Super i am 8 bitDo you hear somebody like me or Graham say how important it is to “get it right at the source” and wonder how you do that? People will email me, saying they don’t even know what a good recording is supposed to sound like.

It’s a valid concern, and the good news is it’s all subjective. What sounds like a great kick drum to me may sound muddy to you. What you think is a killer mix may strike me as boring or lifeless.

It’s all relative.

Okay, Joe, that doesn’t help us know how to get great recordings. I’m getting to that. πŸ™‚

Go to the Eye Doctor

If you’ve ever been to the eye doctor, you know they make you look through a series of lenses before they determine your exact prescription. They ask, “Better one? …or two?” and you choose between the two lenses and tell them which one looks clearer.

They then offer you two more choices…and two more…and two more, until it’s perfectly clear to them exactly which eye prescription you need.

Imagine if you walked into the eye doctor, and they slapped a set of glasses on you and asked, “Can you see?” You slowly answer, “Yeeeeesss?” And they say, “Great! Thanks for the business!” They take your money and push you out the door.

How would you know if you got the right glasses? Sure, you can see out of them, but that doesn’t mean you can see well.

It’s all about Comparisons

It’s the same way with recording. If you place a microphone on a guitar amp and assume it’s right, you’ll never be very happy with your recordings. Why? Because you never compared it to something else. How do you know if what you’re doing is the best, if you’ve never compared it to another way of doing it?

If you ask me the best way to mic a guitar cabinet, I would tell you to grab a mic, stick it in front of it, and see what it sounds like. Then move the mic, and compare the two. Which do you like better? The first one may have sounded fine, but the second might sound SO MUCH better. You’d never know if you didn’t try…and it only took you an extra minute or two.

The Formula

Here’s my formula for getting great recordings. Always have two options. No matter what the session is, always try it at least two different ways. That’s how you learn. That’s how you get better.

So the process goes like this:

  • Try one setup, record a sample (just a few bars will do, or a whole verse-chorus)
  • Change one thing about that setup and record another sample
  • Listen to the two samples, decide which one you like better, and use that setup.
  • Now (if you want) compare THAT setup to a different setup…and so on and so forth

I don’t recommend doing this more than twice on a given session. For me it might look something like this:

  • Record the vocalist on my large-diaphragm condenser mic, singing the verse and chorus of the song.
  • Record the vocalist singing the same part through my dynamic mic.
  • Listen to the two and decide which one I like better.
  • THEN I may have the singer sing on the winning mic at two different distances, maybe 6 inches away and 15 inches away.
  • Compare those two and choose the one I like better.
  • Start recording the actual takes.

This lets the singer warm up, it lets me try out two mics and two different placements, all within a matter of 15 minutes TOPS.

The end result? I’m making informed decisions about the recording. I’m not arbitrarily putting a mic in front of a source and hoping it’s okay. I’m trying different things and making decisions BASED…ON…WHAT…I…HEAR.

I don’t magically know where to put the mics…I use my knowledge of how audio works to make an educated guess, but then I just have to put the mic in front of something and listen to how it sounds. Then I make changes from there.

That can be a very odd approach if you’ve never done it…but if you want to take control of your recordings rather than have them control you, you’ve gotta start implementing a process like this.

What do you think? I wanna know. Leave a comment below.

  • Jac-gun

    Thanks, mate. You definetly opened my eyes, after years of “hoping the sound is okay”. Thanks again.

    • That’s good to hear!! So glad I could help. Keep it simple. Make it sound good, and enjoy. πŸ™‚

  • Alfonzo

    Nice article, I definitely agree it’s good to have multiple choices regarding mic types and placement. The hard part for me occurs when I compare two mics and find that the character may be a bit different but I really like both of them. Choice can certainly be a burden on time if you let it. Sometimes what i’ll end up doing is recording with both and then mixing them together to sum up both qualities!

  • Ian Hudson

    “People will email me, saying they don’t even know what a good recording is supposed to sound like.”
    I’ve done this.

    and after this post:
    “take control of your recordings rather than have them control you,”
    is my new mantra….

    Excellent, excellent post Joe….I spend so much time wondering if I’m doing it right, when I have the answer myself….it’s right if I like it! and I know what I like πŸ™‚

    I get it now……

    • Nice, Ian! Recording is all about having those regular little “ah-ha!” moments. I still have ’em all the time. Now go make some more music!

  • Eric Jean

    This idea of A-B’ing diffent mics and mic positions was really instrumental in helping us get great recordings during the Simply Recording Academy (SRA) workshop recently. I know we’ve all read about the importance of mic technique, but, as Joe says, even a shift in mic angle can make a significant difference. I highly recommend the SRA workshop if it’s offered again guys!

    • Thanks Eric. Really glad you were able to come!

  • Dan

    Hey Joe! Great tips! What I always try to do when recording a cab is place 2 mics at the same time. So I can compare 4 different mic/placement with only 2 takes. Saves a lot of time and gives more choices…
    Dan, Montreal

    • That’s definitely a cool idea. I usually don’t do it because I get to distracted and can’t remember which track is which mic. πŸ™‚

  • Dennis

    I agree. It’s just like listening to a live act in a club…it might sound awesome in one area to the listener, but horrible in another area. Studios, or wherever you record, are the same. When recording drums, you can close mic the individual drums and typical overheads, but try placing a large diaphragm room mic about 10-20 feet away from the drum set (if you have the room). Experiment with your room by switching positions and mics.

    • Also changing WHERE in the room you place the instrument can have a huge impact on the sound.

  • Hey Joe,

    Great tip! One thing that’s helped me get started is this book right here.
    http://www.amazon.com/Professional-Microphone-Techniques-Mix-Audio/dp/0872886859/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318429149&sr=8-1

    I’m sure you’ve seen it before, but it really is good for getting a starting point on all types of instruments! Thanks again for all your tips!

    Jimmy

    • I’ve seen that book but never read it.

  • Great tips Joe! I have been really struggling recording my acoustic guitar but you made me realize that I need to narrow it down to two choices. Don’t try to experiment with 5 things, it will take forever. Thanks for the article!
    Jason

  • Pepe

    Hey joe! I loved your post, I am almost always unhappy with recording electric guitar. Asking myself “could it sound any better?”, and the answer was always in front of me! I will try this on every recording I make on the future!
    Thanks for the tips, I love reading your posts! A truly inspiration.
    Pepe Navarro, Mexico.

    • Thanks Pepe. Extra tip: when you’re trying different mic placements, try different angles, too. Sometimes angling the mic 45 degrees can change the sound a lot.