As many of you know, I’m in the process of mixing my album, and members of Mix With Us are mixing it right along with me.
We’re learning a ton about how to mix and how to overcome all sorts of obstacles for mixing in a home studio. However, one source of difficulty (and also embarrassment for me) is the quality of some of my recordings.
Productivity IS Important
I’ve written about productivity a lot here on Home Studio Corner. In Roadmap to Finishing Your Album (one of my free eBooks), I made the point that you really shouldn’t take forever to finish an album, that you should focus on getting things done, scheduling your time wisely, and learn how to accomplish more in your home studio.
Having that sense of urgency is important, and setting limitations for yourself can really unleash your own creativity in the studio.
However, we must be careful not to sacrifice audio quality for the sake of productivity. It’s a fine line to walk. One the one hand, we can crank out recordings like a factory, but they may not sound as good as they possibly could, but at least we’re producing something. On the other hand, it’s very easy to go too far in the other direction, spending hours upon hours getting the sound you want, but never actually finishing a recording.
“We can just fix it in the mix.”
We’re all guilty of saying this at one time or another.
“Don’t worry about that guitar tone. We’ll fix it in the mix.”
“It’s okay if you can’t play in time. We’ll fix it during editing.”
“Don’t worry about that out-of-tune take. That’s what AutoTune is for.”
“Just throw a mic in front of the amp. We’ll make it sound good later.”
I could go on and on.
We’ve all done it, and with so many digital tools available to us, it’s really easy to do! But don’t forget why we do this. It’s all about the music. Don’t sacrifice the music on an altar of efficiency or fancy toys.
Get it right at the source.
This phrase has been ringing in my ears over the last few weeks. I’m very guilty of the fix-it-in-the-mix mentality, especially when I’m recording guitars. I get very impatient. I want to set up the mics as soon as possible, listen to it briefly, and then start recording a bunch of takes.
It isn’t until I start mixing that I start to regret how I rushed through the recording process.
The problem is that I, like most of you, am oftentimes both the musician and the engineer. When I’m recording acoustic guitars, I rarely even listen to the microphones through anything but my headphones. That’s bad. For one thing, my tracking headphones don’t have a super low frequency response, so I’m unable to accurately hear what’s going on in the bottom end.
On top of that, it’s hard to really critically listen to something while playing an instrument. What I should do is record a few bars of the song, then go listen to it on my monitors (or my high-end mixing headphones). Then I should move the microphones if needed. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Hear it for Yourself
Unfortunately, I didn’t do this when I tracked acoustic guitars for my album. I was so focused on getting all of the songs recorded, and playing the parts well, that I didn’t spend much time actually LISTENING to the audio. Everything sounded full in my headphones, when in fact the microphones were far too close to the guitar, creating a TON of low end in the recordings.
I couldn’t hear this at the time.
I originally put the microphones so close because I wanted to minimize the amount of room noise the mics picked up. Unfortunately, having the mics so close brought out our good friend, the Proximity Effect, and introduced a lot of bass into my acoustic guitar recordings.
Take a listen:[audio:http://hsc-audio.s3.amazonaws.com/TN%20Moons%20AG%20before.mp3]
As you can tell, there’s way too much low end. After doing a ton of ninja EQ tricks, I was able to get it sounding okay:[audio:http://hsc-audio.s3.amazonaws.com/TN%20Moons%20AG%20after_01.mp3]
As you can hear, it’s not ideal. There’s still a fair amount of noise, etc. This is the best I could do. Solo’d it doesn’t sound awesome, but it works well in the mix:[audio:http://hsc-audio.s3.amazonaws.com/TN%20Moons%20AG%20aftermix_01.mp3]
While I was able to rescue these tracks somewhat, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. Get it right at the source.
This is nothing new. We’ve all heard it before, but it’s easy to forget.
There’s one thing I do want to point out, though. Even though these guitar parts aren’t perfect, I’m NOT going to record them again. I’ve committed to finishing this album. I’ll make my guitars sound better on the next project, but I’m not going to put this record on hold indefinitely while I back-pedal and re-record things.
Mixing these acoustic guitars made for a challenging experience, but I’m glad I did it. Am I somehow advocating “Fix it in the mix”? Not at all! Had I been more diligent when recording, my mixing experience would’ve been much more enjoyable.
What do you think? Got any stories you want to share? I’ll need 10 comments, folks.
[Photo by 1Happysnapper (photography)]