and reassembling it to create ‘music concrete’ (look it up). 

        There is no reason why the recording process shouldn’t be looked upon as a means ov creating art in itself, if that’s what one wishes to do. As long as the artist is happy with the creation and the listener or customer is happy with the product ov creation who cares how it was made?

        Having said this though I think people that rely on virtual instruments etc and make these “awesome” symphonic mega track compositions have missed the point. It sounds plastic, and to my ears, boring as f**k.

        At the end ov the day though: If you’re a real musician you’ll be regularly writing engaging original material and you’ll be able to execute it in an environment where there can be no re-takes or fix-in-the-mix. And that is the LIVE PERFORMANCE environment.

  • Razor

    …unfortunately, sometimes knowing the answer is overshadowed by not being confident you know the answer.

    • Why are people so worried about confidence? The only way you get confidence is by making decisions you’re not sure about, trying stuff even though you don’t know if it will work.
      You don’t have to know the answer. You just have to be honest enough to recognize when something doesn’t sound good.

  • BOB: Record 20 stacked takes ov your shiessen vocals and treat each one with Anteres Auto Tune & an expensive Vocal Harmoniser plugin. Then kill yourself.

    BUBBA: Set an expensive Phase Linear EQ plugin to work on your bungled mix. If you can’t rid the low end build up with that you’ll need an Aural Exciter plugin as well. Then kill yourself.

    BETTY-SUE: Try a chain ov Auto Tune or if that doesn’t work a fixed Pitch Shift on that rank-amateur guitar. If individual strings are out ov tune just cover it all up with a lush (& expensive) Chorus plugin. Then kill yourself.Thanx to plugins, all problems are solved. 😀

  • Sometimes nothing is needed anyway, a ‘perfect’ recording and mix may make the song bland and boring. I recorded a band recently and on the last song the keyboardist wanted to go in and sing backing vocals, as we just finished the main vocal overdubs the equipment was already set up so I said “yeah, go ahead”, because why not?

    Turns out he was too enthusiastic and began belting parts of the song out of tune and time… think of a drunk pirate and you get the idea.

    It sounded terrible by itself, much to the amusement of the rest of the band. But when I turned the faders down and unmuted the rest of the song as the band was listening to the finalised recording I gently brought the backing vocals up in the mix. It created a subtle effect and enhanced the song by giving it a feeling that felt as if it became soulless once the backing vocals were muted. It was raw and dirty and out of tune but it gave the song that extra punch. the band loved it. guess what I did to the vocals in the mix. Auto-tune? time correction? nope. I done absolutely nothing, not even a little EQ.

    “Why! but it won’t sound profecinal” you scream? because it did not need anything, sure I could spend all night ‘fixing’ the performance with plugins and or re-recording it but then it would loose the very thing it was used for, to bring a sense of liveliness to the song.

    Sometimes its the little parts of a mix that are ‘wrong’ that make it sound human and natural. Now I’m not saying play your lead guitar out of tune or never edit a performance, because that’s when things start becoming ‘amateurish’ but that 4th backing vocal layer? maybe you don’t need to make it sound perfect for it to sound great within the mix.

    • Completely agree. I try to get the main tracks sounding great, then all the extra stuff doesn’t get “messed with” nearly as much.