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How to get an awesome sounding recording

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Torsten Borg, Aug 22, 2014.

  1. Torsten Borg

    Torsten Borg Active Member


    I want to share something with people starting out with their home studios that will help them. This could also be a good reminder for more experienced people.

    A lot of times i hear people record a song and then being frustrated with how the song sounds. People often assume that well, it can be fixed by mixing it better, so they try to learn how to mix better or gives the recording to somebody else to mix it for them thinking it will sound a lot better after that.

    It's not going to sound better, i'm sorry.

    The problem appears before the mixing stage. Yes, you can always record better and then it WILL sound better. Going even further than that by changing guitar strings and having nice sounding instruments, that works too. But i want to go deeper...

    If you want to make your recording sound awesome you have to go back to the SOURCE.

    If your PERFORMANCE on the recording sucks, trust me, it will suck even after mixing it. You can't change that in a computer.
    When you record a song, you have to make sure that the structure of the song is right, that the tempo is right, that the right guitar parts are being played.

    If you have great sounding recordings, the mixing will be so much more fun and it will always sound like gold.

    Hope this helps.
    ChrisH, pcrecord and DonnyThompson like this.
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Absolutely agreed. The problem is that so much of current music doesn't even have a performance source - more like an edit source. Copy-Paste seems to be the status quo these days, with someone simply grabbing a drum beat loop or a sampled line, at which point it's dropped into the time line. That's it, that's all.

    But for the people who do still actually play, you've hit the nail on the head. Bad performances will result in a bad song.
  3. Makzimia

    Makzimia Active Member

    Completely agree here also. And for me personally, since I became the jack of all trades and master of non it has made my job harder. I am an above average player and singer, but when I record on my own, I sometimes struggle. As they say, you can put lipstick on a pig, in the end it's still a pig. Or old school, GIGO. I have been at it 30 odd years now, hopefully I'll get better one day, or get someone else to do some for me again :D.
  4. Chief Engineer

    Chief Engineer Active Member

    Bottom line is that you are only as good as your weakest link. No single thing is any more important than another. If your drum heads are junk or your amp sounds bad, a good performance isnt going to help. If your guitar sound is great and the drums are mint, and you put on a great performance, it doesnt mean you know how to mic an amp, or have the right pres or are in a good sounding room, or know how to mix the sounds, or have a deep understanding for the equipment you are using, or have the right monitoring for that matter.

    The only way to get an awesome sounding recording is to do everything well. That takes time, money, and practice. Most home recordists just have to do the best they can with what they have and will never record an awesome sounding album. To them its "awesome" sounding because theyve never done it before, but most people dont really know what great sound is, and nearly none of the millions of home recorders have the monitoring, experience, or room, to accurately gauge the sonics that go into a carefully thought out, radio quality recording.

    Not only that, but every time you hear a truly awesome sounding record, most likely, there were 10 to 20 professionals involved in the making of that record, so expecting yourself to be able to pull something like that off with any consistency...well, it just aint gonna happen.
  5. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    "...Most home recordists just have to do the best they can with what they have and will never record an awesome sounding album. To them its "awesome" sounding because theyve never done it before..."

    I like this statement. As far as I'm concerned, it's true.

    LOL... kinda like when I was 4, and the first time I ever caught a fish on my own. Hey! I was an angler! Well.... uhm.... Kinda...except, well.... not really.

    The fish was was small, ugly, and pretty much hooked itself, as I dangled a piece of cheese on a hook using a 2 dollar cane pole, "fishing" from a dock into a muddy little 2 foot deep pond. It didn't require any great skill on my part, other than to try and not wet myself at the excitement of it all. But hey... I caught a fish on my own! So to me, at that time, I felt like I knew what I was doing.

    In a roundabout way, most home hobbyists are just like I was with my first ugly fish: they are so excited that they were able to simply get signal into their computers in the first place, and then successfully overdub some tracks, maybe add some reverb or delay, and then listen to the playback with a sense of personal accomplishment : "Hey now! Listen to that! ... I did that. I don't need a pro studio, I can do a full album here at home in my basement/bedroom/attic and not have to pay a professional rate..."

    It might be an ugly recording, done with a piece of cheese and a cane pole... but to them it sounds great, simply because they've never done anything like it before.

    I wish there was more organic-based music out there for them to compare their stuff to, to reference from - recordings with that certain finesse, with those subtle nuances and esoteric sonic textures that we older engineers listened to when we were first starting out.... those songs that used to make us ask ourselves "How did they do that? How do they make that acoustic guitar/vocal/ride cymbal/piano sound so good?

    IMHO of course. ;)

  6. Torsten Borg

    Torsten Borg Active Member

    Loving these replies!

    One thing i wanna say though is that if you have at least decent gear in your studio, the sky is the limit.
    I think most of the studio is not in the physical world but in your HEAD. You fail, you learn and you're eventually going to succeed if you keep on keeping.
  7. Torsten Borg

    Torsten Borg Active Member

    People tend to like nowadays dance music that is built on MIDI notes which are aligned perfectly with the metronome, and i understand why they like it and sometimes, i even like it too. BUT, there's nothing that makes me want to dance more than when a good drum groove and a good bass line comes together to jam, oohhh.
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Some people like McDonald's hamburgers, every day and that's fine. Other folks will partake of McDonald's hamburgers, through the week, with an occasional dinner of lobster, steak, Chinese and sushi. On alternate evenings and days. Only affluent people can afford affluent food, daily.

    So the SOURCE is primarily the performer. But the source is also you. The recording engineer who is recording the SOURCE. From the source to the source. From which people will hopefully enjoy the original source material? Through your outsourcing. Which can lead to the source of many troubles and problems. When you haven't gotten your experience and skills from the right source to begin with. In other words, working with lousy musicians and singers with no talent.

    For those that are expert in playing video games? Then you can play video games with audio software. And a win by cheating and overclocking. Unfortunately, it makes your client a loser. Because they were already losers when they came to ya. Then you could impress them at how well you played video games with audio software. That's fine for some. Horrific for others.

    And it's not really about the equipment. Mediocre prosumer equipment, can make recordings, every bit as lovely sounding as the high-priced stuff. But only in the hands of one, that knows what they're doing. It's not about what the specification of the equipment is. It's about what the equipment can't do that they don't write down for ya. And not using your equipment as an excuse for not being better equipment. Which would only help to show what an inexperienced amateur you might be? So it's not about the equipment specifications. It's about your personal specifications of your own capabilities. What you know. And what ya don't know. And the idea is to know, all that there is to know. And to know, what ya don't know.

    So Torsten, do ya really think any of us 40+ year professionals haven't already mentioned that to folks here? Did you just THAW out in Finland? Or was it the vodka that did it? It's great antifreeze!

    There is recording for music listening enjoyment purposes. And there is recording designed, for rhythmic rocking under the covers with your significant other/others. Better known as the Orgiastic mix technique. Where software plays a big role... in the hay.

    Hey hey hey oh God! Oh God! Oh God God God God WOW! Oh yeah baby... what great software you have... I MEAN EYES!
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  9. Smashh

    Smashh Active Member

    Honestly , I get jack of listening to the latest music , because its just too damn perfect , lyrics aside ( dont need to go there .....lol )
    Everything sounds like it is so well preplanned that there is no imperfections through the whole process, which in turn sounds to me
    like something lacking natural human nature , The things we can grow to accept and even love, anybody love a partner out there !
    It seems as if anything that is poking out or ragged around the edge has to be tucked away perfectly and the recording is that but
    it sure aint anything near beautiful, unless we are void of love and light.

    I love listening to e.g. those old reggae songs where the bottom string on the bass is a bit flat , it makes me wonder , but it works for me
    and its timeless gold . Those little idiosyncronicities make me feel alive and safe as a person and make the performance and recording memorable.

    There is of course a degree of allowance where beyond which it gets irritating, sorta like that 7nth beer when your shooting your
    best pool game ever , ok maybe my 5th beer.

    Maybe the globalisation of educating musical technique turns out the brilliant
    musicians, engineers , but they are all interchangeable and we wouldnt notice one from the other.

    I havent heard anything memorable on the radio as of late , anyway that was a nice little vent , feeling much better now:p:D
  10. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I think there's been fantastic recordings in all eras, as well as plenty of garbage. I don't think that just because a recording is sourced in analog means that it will automatically sound better... I heard more than my fair share of dreck recorded in analog studios over the years...

    I think that the forensic ability that digital offers can be great - or - it can result in lifeless and sterile performances. I think the key factor in how it sounds is the performer (and the performance), and how the engineer and producer ultimately decides how to best present it.

    Some used to comment that Steely Dan's Aj'a was too-well recorded, that it came off as sterile because there were no loose ends...Fagan and Becker were well known as being pretty tight on tolerances when it came to anything that was "loose" sounding... and that album was done on a Neve 8068 Console and 2" Tape... that's as analog as you can get. But, I'm willing to bet that if the editing ability that we have and take for granted today had been available at that time, Fagan, Becker and Gary Katz would have been all over it.

    It all comes down to the presentation, what you do with what you have, and I don't think that analog or digital comes into play in regard to that. You can do both great and awful work in both formats. ;)

    IMHO of course.
    kmetal likes this.
  11. Torsten Borg

    Torsten Borg Active Member


    I am very sorry if you got offended, it was not my intention at all to poke down somebody. I'm glad people still reacted positively to this thread, because i don't think you can get reminded of this too much. I am also glad this lead to other conversations, because it's really good to talk about this. Again, not my intention to offend anyone.
  12. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    @Torsten Borg : Don't worry about RemyRad, the only way not to offend her this week is to talk about the sm58 and how it's better than most condensers :ROFLMAO:! Next week, she'll revert to talk about Neve and API in all her posts.. :p

    In the computerise recording world we are, you cannot say enough about the importance of a good performance. It's too easy to manipulate a track until it is mathematicly perfect but musicly dead and steril !
    So yes, I sometime have to remind myself of this; some bands sucks. I just need to stop tormenting myself about it and make a decent mix of what ever crap they played !!
  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Absolutely. Let her reply to you roll off your shoulders, and don't even give it a second thought.

    The only way you offended her was to not join her "There but for the Grace of God and an SM58 go I" religion.

    I most certainly wouldn't take it to heart. You're certainly not the first recipient of one of her aimlessly drifting, long-winded posts, and you certainly won't be the last.

    We've all had to deal with these at one time or another. In fact, welcome to the club! We're even thinking about having some jackets made. ;)
  14. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    LOL I wander what the jackets will say :
    • Drowned in Remy's babbling posts!
    • In search of a RemyRad decoder!
    • Etc...
    Oh ! I think I spend enough time on this .. :sneaky:
  15. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    The thing is it's like Donny said. It's not like they let little mistakes fly for purely artistic reasons, like feel and human-ness, the little mistakes were left because they didn't have the ability to fix them. I'm sure some bands wouldnt use the editing even if they could.

    I mean, they very often replaced the actual musicians in the band w studio guys, but so,ehow editing and grids get a bad wrap. Butch vig changed the temo of a smashing pumpkins song a couple bpm by cutting little bits of tape out after each snare drum hit.

    So I hate to be one of those people, but it's not the tech, it's the people using it. And as far as perfection goes, it a myth, this is art, and perception. Perfection is accomplishing the vision of the artist, that's as close as it gets.
    DonnyAir likes this.
  16. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Not that it's wrong or anything, but if the first post had been a response to somebody with mixing troubles it wouldn't seem so obvious and generic. As unsolicited advice it's sort of pointless, preaching to the choir.
    kmetal likes this.
  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I don't find it pointless in the least. Perhaps if everyone in "the choir" implemented this workflow, I might also consider it to be a redundant post as well...

    Except ... we now live in a day and age in which certain production tools are available - including things like pitch correction, time stretching, and all the other "toys" - and, while these can be very useful tools to have around, too often their use is focused on trying to create good performances out of "average" - or even poor - performances; which results in less time and focus being given to getting great tracks recorded at their sources.

    Why? Because along with the ability to polish great performances, these tools also present the option for an engineer to take someone with little-to-no talent to begin with, and through the use of these various tools, and creative editing, give the false impression that these people are talented, when they really aren't. These same tools seem to be used less and less for actual mixing purposes, and instead are being used more and more for correcting performance inadequacies, or in some cases, even actually creating a performance - even when there really isn't a performance to begin with.

    As an audio consultant to project and home studios, I witness far too much repairing of poorly-recorded tracks happening - and not nearly enough mixing of tracks that were recorded well to begin with - and there's a huge difference between the two. And, I don't believe that this approach is limited to just these smaller studios, either. I'm confident saying that more than just a few professional studios implement this process as well.

    Now, I'm fairly sure I know the counter-argument you are reaching for here; that this is precisely what an engineer's job is supposed to be, right? - To capture and present the best possible performances that they can, to make their client(s) sound as great as possible... yes?

    Yes. I can totally respect that argument... right up until it involves the engineer being held responsible for creating a performance when and where there was none to begin with.
    I don't believe that it's the engineer's job to falsely present a performance - or worse, to create talent when there really is none to speak of.

    (I'm not talking about using reverb, or EQ, or any of the other processing we all use when trying to enhance a performance... I'm talking about the engineer actually creating a performance because the performer is unable to create one on their own.)

    This "fix it in the mix" mentality has also created quite a bit of laziness from the engineering side of things as well - far too many new engineers subscribe to this method; they think that the "latest and greatest" plugs can take the place of proper engineering practices; mic technique and placement, getting great tones at the source, etc.

    If you have ever been lucky enough to have had the experience, there really is something quite magical about working with an artist or group of super-talented musicians, who really can write and perform - with passion, spirit, melody, dynamics and groove - those artists who, through their own talent, allow the engineer to do what they are supposed to do: to capture these great performances with fantastic fidelity, depth, space and tone, from the most subtle tiny nuance, to the most obvious showing of skill, and in doing so, further compliment an already-talented artist or ensemble; and then to present a finished version that intertwines all of these things.... as opposed to taking a handful of dirt and then attempting to make it look like gold.

    Accordingly, I think that the OP was timely and appropriate.

    IMO, ;)

  18. Torsten Borg

    Torsten Borg Active Member

    Sad but true. It feels like engineers are recording & mixing more with their eyes than their ears nowadays. And i'm talking about younger engineers who grew up with in digital world.
  19. Chris Perra

    Chris Perra Active Member

    Most gear created in the past 15 years.. especially the digital stuff has been created to fix stuff in the mix.. Not because it sounds better that way. But because it saves time..

    If you aren't a very good musician or have poor gear.. The amount of time need for you to become a good musician or get good sound from crap gear with preamps and mic placement is far to long for most people to deal with...

    Even some great musicians/producers won't want to spend the time or money needed to do things right from the source. So they use the fix it in the mix mentality..
    But, that said,.. in some cases with some artists it needs to be used. As nothing you can gear or mic placement wise do will fix horrible players/singers with bad instruments.
  20. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I'm not talking about the time it takes to get a good recording, even though the process of getting a good sound really takes no more time than it does to get a bad sound....I was referring more to an engineer creating - or attempting to create - a performance where there was none to speak of originally.

    You're kind of supporting my point here... when you mention "most people" - if you aren't a good musician, then perhaps you should find something else to do that you are good at.
    I love the technology we have at our disposal these days. We can do things now that we didn't even dream of doing even 20 years ago... but the downside to this, is that it has made the craft available to those who really have no business being in it. I don't believe that I am being an elitist, either. If you aren't good with mechanics, then you shouldn't fix cars. If you aren't a good carpenter, then you shouldn't build houses. Accordingly, if you suck as a musician, and you aren't good at engineering, then you shouldn't do either - other than as maybe just a hobby. But at that point, you shouldn't be releasing your recordings for sale or wonder why your recordings sound like crap.

    Again, if they are terrible players and singers, then they aren't artists. They're just hacks who maybe have a certain look, image, or controversial attitude...and they shouldn't be in the profession.


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