Unhappy With Your Mixes?

STOP BLAMING PLUG-INS.

That’s right, I said it. I’ve heard too many people tell me that they aren’t happy with their mixes, and the next words out of their mouth are “I need to buy another…” — plug-in bundle or another microphone, or another pre-amp or another piece of software.

Unfortunately, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but that’s not going to solve your problem.

You see, the issue is much simpler than that. If your mixes aren’t sounding good, I’m almost 100% certain that your plug-ins are not the main issue. The problem most of us run into when our mixes don’t sound how we want them to sound is that the tracks themselves don’t sound how we want them to sound.

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How to Get Better: Copy Someone Else

imitation

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

As a home studio owner, you’re constantly trying to make your recordings sound “professional,” or at least on par with professional recordings.

Well, if you want your recordings to sound like pro recordings, have you ever actually tried to emulate a professional recording??

The Challenge

Here’s my challenge to you. Take a listen to some of your favorite songs, pick one, and try to re-create that song…from scratch…in your studio.

Listen to the song critically, pull out a piece of paper and write down all the elements you’ll need to capture, then get to work recording sounds that sound as close to that recording as you possibly can.

Will you perfectly emulate it? Nah. Probably not.

Will you learn a lot in the process? Absolutely.

A few things you will learn:

  • A great recording always begins with a great song.
  • The “sound” of a recording comes from the source.
  • A great mix comes from great recording/production, not the other way around.
  • Beginning with the end in mind is HUGE. Knowing the sound you want, before you record a single note, makes all the difference in the world. Suddenly you have a goal.

What do you say? Try it this weekend? Leave a comment and let us know. I’ll hold you to it…

[Photo Credit]

One of the Most Overlooked Steps of Recording

When I started recording more seriously, I was spending most of my time in professional studios. Fancy studios are awesome. You’ve got a pretty control room with a big console, patchbay, and couches. You’ve got a nice big tracking room, and you’ve probably got a couple of extra rooms or vocal booths thrown in there.

All this is great. For us home studio folks, chances are the musicians we record are no farther away than the other side of the room. Most of us don’t have the luxury of multiple recording rooms, vocal booths, etc.

While all those rooms are nice, I found that it’s VERY easy to fall into a trap. When you’re setting up to record something, you’re running back and forth from the tracking room to the control room, patching mics to preamps, checking levels, etc. It’s really a lot of fun. Then you turn up the monitors in the control room and start listening to the instrument you just mic’d up.

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Day 19 – Recording Takes [31DBR]

Welcome to Day 19 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Whether you’re recording audio or MIDI, if you’re using some sort of DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), then you should have the ability to record takes.

What are takes? Takes are simply multiple attempts at recording the same part.

3-5 Full Takes

Whenever I record a lead vocal, I almost always record 5 takes. That means I have the singer sing through the entire song five times. At that point, as long as the singer is comfortable and singing well, I’ll be able to piece together one awesome take from those five takes.

When I record acoustic guitar, I usually record at least 3 takes.

Somewhere from 3-5 seems to be the magic number for me.

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Day 14 – Setting Levels for Recording [31DBR]

Welcome to Day 14 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

A lot of people ask me about setting levels for recording. It seems simple enough, but people tend to be a little nervous about it.

What if I record it too loud? What if it clips?

What if I record it too quietly, and it’s never loud enough?

These are legitimate concerns, but I would say that it doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does. Yes, proper gain staging is important, especially when using outboard gear, but when setting levels coming into your recording platform, it’s not as tricky as it may seem.

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Introducing “31 Days to Better Recordings”

I’ve got some exciting news for you loyal HSC fans. 🙂

I’m launching a series of posts designed to give you lots of ideas for how to make your recordings better. The series is called:

31 Days to Better Recordings

Yep, you guessed it. I’ll be posting every day for the entire month of October. The goal is to make you a better recording engineer by Halloween. 🙂

We’ll start out looking at studio equipment and gear, then we’ll move into tips for recording, editing, mixing, and mastering.

All 31 articles will be completely free. However, there’s a catch.

At the end of every article I’ll be posting a daily challenge. This challenge is designed to help you apply that day’s topic and to actually do something with it.

I can teach this stuff all day long, but if you’re not applying it and getting better, then what’s the point? I want you to be a better engineer in November than you were in September. But I can’t do the work for you.

Will you join me?

As we go through 31 Days to Better Recordings (or 31DBR for short), will you do the daily challenges? The first part of every challenge involves leaving a comment on that particular post, telling us either what you’re going to do or what you did do for that challenge.

This should be an awesome experience. The more people we have joining in the conversation, challenging and encouraging each other, the better the experience will be.

If you’ve never commented on articles in the past, I’d encourage you to try it. Like I said, the more involvement we have, the better it will be.

For you more experienced engineers, be sure to chime in and help out the new guys. Share your ideas. As most of you know, my wife and I are having a baby sometime in October, so there’s a chance I won’t be as involved in the comments at some point during the month. That shouldn’t stop you all from interacting, though. 🙂

For you new guys (and girls), don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are a lot of cool, knowledgeable people who hang out here at HSC, and one of them (or me) should be able to help you. (There are no stupid questions, and if anybody gives you a hard time, I won’t hesitate to delete their comment and ban them from the site. This is a safe place to ask your questions.)

Everything begins on Friday, October 1st. Will you join me? Leave a comment below and let me know. (Stretch your commenting muscles. :-))

Can’t wait to get started!!

Why Record Direct Electric Guitar

I just finished mixing a tune for my upcoming record. It’s a heavier song, mainly driven by a pair of fairly distorted electric guitars.

As is my custom, I mixed the song for a couple of hours, then I emailed the first version of the mix to a few friends to get their opinions. [Side-note: I cannot stress enough how important this is. I’m always really excited about the first “draft” of a mix, but there are always glaring issues that I just don’t hear until a friend points them out. My mixes are MUCH better after receiving critique from friends.]

Jon over at Audio Geek Zine wrote back. He always gives me really good, helpful ideas. And he’s honest, which I actually appreciate. [Another side-note: Don’t ask for opinions if you don’t handle criticism well. ;-)]

One of the things he said was
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Processing Vocals Part 1 – Recording the Vocal

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions on processing vocals. Folks are asking for a step-by-step guide for getting a good vocal sound — from actually recording the vocal all the way to the finished mix.

This is a great topic. After all, for most music styles the vocal is the focal point of the entire song. Who cares if the drums, bass, and guitars sound amazing if the vocals are lame, right?

So…I think it’s time for a little series of articles on vocals!

Recording the Vocal

Before jumping into EQ settings and effects plugins, we need to take a step back and make sure we get a good vocal recording to begin with. There’s this annoying tendency among a lot of recording engineers to just capture the audio as quickly and thoughtlessly as possible, then say, “I’ll just fix it later with plugins.”

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