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Six Reasons Why Your Recordings Suck


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One of the things that you elude to is that all the expensive equipment in the world isn't gonna make you a better engineer. You have to put time in on the mixing board (or behind the computer screen as the case may be). You have to practice this craft just like anything else you want to get good at. We didn't learn to play an instrument in a month, why do you think you can record a 'professional' album with a month of experience!

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It's very true - you're not going to compete with the folks who have made legendary recordings after a month of messing around with your new recording tools. No matter how good the tools are, the skill of the person wielding them still matters quite a bit, and it takes time and experience to build that up. :)

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One of the things that you elude to is that all the expensive equipment in the world isn't gonna make you a better engineer.

 

And again, while I think you're absolutely correct about that, I wouldn't want anyone to think that I am of the opinion that the quality of your equipment doesn't matter. It does. Great gear in the hands of a skilled engineer with great ears working with talented people in front of the mikes can lead to magical recordings. But the capabilities and level of quality available today at the entry level is orders of magnitude beyond what was around when I was starting to mess around with recording in the 1970s. Today you can wax very serviceable recordings with modestly-priced equipment. It's the gear that gives you that 20 percent sonic improvement over the average that costs the big bucks. Once you get into recording and start developing a more discerning ear, you start to be able to perceive the little something extra that really nice gear provides (especially once all the links in the recording / monitoring chains are equally nice), and it becomes hard to want to settle for serviceable recordings. You start chasing after excellent recordings and moderately-priced goes out the window. ;)

 

But there's no sense in chasing after the gear and thinking it's going to do all the work for you. In fact, I think there may have been advantages to starting out when I did, with some of the limitations we had. You learn a lot about "committing" when you're bouncing back and forth between two tape decks, or doing a track submix on a four or eight track. The challenges and limitations of the equipment led to a more experimental attitude and approach for a lot of people who came up in that era. You had to work harder to get things to sound acceptable. And at the entry level, the gear was far simpler. You had to focus on things like mic placement and the sound of the room and instruments. You didn't have the endless options that you do today.

 

There was also a lot greater emphasis on actually playing back then and a heck of a lot less on editing, but that's a subject for another article entirely. I'm thinking maybe it might be nice to do a recording challenge of some sort; either doing multiple overdubs yourself, or tracking someone else, but treating the DAW like a tape deck. No manual editing, no MIDI quantizing, no Autotune or Melodyne, basic punch in / out only for any corrections or fixes you want to do. It would be great if we could get people to post their results, and maybe even let people vote for their favorite and drum up some prizes for the winner, but doing "contests" means trying to get approval from the lawyers, which is usually hard to do...

 

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Yes, great article Phil.

 

I have been a session drummer since the 80's and and we had to make the print MATTER back then.

 

It is only in the last few years that I am trying to track and mix a kit myself. Not easy. Kudos to pro Engineers!

 

These days, we have so many musicians that think a session is a copy and paste fest.

 

As I am getting more and more experienced in my project studio, I am getting more and more musicians who are not concerned with the essence of a great performance but how fast and easy they can get through a session with pasting their way through it. This is especially troublesome when a "Vocalist" doesn't even want to do a killer take, just mix 15 takes.

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i have an argument with your first point. i fully agree with you if your sound source sucks, you will get a sucky recording.

 

but sucks is not (only) (limited to) cheap

 

a newbie reading this might get the impression you only can get good/great recording if you record a $4000 Gibson LesPaul or a $5000 Martin acoustic and with cheaper guitars it will sound bad...

 

instead of cheap, wouldn't it be better to call it bad/broken (instrument).

e.g. if the guitar is not in tune, the intonation not setup, the fret buzz, old partly damaged strings on it, the action too high / too low etc.

it does not matter if its 5000$ gibson or a 150$ squier, it will sound (and play) horrible

also it does not matter if its a boesendorfer grand piano, when its missing strings and is not in tune

 

so the instrument to record should be in perfect working condition, serviced and correctly setup first.

 

yes there is a dramatic sonic difference between a $100 plywood acoustic and a $5000 martin, but there are a lot of good sounding (acoustic) guitars in the $500-$1000 area, and you can make with all of them good recordings (if they are setup right)

 

 

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It can be any one, combination or all of the items in that article. Many bad recordings have varying amounts where the combinations.

 

There are some key items or sub categories that are equally important.

 

The source of sound is broad. Yes a good instrument can sound better then a cheap one but there again, a good instrument improperly set up can sound many times worse then a well tuned budget instrument.

 

The one item I think that's essential in capturing something great is an essential human element that falls under the source of sound.

You can have everything else perfect, sound, gear, mix, arrangement, room and sound source nailed but you will never achieve a great recording if the most important element is missing which is emotion in the music. Without the emotional element the recording can be perfect in all areas but sound as dry and boring as a robot or music box.

 

I realize some may like that music has no error, no tempo fluctuations and is emotionally monotone but in most great music recorded its actually the human imperfections guided by emotions that make the human connection to others. You can hear a musician when he's way out there hanging 10 on the stage and giving it all he has over something that's so highly groomed and sterile it passes by unnoticed.

 

There is a big difference between this emotional content and a lack of skill too. One is very different then the other. One a guy may be reaching and fail to maintain control, the other has complete control and reveals what goes beyond words.

 

Its "that" specific zone that takes the listeners to all magical places where they wish they could exist all the time and use the music to get them there. It may be a chemical contact high that releases hormones or a blocking of the daily drudge but all great music has it.

 

You can do allot to prep the music to have it refining everything on Phil's list so you don't have to deal with those masking the message of the music, but its actually hard harder to block good music if those items even if those items aren't the best.

 

I always use this analogy because it focuses into it quickly. If you have a crappy $3 transistor radio with practically no audio frequency bandwidth and you hear a popular tune playing, what makes that music great? It surely has little to do with fidelity so much of the stuff that makes music sound great isn't coming from the sound quality. There may be level balancing and some frequency content there, but the ears make up all the rest from memory or following what is left to be heard.

 

Main thing is people connect to it and there may not be allot of reasons you can figure out intellectually. Music makes people feel allot of different things, not just good either. They can feel the entire emotional gambit from sadness, to exhilaration, to love to hate. If those emotions are pure in the music they will affect the greatest number of people. If its not there, its really not very good music. You'd be better off just listening to some mechanical machine run and be done with it.

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Thanks. I'll add to that by saying music doesn't have to necessarily make you feel good. You can have it in a single song where the song may capture you on one relatable emotional level; and by the end of the song you're taken to another emotional level. Its more common for this to happen over a series of songs placed in the proper order. We've all experienced this happen on albums where each song has its own emotional zone which when combined with others becomes a series of links which combine in sequence and lift you from one zone to another, often ending on a crescendo of good vibes.

 

This was the power of many great albums made. Not every song on an album was a hit but those in between songs did things to you emotionally that gave those hit songs a much greater message. I often look at it as a form of filtering where the purity of a persons emotions are raised by focusing on the purity of that emotion. Along the way you capture individuals. One my be stuck in a particular emotional trap and its the musician who leads them to rebalance themselves be adding some of the counter emotions.

 

Of course you can go beyond that and get into conceptual albums that have a running theme. The Who's Tommy or Quad albums for example had a theme in back of them and the emotional content was a building block. The theme was part of a larger musical composition and the emotion

 

This is more song writing strategy but its like acting. You may have a script you follow, but it comes down to good acting to get the scene to film well. Many actors immerse themselves in the roles they play so when it comes to that scene, their genuine emotions come through in that part. With music I believe musicians have lost that kind of focus, mainly because they don't perform their work live, and when they do they don't have consistency. Many movie actors worked the stage before doing movies and know how the formula for putting on a good show.

 

The fact is, many musician who record aren't ready to record because they haven't leaned how to connect with people live yet. It can be the chicken or the egg thing of course. You may need a high quality demo to get you live work. Today it doesn't cost anything to record like it used to. I remember paying $50 an hour in a budget studio back in the 70's. A major studio costs thousands per hour and you had long waiting lists just to get in. We rehearsed for 6 months solid and by the time we recorded we had at least 6 months or road work. When it came time for recording our performances the musical and emotional content of the music were flawless and we got everything tracked in a single take. No edits and no do overs.

 

Here's am incomplete list of common emotions. Songs can contain more then one of these and being able to identify the music's emotional content is half the battle of being able to instill those emotions in your performance recording.

 

[TABLE=width: 90%]

[TR]

[TD]Joyful[/TD]

[TD]Tenderness[/TD]

[TD]Helpless[/TD]

[TD]Defeated[/TD]

[TD]Rageful[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Cheerful[/TD]

[TD]Sympathy[/TD]

[TD]Powerless[/TD]

[TD]Bored[/TD]

[TD]Outraged[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Content[/TD]

[TD]Adoration[/TD]

[TD]Dreading[/TD]

[TD]Rejected[/TD]

[TD]Hostile[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Proud[/TD]

[TD]Fondness[/TD]

[TD]Distrusting[/TD]

[TD]Disillusioned[/TD]

[TD]Bitter[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Satisfied[/TD]

[TD]Receptive[/TD]

[TD]Suspicious[/TD]

[TD]Inferior[/TD]

[TD]Hateful[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Excited[/TD]

[TD]Interested[/TD]

[TD]Cautious[/TD]

[TD]Confused[/TD]

[TD]Scornful[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Amused[/TD]

[TD]Delighted[/TD]

[TD]Disturbed[/TD]

[TD]Grief-stricken[/TD]

[TD]Spiteful[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Elated[/TD]

[TD]Shocked[/TD]

[TD]Overwhelmed[/TD]

[TD]Helpless[/TD]

[TD]Vengeful[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Enthusiastic[/TD]

[TD]Exhilarated[/TD]

[TD]Uncomfortable[/TD]

[TD]Isolated[/TD]

[TD]Disliked[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Optimistic[/TD]

[TD]Dismayed[/TD]

[TD]Guilty[/TD]

[TD]Numb[/TD]

[TD]Resentful[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Elated[/TD]

[TD]Amazed[/TD]

[TD]Hurt[/TD]

[TD]Regretful[/TD]

[TD]Trusting[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Delighted[/TD]

[TD]Confused[/TD]

[TD]Lonely[/TD]

[TD]Ambivalent[/TD]

[TD]Alienated[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Calm[/TD]

[TD]Stunned[/TD]

[TD]Melancholy[/TD]

[TD]Exhausted[/TD]

[TD]Bitter[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Relaxed[/TD]

[TD]Interested[/TD]

[TD]Depressed[/TD]

[TD]Insecure[/TD]

[TD]Insulted[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Relieved[/TD]

[TD]Intrigued[/TD]

[TD]Hopeless[/TD]

[TD]Disgusted[/TD]

[TD]Indifferent[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Hopeful[/TD]

[TD]Absorbed[/TD]

[TD]Sad[/TD]

[TD]Pity[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Pleased[/TD]

[TD]Curious[/TD]

[TD]Guilty[/TD]

[TD]Revulsion[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Confident[/TD]

[TD]Anticipating[/TD]

[TD]Hurt[/TD]

[TD]Contempt[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Brave[/TD]

[TD]Eager[/TD]

[TD]Lonely[/TD]

[TD]Weary[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Comfortable[/TD]

[TD]Hesitant[/TD]

[TD]Regretful[/TD]

[TD]Bored[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Safe[/TD]

[TD]Fearful[/TD]

[TD]Depressed[/TD]

[TD]Preoccupied[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Happy[/TD]

[TD]Anxious[/TD]

[TD]Hopeless[/TD]

[TD]Angry[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Love[/TD]

[TD]Worried[/TD]

[TD]Sorrow[/TD]

[TD]Jealous[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Lust[/TD]

[TD]Scared[/TD]

[TD]Uncertain[/TD]

[TD]Envious[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Aroused[/TD]

[TD]Insecure[/TD]

[TD]Anguished[/TD]

[TD]Annoyed[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Tender[/TD]

[TD]Rejected[/TD]

[TD]Disappointed[/TD]

[TD]Humiliated[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Compassionate[/TD]

[TD]Horrified[/TD]

[TD]Self conscious[/TD]

[TD]Irritated[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Caring[/TD]

[TD]Alarmed[/TD]

[TD]Shamed[/TD]

[TD]Aggravated[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Infatuated[/TD]

[TD]Shocked[/TD]

[TD]Embarrassed[/TD]

[TD]Restless[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Concern[/TD]

[TD]Panicked[/TD]

[TD]Humiliated[/TD]

[TD]Grumpy[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Trust[/TD]

[TD]Afraid[/TD]

[TD]Disgraced[/TD]

[TD]Awkward[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Liking[/TD]

[TD]Nervous[/TD]

[TD]Uncomfortable[/TD]

[TD]Exasperated[/TD]

[TD] [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Attraction[/TD]

[TD]Disoriented[/TD]

[TD]Neglected[/TD]

[TD]Frustrated[/TD]

[/TR]

[/TABLE]

 

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This pdf document has been floating around over at Reapers forums for a long time and is a good read also.. "Why Do My Recordings Sound Like Ass http://stash.reaper.fm/oldsb/333146/Why%20do%20my%20recordings%20sound%20like%20ASS.pdf

 

That's a pretty long read but it is a good one. Its packed with many of the things I've posted here on HC over many years.

 

The one line about AC/DC was spot in.

 

-The singer from AC/DC usually sings whisper-quiet.

-The guitar players from AC/DC usually use quite low gain settings for heavy rock guitar, older

Marshall amps with the knobs turned up about halfway (no distortion pedals).

 

How many bad recordings have you heard just because the guitar has gain tracking? I Battle with that one myself when tracking because

I like the light touch and limited dynamics a highly gained guitar produces, but like too much alcohol you pay for that comfort the next day with noisy blur of rat bagged sound that cannot be cleaned or refined in any way. At times it can even be difficult to make out if a players performance was even any good.

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The only thing I have any competence at is the music and the playing. I have decided to go the route of a professional studio, with (presumably) great equipment and a (presumably) competent engineer. So how much of the recording engineers art do I need to learn? On the one hand I would like to just trust the engineer, so I can concentrate on what I am good at, on the other hand I need a bit of learning to discern whether or not to trust the engineer, or discern whether or not this or that studio is right for my project.

 

I hate it when others tell me what to do in areas I have worked hard to become good at. So I would not even try to tell a professional recording engineer what he or she should be doing. Ideally I want to be able to say: "this is what I want to sound like - can you make that happen?" I want to be effective, but I don't have the time or interest to become an expert in what I perceive is someone else's job.

 

Am I way off base here?

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The only thing I have any competence at is the music and the playing. I have decided to go the route of a professional studio' date=' with (presumably) great equipment and a (presumably) competent engineer. So how much of the recording engineers art do I need to learn?[/quote']

 

Great questions Jefferson! phil-thumbs-up-small.gif In theory, you shouldn't have to learn any of the deeper details about what an engineer does in order to go into a studio and have one record you... although a general familiarity with the recording process from a musician's perspective, a general understanding of basic recording-related terms, and a general idea of what is possible and reasonable (and time-efficient - lots of things are possible, but not always the best use of your studio time) would all be helpful to you or any musician who wanted to record.

 

On the one hand I would like to just trust the engineer, so I can concentrate on what I am good at, on the other hand I need a bit of learning to discern whether or not to trust the engineer, or discern whether or not this or that studio is right for my project.

 

It is kind of a Catch 22 situation, isn't it?

 

One of the best things to do is to discuss the studio(s) and engineer(s) you're considering working in/with with other musicians in your area that you respect. Ask them where the good studios are, who the good engineers are, and which ones to avoid. Listen to the projects that they've recorded in various studios, and find out where the best sounding projects were waxed. That can give you some idea, but remember that the amount of time they spent on the project, the budget they were working with, the quality of the material, and their own skill level also have a dramatic influence on the final results they obtained. You can also check with the local Musician's Union for recommendations.

 

You should also ask to take a tour of any facility you're seriously considering booking time at, and see if it seems like a comfortable environment that's conducive to making art in. Shop around and compare! A good studio should be clean, well-organized and well-equipped with relatively current gear (or classic vintage gear) that is in good condition and regularly maintained. A relaxed, comfortable "vibe" never hurts either!

 

Also, try to make sure the person who gives you the tour is going to be the same person who will be engineering your sessions - you want to query them a bit - if not about their engineering knowledge (they should know their setup and gear backwards and forwards, as well as have a solid grasp of general recording theory and practices), then at least about their flexibility, working methods and approach to recording, and see if they seem like the kind of person you think you'll get along with. If they're hesitant about answering your questions, or have an attitude or seem moody or unhelpful, they might not be the right choice for you to work with - no matter how good their engineering chops may be.

 

You most definitely will want to hear some examples of the studio and engineer's previous work, and you should also bring a CD or thumb drive along with you to the tour with a song or two that you're exceptionally familiar with - ask for them to play a couple of minutes of each so you can check out the relative accuracy and quality of their monitoring environment. Listen to the playback very carefully. Does it seem muddy, indistinct, or a lot bassier than usual, or overly thin and bright or otherwise unbalanced across the frequency spectrum? Unless you're used to listening on a really nice system all the time, it probably should sound more full-range, accurate and detailed than what you're used to, but not necessarily "better" in any kind of a hyped way. That accuracy's crucial - if the room and speakers are drastically lying to you, no one can really make accurate decisions while working, and the mix you hear in the studio may sound really good in there, but "translate" poorly to other playback systems.

 

I hate it when others tell me what to do in areas I have worked hard to become good at. So I would not even try to tell a professional recording engineer what he or she should be doing. Ideally I want to be able to say: "this is what I want to sound like - can you make that happen?" I want to be effective, but I don't have the time or interest to become an expert in what I perceive is someone else's job.

 

Am I way off base here?

 

No, not at all, but it's going to take a bit of homework and research on your part. You certainly should be able to get an idea of whether or not an engineer is friendly and communicates well based on the studio tour. Listening to their previous work, and having some discussions with your musical peers who have worked with them previously should give you a better idea of what it's like to work with them, and the quality level of their work.

 

One last thing - the more prepared you are in advance of any recording session, the better. You (and the other musicians) should be well-rehearsed, and know what you want to do. All the arrangements should be worked out, and all the musical gear should be checked out, well set-up, and ready to perform at its best without problems. That's all part of the pre-production process, and it can also make a big difference in the quality of the final recording, and can save you considerable studio time if you do it right - and time is money when it comes to studios!

 

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of assistance in your search for a good studio in your area. smile.png

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I'm thinking maybe it might be nice to do a recording challenge of some sort; either doing multiple overdubs yourself, or tracking someone else, but treating the DAW like a tape deck. No manual editing, no MIDI quantizing, no Autotune or Melodyne, basic punch in / out only for any corrections or fixes you want to do. It would be great if we could get people to post their results, and maybe even let people vote for their favorite and drum up some prizes for the winner, but doing "contests" means trying to get approval from the lawyers, which is usually hard to do...

 

I do the recordings at our church on Sunday. 24-channel analog board into a compressor and into a CD deck. One outboard effects box that has chorus and reverb. Once you hit the CD record button, there is no going back. Miss a choir entrance, no second chance to 'punch it in'. Don't have the mix right on the praise team, everyone who listens will know it. Miss the piano solo, and its gone forever. This same signal goes out as a mono-signal for our webcast. All live and no do-overs. Given the limitations, we do pretty good. It makes you think and keeps you on your toes about how to best get the sound you want.

 

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