Once upon a time, Joe made a stupid mistake.
I was recording a bunch of acoustic guitar tracks for an album project.
I was super-excited. I had set aside an entire afternoon to knock out all the songs.
Also, I had just gotten a brand new microphone, and was going to use it along with another mic to record the guitar in stereo.
All was right with the world. I set levels, listened through my headphones, and the sound was HUGE.
Jackpot. Let’s start recording.
Four or five hours later, all the songs were recorded.
And they all lived happily ever after…except not really.
Did you catch the mistake? It was seemingly small, but it had a huge impact on the rest of the recording/mixing process.
It was harmless.
The problem? I was in such a hurry to start recording and knock out a bunch of songs that I failed to take time to make sure the recording actually SOUNDED good.
If you scrolly-scroll back up, you’ll see I “listened through my headphones, and the sound was HUGE.” That’s it. I listened while I was playing and thought it sounded fine, so I moved on to recording.
Therein lies the mistake.
The result? All the acoustic tracks had an unnecessary amount of low end. See, I placed the microphones really close to the guitar, assuming it would give me the best sound and pick up the least amount of noise.
Well, I was wrong on both counts. They still picked up some room noise, AND they picked up way too much bass.
Ye olde proximity effect was in full force that day. (Proximity effect = increased bass response when mics are very close to the source.)
Did I have to re-record everything? Did I waste an entire day of recording?
No, I used the tracks, but I had to work ten times harder during mixing to get them to sound right. And for several tunes, I had to settle for a compromise in guitar tone…all because I didn’t take an extra 10 minutes to make sure the mics were in the best position.
There are two lessons here for you:
#1 – Listen Before You Commit
This isn’t a big, hairy, time-consuming thing. All I’m asking is that you literally take an extra 10 minutes to record a quick “practice take,” listen back to it on monitors or nice headphones, and make adjustments to the mics as needed.
Had I done that, I would have noticed the excessive low end, and I would have moved the mics back 6-12 inches. Problem solved.
Since I didn’t, I had to work much harder during mixing, which leads to the second lesson:
#2 – Move Forward With Your Mistakes
I could have thrown my hands up that day. I could have deleted all the guitar tracks and re-recorded everything. But I didn’t.
The performances were actually really good. Plus, I simply didn’t want to go through that whole recording process again, so I moved forward.
I made myself mix those less-than-perfect tracks.
The result? It made me painfully aware of how important it is to get it right at the source. Also, it helped me develop my skills in mixing poorly-recorded acoustic guitar.
Let’s be honest. Sometimes you’ll have to mix something that doesn’t sound all that great. Your job is to make it sound as good as possible. This big stupid failure of mine gave me valuable training that I have used since then to be both a better recording engineer AND mixing engineer.
To avoid big stupid failures like this, consider joining the Recording Acoustic Guitar class. I’ll teach you how I go about recording acoustic instruments, which I learned to do after many, many failures.
Sign up here: