They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. So how are you going to spend your time?
10,000 hours: 417 days, 59 1/2 weeks, 13.6 months, or just over a year. The time it takes to master a skill. Broken down by a daily practice routine, 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, would take you almost 20 years. 20 Years?! That's a long time! While 20 years sounds like forever, this is just an estimate of the length of time it can take to master the skill. The basic principle is this; immerse yourself in the skill you wish to master. Learn it, live it, love it.
The cost of studio gear has come down considerably. This is great for aspiring musicians to get their foot in the door. The recording process used to be out of reach for so many people. Gear was limited to large studios and those with funding. While this accessibility is a great starting point, it has its downfalls. You can create great tracks as a musician, but you have to decide where to spend your time. Going back to the 10,000 hours idea, you have to decide where to direct your efforts. Will you spend time on your skills as a musician, or as an engineer?
With the drop of gear prices, this allows studio owners to purchase gear and pass on savings to potential clients. While there is still the value of the knowledge, accessible gear is a blessing. Coming to a realization of how to spend your time can be a long, arduous journey. At some point, all engineers made a conscience decision to pursue their career. Just as a working musician usually makes the decision to take their craft from hobby to career.
For some, like myself, it was a realization that I did not enjoy the hours of dedication to a skill that seemed boring when utilized by myself. I always found more pleasure performing in a group, than solo. So, spending time practicing solo was an off-putting experience. Others find it very rewarding, making a career as a performing musician. Once I started recording and layering myself, the spark I was looking for burst forth. I found myself enjoying the process of building a song piece by piece.
Knowing this about myself helped me hone in on a skill that turned into a career. I found spending my time recording and making other people sound the best they can. Immersing myself into the recording process, instead of practicing music. While you can still find time for both, focusing your time on one more than the other to further yourself as a musician or engineer can be beneficial. The world needs engineers, and musicians. Find what skill sparks passion and stick with it. Immersing yourself in your passion makes practice fun and no longer feel like a chore.
So spend your 10,000 hours on what makes you happy, and master your passion. There is always time for your other hobbies, just make sure you don't take time away from your skill of passion.
If I had a nickel for every time that question has been asked...
Now days, a lot less time is spent on the tracking/recording phase of an album. Most artists are on the road, recording their vocals in the bus, or on the hotel room. Perhaps they are recorded in sub-par environments, causing more work for a mixing engineer. While a lot of things can be fixed after the fact, this puts more strain on the mixer. Hours of work can be spent just to clean up, enhance, replace, or re-do parts.
The biggest question is why? Is it a push from labels? Or perhaps from consumers? The idea of releasing music constantly is putting a strain on the engineers. While we all do the work, taking extra time in the tracking phase of the song would eliminate a lot of time spent on the song. Budgets are not what they used to be, we all get it. As much as I would love a band to walk in with a $50,000 budget, it just isn't happening anymore.
However, with lower budgets and streaming services, it has leveled the playing field for artists. While the bigger labels can still afford to send their artists to the big studios, mid-sized and small studios have a chance to tap into the market. Pricing is always a struggle, so it comes down to providing excellent service. While we would all love to own / work in the Balckbird and Abbey Road type studios, there is only so much business out there. There are great smaller tracking studios out there, which can provide polished tracks for the mixing engineer.
A lot of bigger mixers have started working for lower rates as well. With this shift in rates, having your music recorded at a local, project studio, and mixed by a grammy award winner is within reach. Spending the time to get it "right at the source", so it sounds great as a raw recording helps the engineer take it that much further. Mixes can only be polished so much. Keep this in mind when you are planning your next album. Spend the time to record it properly, this will net you a better album in the end. Your mixing engineer will love you for it.
Dr. mister snob. We regret to inform you that your opinion means nothing. Try as you might to sound intelligent and all knowing, the fact remains that no amount of money spent on gear will make you a better engineer. Instead of wasting everyone's time by stating how horrible their gear is, go make music! -Sincerely, Everyone Else
Gear snobbery is real. It is a common misconception that the more money you spend, the better it will sound. While this may be true to a point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in, making that overpriced "clone" no different than the next. Am I saying "don't spend money on gear"? Absolutely not! Gear is awesome! Just be aware that by spending 10x as much, may and probably will not get you 10x the sound quality.
Lets look at analog compressors real quick...
UA 1176LN Compressor $2400
Klark Teknik 1176KT $400
2 compressors, designed similar, to compete with each other. One is made by the original company, using outstanding components, while the other is inexpensively built. One is 6 times the price of the other. But, does the more expensive one sound 6 times better? Probably not... So, should we only buy the cheap stuff? The short answer, no. If you have the budget to purchase the more expensive one, do it! Especially if it something you've always wanted to own. However, if you expect a massive sonic difference, you will be disappointed.
In most blind tests, it can be difficult to choose which original piece of gear vs the "clone" is which. And while there may differences, that will happen with all analog gear. Thats the joy of it! you can have many flavors, each for their own unique and special purpose. Now days in electronics manufacturing, tolerances have become much tighter. This allows gear to be closer "matched" without too much sonic difference. Something to keep in mind, is all that "coveted" analog gear is old. Like decades old. Tolerances of capacitors and resistors have drifted, making that specific analog gear sonically unique.
Which is where plugins come in. Since each plugin is modeled on a specific hardware units, plugins are not going to sound the same. I hear complaints of "why do we need another 1176 plugin?" The answer is, why not? If each plugin is modeled on a different piece of hardware, every plugin will have a slightly different sound. Meaning you can own multiple different 1176 compressors. All inside your computer.
The next time you read reviews about gear, and there are consumers talking about how its "not the same as the real thing" remember, at the end of the day they all do their job. Use the tools you can afford to get the job done. The tools don't make the engineer, but a great engineer can make great records using anything.
How often are you thinking about your arrangement when writing a new song? It isn't always about what instruments are playing. A lot oaf arranging has to do with what the instruments are playing...
Rhythmic vs. chordal support
When most of us hear the word rhythm, we immediately think of percussion. Drums, shakers, tambourines, etc. But many other instruments provide necessary rhythm to a musical track. Let's take a look at funk music for instance; "Good Times" by Chic has a killer guitar line that instantly sets the groove of the song. In The Knocks "Classic", the rhythmic guitar helps drive home the stomp clap groove from the drums.
Rhythmic bass lines is something we are all accustomed to as well. From "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson or "Money" by Pink Floyd, the bass guitar licks instantly gets us in the groove of the song. While these instruments can usually be considered melodic instruments, providing the key or chords of the song, they can play both roles quite easily.
On the other side, we have chordal support and pad instruments. These can lay down the foundation of the key, chords, and tonality of music. "It's Probably Me" by Sting has luscious chords, providing a "swimming" feeling in the intro. This can place the listener in a space, while providing a theme for the song. While there is plenty of rhythmic aspects, these support instruments give a refrain from the ever moving guitar drums. In "Ode" by LAIK, the symphonic strings and piano add a mournful, sorrowful feel, while the small rhythmic parts lift up the song in the chorus.
Balancing these two can help you create hooks and interesting counterpoints in your music.
When combining multiple instruments, timbre plays an important role. Many instruments share similar timbre spaces, which can create "masking" or the inability to differentiate each part. For example, having two guitars playing in the same timbre, yet playing different parts can be difficult to hear. If one guitar is playing an open G chord, while the other is playing an open G arpeggio, the arpeggiated part might not come through as much. However, if the arpeggio guitar were to play one octave higher, this could open up space for both instruments to be heard equally.
This is a common mistake when blending multiple instruments like guitar, piano, synths, voice, etc. Try to create a space sonically for each instrument, instead of trying to crowd them all together in the same timbre. Let the piano play higher octaves, the synths lower, and let the guitars split up. This way everything has its own space. Sometimes even taking some instruments out can help "free up" some sonic space for a more important part to be heard.
Utilizing these ideas can help you create a better balance in your next piece. Give them a try and see if it helps your arrangements come to life...