Once upon a time, Joe made a stupid mistake.

I was recording a bunch of acoustic guitar tracks for an album project.

I was super-excited. I had set aside an entire afternoon to knock out all the songs.

Also, I had just gotten a brand new microphone, and was going to use it along with another mic to record the guitar in stereo.

All was right with the world. I set levels, listened through my headphones, and the sound was HUGE.

Jackpot. Let’s start recording.

Four or five hours later, all the songs were recorded.

And they all lived happily ever after…except not really.

Did you catch the mistake? It was seemingly small, but it had a huge impact on the rest of the recording/mixing process.

It was harmless.

The problem? I was in such a hurry to start recording and knock out a bunch of songs that I failed to take time to make sure the recording actually SOUNDED good.

If you scrolly-scroll back up, you’ll see I “listened through my headphones, and the sound was HUGE.” That’s it. I listened while I was playing and thought it sounded fine, so I moved on to recording.

Therein lies the mistake.

The result? All the acoustic tracks had an unnecessary amount of low end. See, I placed the microphones really close to the guitar, assuming it would give me the best sound and pick up the least amount of noise.

Well, I was wrong on both counts. They still picked up some room noise, AND they picked up way too much bass.

Ye olde proximity effect was in full force that day. (Proximity effect = increased bass response when mics are very close to the source.)

Did I have to re-record everything? Did I waste an entire day of recording?

No, I used the tracks, but I had to work ten times harder during mixing to get them to sound right. And for several tunes, I had to settle for a compromise in guitar tone…all because I didn’t take an extra 10 minutes to make sure the mics were in the best position.

There are two lessons here for you:

#1 – Listen Before You Commit

This isn’t a big, hairy, time-consuming thing. All I’m asking is that you literally take an extra 10 minutes to record a quick “practice take,” listen back to it on monitors or nice headphones, and make adjustments to the mics as needed.

Had I done that, I would have noticed the excessive low end, and I would have moved the mics back 6-12 inches. Problem solved.

Since I didn’t, I had to work much harder during mixing, which leads to the second lesson:

#2 – Move Forward With Your Mistakes

I could have thrown my hands up that day. I could have deleted all the guitar tracks and re-recorded everything. But I didn’t.

The performances were actually really good. Plus, I simply didn’t want to go through that whole recording process again, so I moved forward.

I made myself mix those less-than-perfect tracks.

The result? It made me painfully aware of how important it is to get it right at the source. Also, it helped me develop my skills in mixing poorly-recorded acoustic guitar.

Let’s be honest. Sometimes you’ll have to mix something that doesn’t sound all that great. Your job is to make it sound as good as possible. This big stupid failure of mine gave me valuable training that I have used since then to be both a better recording engineer AND mixing engineer.

To avoid big stupid failures like this, consider joining the Recording Acoustic Guitar class. I’ll teach you how I go about recording acoustic instruments, which I learned to do after many, many failures.

Sign up here:

www.UnderstandingRecording.com/Acoustic

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  • Andrew

    I had made a lot of mistakes this past two weeks because I was experimenting on different recording techniques for a song that was in an inappropriate key for the lead vocalist (in the end the song sounded better in a lower key, for it made the lead vocalist sounded more mature and not high and whiney). So basically I spent two weeks recording this acoustic guitar and other stuff in 4 or 5 different ways just to find out that the vocalist sounded better in a lower key LOL. At least I learned a new acoustic guitar recording technique (that I really like..so it wasn’t a total lost), but moral of my story:

    Leave yourself room to try different keys for a song to see what sounds best on the vocalist (you might even find out the song may not fit the persons voice at all and that will save you EVEN more time).

    Also I used the wrong mic for the vocalist for the first couple of days that didn’t showcase his voice (kept trying mic placements and wondering why my Sm7b didn’t sound good on him…it sounded good on him before on a different track and now it didn’t so good… that was weird). Tried a Rode Nt1a on him and BINGO! He sounded great:

    Moral of this story: just because the mic sounded good on him on one two different songs doesn’t mean it will work on every other song. Try other mics before committing to one.

    Overall moral story: Leave room for other option in your mind and stop limiting your mind with pre-conceived notions or plans (for example, I am going to use this mic and this guitar because they ALWAYS sound great from past experiences: this is a WRONG way of thinking. Trust me! It will save you time and save you money from buying Tylenol LOL).

  • Jon

    First off I’d like to give a big “THANK YOU” to Joe. I’ve played guitar for years and was in a bunch of bands but recently purchased Pro Tools 9 with a Fast Track C600 and your web site has been an enormous help! That being said I think I can one up you guys.
    I recently recorded acoustic parts for a song I was working on and did listen through the monitors and make a few adjustments. I recorded the parts and all was well. Until I started mixing and noticed a weird echoing effect on the acoustics I hadn’t added.
    Well, turns out the mic placement worked so I went ahead and recorded right in front of my little “console” area and forgot to turn the monitors off! SO the mic was picking up the guitar and the monitor play back! DUH!
    Needless to say; I rerecorded the parts with the monitors off. :/

  • Dave Marriott – Eclectic wonderland studios

    Ditto that Joe and I have also felt your pain personally. I confess I still sometimes forget to test record AND PLAY BACK just because I get cocky & think I’ve nailed the signal chain based on what I hear in the monitor. (Particularly if I haven’t touched anything since I last tracked.) But even if you do everything right you just never know when a cable or preamp or something is going to spontaneously start adding noise. My interface has an A/D conversion glitch once in a blue moon adding distortion that doesn’t show up when monitoring the take live. It only shows up in the playback. A reboot clears the bug but how many “perfect” takes did I do before I realised something was wrong? You guessed it – several. Did I ever perform the part that good again? You guessed it – NO!