Had a great conversation with Jeff (one of my customers) the other day.

He was telling me how he has owned Understanding EQ and Understanding Compression for a while now, and he even took my Recording Electric Guitar class a few months back.

But he said something interesting…something I need to share with you.

As we were talking, he said, “You know, I’ve heard you talk about getting it right at the source, but it never really clicked for me until I listened to your album and went through your Mix With Us class.”

(Mix With Us was a class where I shared all the multi-track files to my latest album, along with videos of how I mixed them.)

He said that once he pulled the files into Pro Tools and listened to the raw tracks, something clicked.

“So THIS is what it’s supposed to sound like,” he said to himself.

He told me it was kinda like the tracks mixed themselves. It was an ah-ha moment for Jeff. He said he finally understood why I harp on getting good recordings before thinking about mixing. He realized that he was focusing all his effort on buying new gear and practicing his mixing skills, that he had glossed right over the uber-important recording phase.

He would just record something, give it a quick listen, say, “Eh, I can work with that,” and move on.

It was really cool to hear Jeff talk about this. There was an excitement in his voice, because he now knows that getting new gear is fun and all, and mixing is a blast, but the key to getting really great-sounding mixes is simply focusing on the recording itself.

It’s really that simple.

When you’re recording a track, ask yourself if you’re going to need to add a bunch of plugins to the recording to make it sound good. If the answer is yes, then you’re not done recording. Get back in there and record it the way you need it to sound.

Then…it’ll feel like the tracks mix themselves.

Magic, eh?

  • Thomas

    I have a disagreement with “ask yourself if you’re going to need to add a bunch of plugins to the recording” because anyone fully utilizing the value and opportunities within any quality digital audio workstation will record their tracks AS DRY AND UNAFFECTED AS POSSIBLE so as to take full advantage of plugins and effects so as to have a sterile source to make the additions to.

    Its not magic… its technology and it makes the difference between something as classic as “The Wall” or “Empire” or “Surfing with the Alien” and say an iphone snuck into a Fun. concert in an outdoor amphitheater.

    …and Joe, I listened to your digital album and the composition and playing is quite good and the production is definitely “FM” quality, but it is at the same time, dynamically flat whereas many of us still prefer to record and mix it down to the classic Album Oriented Rock style of dynamic.

    That may be a significant difference in your approach.

    • I disagree that “anyone fully utilizing the value and opportunities within any quality digital audio workstation will record their tracks AS DRY AND UNAFFECTED AS POSSIBLE so as to take full advantage of plugins and effects so as to have a sterile source to make the additions to.”

      Not saying it’s a wrong approach at all, but the more professionals I listen to, the more I hear ’em say that they do a lot on the front end to make the tracks sound like they want them to……long before mixing happens.

  • Jordan

    Damn, this means I’m gonna have to get a tape machine, and then let that play out into my church, and record across the room for that distory/reverb I like 😛

  • ChrisPorro

    this is a great point. but people so want to believe in the magic of technology. : ) get the source right. i went to the AES project studio expo sessions over the weekend (http://chrisporro.com/?p=1848). guess what? they had a whole session on and i quote “Total Tracking: Get It Right At Source”. there was a lot of emphasis on phase.

  • Dave Chesney

    Many times I have(had) been told to find professionally done tracks and compare my own recordings to them. While that may be decent advice, you can never know simply by listening to professional tracks all that went into the mix i.e. effects, edits, plug-ins et al.
    Hearing good raw source recordings would be a much better way to understand what your own raw recordings should sound like, yes?

    • Hi Dave,

      Typically any raw tracks you listen to don’t have any plugins applied to them. If they are indeed RAW tracks, then you’re getting tracks as they were recorded. Sure, they may have recorded with some EQ and compression on the front end, but otherwise the tracks will be un-mixed.

  • Yay! Now if we can just get the tracks to MASTER themselves as well, we will be home & hosed! 😉

  • Andrew

    Very True! I like to think my Microphones are my EQ and the way I perform through the mic is my compression (Basically, try to trick my mind into thinking there is NO MIX PHASE. That way when I actually get to the mix phase there is some small eq cuts and compression applied for a more polish sound). =)

    • That’s a fantastic way to approach recording.