It’s President’s Day here in the US. Not sure exactly what that means for me, since I don’t personally know any presidents, but I’ll figure something out…

What it DOES mean is that I have a challenge for you. More on that in a second.

I’m reading through a book written by Paul White of Sound on Sound magazine. It’s called “The Producer’s Handbook,” and it’s pretty good so far.

One thing he talks about early in the book is that some of the first multi-track tape machines were 3-track recorders. That means they had a stereo track for the band, leaving a third track for the lead vocal.

Talk about simple.

What did that mean? They had to do all their mixing on the fly, as all the musicians were recorded…at the same time…to a stereo track.

Imagine the amount of intensity you had to have, the amount of focus, to make sure everything gets recorded the way you want it recorded. Because after-the-fact, you can’t go back and changed the sound of that guitar or that trumpet.

It’s set in stone.

When’s the last time you recorded something with THAT kind of intensity? I’ll be honest, it’s really easy to relax during a recording session and just “let things slide.” After all, you can always fix it later, right?

I think we could ALL learn something from the early 3-track days. What would it look like to record everything knowing that you wouldn’t be able to mix it later?

That’s my challenge to you today — the President’s Day Challenge.

Next time you record a song, record everything AS IF you weren’t going to get a change to mix it.

That means you’ll have to spend more time at the source, adjusting the source itself, the mic, the placement, the preamp, etc…everything that affects the sound before it hits your computer.

Just try it…let me know how it works.

I’m amazed at how much fun I have during mixing when I put THAT kind of effort into the recording phase.

Just a thought…

6 Responses to “You’re Not Allowed to Mix”

  1. Xan

    That’s the story…get into it with an analogue mixing board and cut your songs straight to stereo…!

    I made the first Beltane demo like this back in ’95 as it was the only means available to me.

    An ancient Lewis Le Gro 8 channel desk. A few cheap mics – the drums were done with two, one hangin’ over the kit & one in the kick. Mic’d up a 5150 half stack, direct from lineout ov bassamp into the desk. And three vocal mics. No compressors even, but I *think* I had a Boss half rack reverb in the FX send. Straight to cassette.

    Came out sounding awesome…! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll admit I was lucky with the relative volumes between the instruments, but there is a certain power you get from going straight to 2-Track that you’ll simply not get from multracking.

    Ov course we knew these songs like the back ov our hands, so no need for fix-ups ov any kind in that respect.

    That recording still holds it’s own against Black Metal recordings ov today..I am gonna reissue it for the 20th Anniversary – April 5th 2015.

    I have been itching to make an EP using this method again too. I even have that old desk in the vault somewhere still too..! Germanium transistors rule..! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Andrew Bauserman

    Well said, Joe!

    Patrick Leonard (on AudioNowCast) said:
    “If you couldn’t fix it, everything changes. Anyone who’s listening, get a metronome, shut off your quantizer, shut off your auto-tune, and find out who you are.”

    Bob Dennis (Motown) wrote an article specifically about 3-track recording, The Lost Step in the Recording Process, Multitrack Mastering

    “The engineer of the 60’s and 70’s didn’t have the convenience of console automation and a “bizzillion” effects units in the rack, but still had to get the sound.”

    Dennis outlines the 8-step/5-reel (plus master) process that Motown developed for “Pre-Mastering The Multitrack”. Each step involved COMMITTING another layer to the mix.

    There no school like old-school ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Michael

      A neighbor I once had was a mix engineer at Motown during these days. He told me about the Pre-Mastering they did; great information and education for a home recordist like myself.

      Somewhere along the way I began “mastering” the individual instrument tracks of a recording, mostly because it made it easier on me when I got to the album mastering stage. Later I learned John Vestman calls this “Separations”, and it seems similar to what Motown did with pre-mastering.

      Personally, I think some of these “old school” ways are coming back, partly because it’s more challenging to get good recordings, and partly because if you do get good recordings you’ve now developed a skill.

  3. Andrew

    “Next time you record a song, record everything AS IF you werenโ€™t going to get a change to mix it.”

    I have been doing that for the last two months for this EP I am making and man am I stressed, tired, and frustrated. On the plus side my tracks sound really polished without the mixing stage (I trick my mind into thinking there is no mixing stage so I use my mic placements as EQ and how close I am to the mic as my reverb/space and ect). I’m learning a lot and I came up with a conclusion to this approach:

    It’s the best way to get a satisfying mix, but it ain’t fun it’s work! Chances are if your having TOO MUCH FUN recording you ain’t doing it right LOL!

  4. aussiebail

    I can relate to this and I agree 100%. I am the sound man at our church, and we are still using an analog board and record directly to cd. People always want a copy of the service, and only when my job is done correctly will they NOT know I’m there.


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