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...
Something that deserves to be talked about more... your next album! The idea of pre-production is a missed opportunity for a band or artist to nail down their ideas and save time and money in the studio. Unfortunately, some studios never take the time to help their potential clients maximize their time, and make the best out of their musical ideas.
While it can seem daunting to discuss your thoughts and ideas to a stranger, it is a great practice. This can help you and the engineer get on the same page about your album. It also helps the engineer prepare better for your time spent inside the studio. A lot of up and coming bands don't have the income to hire a producer, or don't have connections to someone who can fill that roll. This usually means it falls to a band member(s), and potentially the studio engineer.
Going into the studio "blind" for lack of a better term, can be a quick and easy way to waste money, and leave you, the artist, unhappy with the results. A studio engineer is there to help your audio ideas become the best they can, but without proper knowledge, this makes their job difficult, and can lead to mis-interpreted ideas and sonic goals. A great studio engineer knows the how to achieve the best out of the studio gear. Knowing the sounds you are searching for ahead of time allows them to tailor pick the easiest way to get you want the sound you're searching for.
Having a pre-production meeting with the studio engineer, can also help you and them get a "feel" for each other. This can help you decide if they are going to be a good fit for you and your musical ideas. Keep in mind, it isn't always about the best gear. A great studio engineer can make a bangin' album on the cheapest of gear. Also, if you and the engineer's personalities don't mesh, this can make for issues down the road. Usually working in close quarters, laying out your intimate ideas and thoughts, you want to feel comfortable with the person capturing your music. Pre-production meetings can help you and the engineer form a friendly relationship, and provide common ground for which to connect.
Take your time when searching for your studio, and get to know the studios and engineers around your area. Even taking different parts of your recording to different studios can be the best option for your music. Drums in one, guitars in another, whatever helps you achieve the best album. Build your relationships, and talk to the engineers before you commit to recording. We are here to make history with your music. In the end, we are historians, documenting a moment in time. Make it the best it can be....
Sitting here, debating on how to start a blog post for the first time...
The human mind amazes me sometimes. At least my mind amazes me... Here I sit, looking at the computer screen, thoughts rushing through my head...
"Why are you writing a blog?" "Do you think this is worth it?" What if you suck at this?" "What if you don't suck?" "Will this be worth your time?"
The simple answer is... I don't know what I'm doing, but that is ok! As humans, we get caught up in our routines, our patterns of everyday life. Our habits become our "Safe Zone". Somewhere we can retreat to, knowing everything will be alright, if we can get back to our routine. Being the amazing and wonderful creatures we are, our double-edged sword, are our habits. Habitual creatures do not care whether the habit is good or bad, as long as we continue the habit. This can be our saving grace and our demise.
Continuing bad habits is something we all get stuck into. It's easy, it's our home, our safe place. But I urge to break these bad habits. Maybe not all of them at once, mind you. Instead pick one. Focus on it, and spend time changing it to something better. For those un-aware, I have started teaching here in the studio. It has been a giant undertaking, and a realization of how much I still don't know. This pushes my comfort zone out of a 10 story building. Falling, spinning, wondering when the ground will finally meet me, face to face. Only to realize, the ground hasn't reared its ugly head. Instead, a soft pillow of excitement and wonder in the faces and comments from those willing to partake in my incessant ramblings.
Some say the best way to learn, is to teach. In these past 2 weeks this is coming true as I continue to build lesson plans and plan my short lectures. All in all, I am slowly becoming accustomed to delivering my knowledge to others, passing on what I have found to be "useful information". Some may agree with what I have to say, while others have a differing of opinions on the matter. Either way, I can only strive to do the best I can, with the knowledge I have acquired over the years.
So I implore all of you, to do the best you can. In whatever you are doing, whether you feel confident or not. To paraphrase a quote from a favorite book of mine, "Practice makes perfect? No, there is no such thing as perfect. Instead practice makes a master." So, I tell you to practice. Even the things that scare you, the habits you wish to change. Break them, practice being better. In your life, job, health, and hobbies. Step outside the comfort zone you have accustomed yourself with, and take a step into the unknown.
You might just find it isn't as scary as you thought. And, you may also find the risk is worth the reward.