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Can One Spend Too Much Time On A Song?

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  • Can One Spend Too Much Time On A Song?

    This thread is inspired by something Craig said about "spending 46 hours obsessing over the mix, or trying out 67 different microphones before pressing record"

    I'm lucky in that I have one recording mic and a very short attention-span

    How about you guys?
    works | smoke | forum

  • #2

    Quote Originally Posted by MarkydeSad
    View Post

    This thread is inspired by something Craig said about "spending 46 hours obsessing over the mix, or trying out 67 different microphones before pressing record"

    I'm lucky in that I have one recording mic and a very short attention-span

    How about you guys?

    I usually mix as I`m recording so I never officially sit down to mix. When all the tracks are where I want them, I`ll adjust levels with automation, EQ a bit to open things up, perhaps add some efx here and there or special efx just to make things interesting but I never set a time aside for all that. Its all done spur of the moment. I will then put that mix in with the rest of the tunes I`m working on and see how it fits. After a couple of days I may go back and tweak it once or twice but rarely more.

    Just from my own experiences, the most exciting mixes are done on the fly with little thought... its more about feeling the song and flying with it or gracefully falling... its a fine line.


    • #3
      I've definitely been guilty of spending too much time on a song, but not so much any more. Doing gigs with Dr. Walker, who doesn't believe in rehearsing, was a big inspiration. Same with you, Marky Listening to your songs made it clear that obsessing over a song not only might not help, it might hurt. Also, working with Brian Hardgroove has been instructive - he doesn't believe in editing, he does re-recording and punching.

      My modus operandi these days is pretty much to try and get the tracks down as fast as possible, so the song is shaped and established. Then I step back and listen to what's wrong. For example in the song I'm going to post shortly ("Little Pieces"), I used drum loops from my Turbulent Filth Monsters sample CD, which set the tone for the song, and laid down tracks on top of that. After the tracks were down, I was able to "step back" and I felt the loops were too dirty, so I added a kick and hi-hat part. That added the clarity but kept the nasty drums in the background. I also redid two of the vocal phrases, which really stood out as "not fitting" during the mix.

      As to the mixing process, I get all the levels to static positions to get balance and panning, but then I turn on the automation and "perform" the mix. That's the fun part and like Ernest, I think the mixing process benefits from spontaneity. But, I am a fan of "ear candy" so I may obsess over some little part just to add interest - like chopping up a rhythm part, or adding a backward cymbal effect. In "When the Grid Goes Down," I did the harmonica part in a couple takes, but it took a long time to get just the right amount of reverb on it in the mix.
      CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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      • #4
        People nearly always spend too much time on a recording project. It's because the tools that we have today allow us to experiment with so many things that it's rare that we start out a recording with a clear idea of how the finished product will sound. There's always another guitar part that you could add, or another harmony vocal that could sound nice, or a different chord change (which might require replacing a whole set of vocal tracks) or adding a djembe.

        Nobody anymore, other than perhaps the Nashville music machine, just works out a good arrangement, gets a group of musicians together who can play the arrangement, and just sing (or hire a singer who can).
        "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
        Drop by http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com now and then


        • #5
          A project is never done, I just eventually get sick of it and call it done.


          • #6
            Depends. If working on it is working (meaning, you're really improving it) then the work is justified.

            That's the deal for me, trying to know the difference between working a lot to get somewhere that is just tough to get too unless the time is put in, and working a lot because there are simply things I haven't tried or I'm just vaguely discontent with what I've done so far.

            There's a bit of an argument for working some amount too much on a song - you don't know it's done until you understand that you can't really improve it by fiddling more with it.

            A whole lot of this is temperament, too. Some people can't stand for one note to be off in some manner. If I was recording Bach Fugues, I'd probably be this way. But if I'm recording a Dylan-type songwriter who is weak on execution but a genius of inspiration, I'd probably just call it a wrap as soon as I knew that most of the genius was caught in the jar.

            I shelve a lot of my stuff and come back to it later instead of wrestling too much with it, that's for sure. But occasionally, I think I can tell I just have to buckle down and sweat it out like working 100 difficult math problems - boring and frustrating and time-consuming, but there's no other way.

            nat whilk ii


            • #7

              I'm quite limited as a musician, so what I tend to do is build up simple layers into a (hopefully) pleasing whole. I'm also quite limited as a recording engineer/producer, so what I tend to do is steer clear of current technology. All the **************** that you guys use would cause my brain to explode. Give me a standalone 16-track with built-in effects, mixer and mastering algorithms, and I'm a happy bunny

              There comes a time when I'm recording a song that I say 'enough is enough'. Doing more would be doing more for doing more's sake
              works | smoke | forum


              • #8
                You can spend too much time on a song... a lifetime if you're not careful. I've done that a time or two. Limiting your options is a powerful creative tool.

                “Music is well said to be the speech of angels... nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine."

                ~Thomas Carlyle


                • #9

                  Quote Originally Posted by learjeff
                  View Post

                  A project is never done, I just eventually get sick of it and call it done.

                  Thats it for me too.

                  I've changed how I do things to mimize this. Unlike Craig where I'll plow through the tracks,

                  I'll instead have many songs in the works at the same time. i have some I'm just beginning and some I'm just

                  finishing. When I hit the studio, I can choose to track guitar, Bass, Lead or just mix or start something new.

                  I find this breaks up the monotony. If I'm in a creative mode I may lay down new tracks, If I'm in a listening mode

                  I can just mix, If I'm in the mood for a good workout, then laying down leads or bass may be best.

                  If I had to come in and only do bass tracks for a dozen songs, I may plow through half of them full tilt

                  and the others may lack for enthusiasim or performance quality when my fingers are sore.

                  The biggest thing is, the songs may not come back into work rotation for a few weeks.

                  What might have been a good idea when you were tracking it may not be so hot giving it

                  a second listen.

                  The reverse happens too. You hear something you didnt think was a keeper when you were tracking

                  and all of a sudden you hear some cool parts that can be fit into the arrangement and you wind

                  up with a killer mix.

                  I quit trying to figure out why things click and why they dont. If its a good song I dont watch the clock

                  either. If its good I dont miss the time invested. If its junk, the sooner you move on better. The song either

                  has what it takes or it doesnt. If a song deserves the investment in time, you'll know it soon enough.


                  • #10
                    "A mix is never finished, only abandoned."

                    I don't know who said this, but it's funny and often has a ring of truth to it.

                    I mix as I record. I'm already halfway there. I listen to mixes in several environments, both paying close attention and while doing other things. When there's nothing that leaps out and bothers me anymore, and I feel it achieves the intended emotion and vision, I'm done. I can feel it. When I can just lean back and enjoy the song, I'm done. I have too many creative things I want to get to, so I'm not going to obsess over details again and again.
                    Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven


                    • #11
                      There was a movie that came out in the mid to late 70's that had as a sub story a guy at a piano in a studio recording an album. From time to time the film would flash on him working with various musicians trying different takes and towards the end of the film he finally abandons the whole album. Can't remember the name of it and I've seen it both in a theater and on tv years later.
                      War is over if you want it.
                      - John & Yoko -

                      Nothing fails like success.
                      - Alan Watts - (based on Samsara)

                      "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
                      -Thomas Edison, in conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, 1931-


                      • #12
                        Too long on a song?

                        It depends on what you're finding is the issue that needs to be corrected. I recently worked up a tune that I'm very happy with. But... something is not quite right with getting my point across in the chorus. It may require a partial re-write, it may require an arrangement change in the BGVs to get the point across. Do I stop because I've exceeded the appropriate amount of hours?

                        Of course not.

                        Now, I've gone down the rabbit hole and spent weeks or more fine tuning silliness. Is this a waste of time? Not if you leaned how do get the results quicker next time. But I believe it is a waste if you are just spinning your wheels not really accomplishing anything. That can be a real danger for a creator without an audience or platform. There is no reason to finish.

                        So, I believe it is crucial to have an intended release platform. Even if it is a simple "release" on your personal website, or an emailed link to a free download for friends and family, or a deadline to a publisher, or...

                        Whatever it takes to create the very needed cycle of produce/release. That insures there is motivation to actually finish. And if it isn't done and needs more work, to then have a clear idea what the issue is and its solution. Then to get on it. And then "release".
                        Ain't no sacrilege to call Elvis king
                        Dad is great and all but he never could sing -


                        • #13
                          I often "mix as I record", mostly because I want to hear the latest tracks in context. It's usually a headphone mix (which I advise against, for newbs, but please do as I say not as I do), and partly because I can only record when the house is quiet and I can concentrate, but I can mix anytime, with headphones. It does tend to break things up, too.

                          When I'm "nearly" done, I always hear things that I want to fix. Thus the infinite cycle. People with deadlines don't have the luxury of tweaking it until it's perfect, which is probably a good thing.


                          • #14
                            ^^ I had no option but use headphones when I had small kids and lived in appartments.

                            I been doing some recordings lately with headphones only. I normally only use them for vocals.

                            God its an awful way to record. You just cant mix right. It fatigues the ears, and it sounds sterile,

                            Its hard to get a good groove happening, and you cant trust the frequencies you EQ will be

                            right for a good mix.

                            I tracked the parts to about a dozen songs and thought I had mixed them pretty close to where they

                            should be. I then saved the songs to a flash drive and opened them up on the studio DAW for mixing.

                            Every one of them had issues, and they weren't because of the mixes I had done using them.

                            It was the frequencies and gain staging I dialed up for tracking that were skewed.

                            Since headphones provide no depth perception, its so easy to under/over gain a part.

                            I had guitars sounding bigger than drums, Bass smaller than vocals leads smaller than rythum, you name it.

                            I was able to fix them up in the studio but there were losses. Allot of performance effort was lost to sub par

                            tracking sound quality.

                            I thought I'd save time tracking basic parts and fix them up mixing them in the studio, but in the end

                            I actually spent more time dorking around with EQ's and other plugs to get things to sit right in the mix.

                            When I track my guitars in the studio and use my monitor system to track, I dont have to use any of that

                            crap. I rarely have to EQ the guitars and rarely have to touch the bass, in fact, the vocals are the main

                            thing I ever have to EQ and thats because I use headphones tracking them. I dial up everything else to

                            sound exactly the way I want it before I track and only need to balance them and set proper levels.

                            then when I do use plugins they are for artistic effects and not first aid.

                            Tools to fix bad tracks have limitations and when you find them and still want to improve your recordings

                            it simply comes down to stepping back and refining the basics and working with those as an artistic tool.

                            I been toying around with building an actual reverb chamber in the garage. I have an idea of using large ceramic

                            tiles and build a folded tunnel allong one wall. I got plenty of mics and speakers. I'm thinking of placing several mics

                            at different distances along the tunnel's travel and interchangable speakers/baffels for different tones. Canned

                            reverbs are really getting me down. I'm not expecting a huge room sound, but something useful for guitar will give me some

                            new unique sounds. Maybe it will be a bust, Maybe I'll get some cool tones. Dont know till you put the effort in and try.


                            • #15
                              Then again, sometimes it's possible to spend not enough time...got a mix finished and hadn't checked for mono compatibility until the very end. Ooops. Used a loop with some phase issues
                              CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

                              Subscribe, like, and share the links!