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Keep things simple get better mix?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Kyle McCormick, May 21, 2014.

  1. Kyle McCormick

    Kyle McCormick Active Member

    So often I go back and listen to iconic albums like physical graphite , or nevermind(don't kill me for putting nirvana in the same sentence as Zeppelin lol.) and wonder how with such limited technology due to analog recording(which I love) how is it that they were able to get such killer sound? I look at my own mixes and then notice when I limit myself and keep it simple I get better sounding mixes. Is it at all possible because of everything we have at our disposal that we over complicate things and that actually makes us have worse sounding mixes.
    bigtree likes this.
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    well, for one, the caliber of gear used on those albums you mentioned was very high. Nirvana recorded their album at Sound City, and they had a custom-built Neve console that had fantastic preamps. Also, plugs weren't all the rage at that time either.
    Those albums were tracked and mixed using real processors - LA2's, 1176's, 160's, etc. - as opposed to binary emulations. They had the best mics available at their use - U67's, 87's, 414's, C12's, Royers, etc.

    And, the fact that the engineers who were cooking on those projects were great engineers didn't hurt, either.

    I tend to agree that the more digital processing you use, the higher the chances are that you can choke the sonics. Many of the third party plugs suffer from decreased fidelity, and can add phase issues to your mix, and the result is a lack of definition and clarity... the sound starts to 'smear"... and not in a good way. ;)

    IMHO of course.
  3. Josh Conley

    Josh Conley Active Member

    try a/b-ing every processing decision in the mix. if it sounds better, keep it. if not, dont.

    also, i say "in the mix" because soloing can be dangerous. making things sound good all by themselves can ruin your mix, and hurt your feelings in the process
    ChrisH and DonnyAir like this.
  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Absolutely agreed.

    You can spend 10 minutes with a kick or snare (or whatever) solo'd up, sculpting EQ, adding GR, and making it sound great unto itself, only to find out that it sounds like monkey balls once you hear it within the context of the rest of the tracks.

    I never mix in solo mode. I'll solo up a track to listen for any problems, (bad edits, bleed, etc.), but beyond that, solo mixing doesn't work for me - and never has, -for the exact reason that Josh mentioned.

    IMHO of course. ;)

  5. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I'm old-school, hands-on. I keep hearing these dead sounding digital recordings. Most of this I attribute to the desire to treat your ITB mixing with all of the ancillary stuff available to you. When in our older analog control rooms, we didn't have dynamics range processors to use on each and every channel/track. We didn't have gates and downward expanders on everything either because we didn't have enough of them.

    The EQ in the console, in old-school consoles, were generally quite a bit more limited than the popular parametric surgical EQ everyone has today at their disposal. So you weren't carving out anything. No. You were boosting stuff. Cutting other things off that only offered up grunge. Stepping on the discrete transistor circuitry. Pushing it until it began to go slightly nonlinear. Which where a lot of the magic existed. So, your mixing was more dependent upon your chops than it was on your ancillary outboard, gobbledygook.

    Plus one of the things I hate about most dynamics processing in software, is the goof proofing of what they call " look ahead ". The actual old hardware could never do that. So all processing of the dynamics actually happens after the initial transient has passed through. With look ahead, it never allows that to happen. It beats the life out of any dynamics that don't have to sound like that. So I either switch that off, where possible. Or just not use that?

    I'm not saying that I love what one would call, a natural dynamic range. I don't. It's electronic. It's not like real life. And so, it really can't be treated without first realizing that. Afraid of clipping peaks? Don't be. In fact, a very slight bit of initial transient clipping can also be rock 'n roll beneficial sounding. It's not a clip of a blast of distortion, no. It's simply circumcising the very tip of the transient. What this does is increase the dissonant, odd order component of its harmonics. This can actually give you a better sounding crack on a snare drum, tom-toms, bass drum. And you'll still have big fat punchy dynamics. Because the clip is so short and minor in its duration, it doesn't sound like clipping. And where a pure, Class A circuit will produce the smoother, natural, even order harmonics. But it will be too smooth. So where folks like Rupert Neve don't like to hear the sound of, push pull, Class A/B transistors switching back and forth. That's because he is a genius purist. But when you look at the competitive American product of the same era, API, those were always Class A/B. And a product that was always known to be quite zippy sounding with tons of punch. So there you got arguments for both being for and against different types of operational amplifier design concepts. Not everything has to be as pure and virginal, for pop music. It's an exercise in carefully crafted uses of different kinds of distortion. So, what little does distortion play in making those classics sound as great as they do? As compared to the dumb mass marketing hype you folks have been hypnotized into thinking everything has to be clean, clear, transparent, neutral, uncolored, without any clipping. Bull crap! That's the stuff you're enjoying listening to. And without it? You've got clean and clear neutral transparent, dreck, rarely worth listening to. So the less stupid crap you use. The bety ter your mixing has to be. Which is what we had to craft, with little or nothing. That should tell you something. It's where you really don't need much EQ, compression, limiting. Except for solo vocals and other instrumentation that you might want to have a little tighter, denser packing of a vocal? And no 16-bit, 44.1 kHz gobbledygook, minimum qualitdigital standard with software meat grinders, will necessarily sound good? Remember, the software is merely an emulation a.k.a. imitation, which one can lament over never quite sounding like the real hardware devices that use to be used.

    And software tape emulation, saturation software? Send it back to China. Pretend it doesn't exist. And because we really only liked it on drums more so than anything else. But that was from real analog tape. Not an imitation. Imitations can just be plain disappointing when you hear the real thing. I'll still never get over, not having my full-sized Plate Reverbs, anymore. I loved those like nothing else. And the only closes the digital ones to those, I ever heard? Were from the same company and cost 3 times more. Can you say EMT 250/255's? And do you see any of those today as compared to Lexicon 480's? I don't. They were comparably priced to the Lexicon 224/480's in the area of around $15,000. Where the original EMT 140 series plate reverbs were only around $5000. My math sucks but it doesn't suck that badly. And nothing can reproduce the original Plate Reverb. And probably won't be able to in our lifetimes? We have reached the limit of what silicon can do. Until the next great progression to organic computers happens? We're stuck with imitation, imitations. Because no computer can reproduce the mathematical density of an actual Plate Reverb. Not yet. Close but no cigar. It doesn't keep us from using the digital dreck. The same way were not all driving Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghinis or Maseratis. So with your software emulations, you're not going to win any races.

    Plus there were a lot more real VF-14 metal tubes in a lot more U-47's. Until those transistor 87's displaced most of the 47's. And where you will find Paul McCartney still singing into the same 47 over a Capitol records in LA, then he sang into, 40 years ago. What's that tell ya? It's the real deal with the real tube. And no imitation and is going to sound like that. Everything else will just sound " better ". Which in comparison to the earlier quality stuff will just be a disappointing letdown in comparison. Kind of like death and taxes. In fact I was quite amused when one of my colleagues presented this brand-new, tube modified 87. In comparison to my original, Telefunken EF-86 based, earlier, 67. The sound of his 87 nearly made him barf LOL. The differences were astounding. And yet, my capsules were not in that great condition. And his was new.

    So the variables involved with those older recordings were both simple, straightforward and everything had had room to +24 dbM, into a 600 ohm load and beyond. What you're hearing today is the absence of that kind of head room. Real impressive HUH? Not. It's what you're missing. Now you don't have to have equipment capable of making it to +24 dbM. No. You just have to learn more about how to manipulate gain staging. It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul. You compromise for additional noise to make for additional headroom. And then you deal with the noise. This will fundamentally change the way your recordings sound. Pushing the envelope going into an operational amplifier is different then pushing the envelope on the output of the operational amplifier. And with that both comes variable texture in the sound. In ways that can negate the use of dynamics processors or even EQ. Which in days of more simplified earlier equipment, as you can hear, still worked quite well LOL. It still blows our socks off today. And everybody is trying to imitate that classic old sound. Which you are not going to get from anything new or an imitation thereof. I don't call that stuff better. Even though the bulk of the consensuses is that it is better. Of which can be proven and seen in specification test data results. But it's not better! It's only different. And if that's the difference ya like? Well then, you're golden. But if you want another sound? Stop using all that you have. Live by the KISS credo.

    So what I'm saying is simply, when you want that kind of sound recording? Realize what equipment was used. And if ya don't get to play with all of your software gobbledygook, plug-ins and better sounding microphones? You might actually get what you want? Realize all that they had to use. And then only use that much, i.e. very little of anything. Because it didn't exist. Just because stuff is in your software doesn't mean you have to use it on everything. Though that is a fairly innocent and common error many folks make. And who wouldn't want to? All that stuff is fun to play with. But that's why God created video games. None of which I partake of. I play no games except occasionally at a casino.

    What's really fun to do is to take an operatic singer that wants to make a demo. I always ask them, whose their hero? It's frequently someone from the 40s, 50s, 60s. Say it's someone from the 50s? What did they use? Tube preamps, with microphone input transformers, each as large as your fist. Along with corresponding output transformers that were just as big if not bigger. And the microphone was likely only one of but only a handful. 47's, 67's, RCA 44, 77's. Maybe a Western Electric Condenser? And what preamps/consoles? RCA, Altec Lansing, Gates, Collins and plenty of in-house built customs. What kind of limiters? RCA, Western electric, Altec Lansing and later a gizmo built by Bill Putnam and/or Fairchild. Ampex 300/350/351's, Magnacord, Presto, RCA. What speakers did they monitor on? Altec Lansing 604's and a similar RCA equivalent. And that was about it. Tape? You had your choice of Scotch, Scotch or, Scotch. Blended or single malt. I mean mult. In other words only one, two or three tracks.So you could make anything LOL. And we did. With a little help from our friends. When someone finally had the balls to put a 47 into a bass drum at EMI, Abbey Road. Which at the time would have been grounds for dismissal. So how did they get those sounds? Doing everything wrong exactly the right way. Some of it from blissful ignorance. Like me. I am blissfully ignorant. But then you probably already knew that!

    One of the other ways they got that sound was that engineers back then. Were in fact. Actual engineers. As in Electrical Engineers. You had to be that because you had to make your own equipment. It wasn't out there to just purchase unless by special order. There was no mass production. Every item was essentially a handmade one off. That along with the small inconsistencies in handmade manufacturing created both magical items and items that we should have tested the 1st atomic bombs on? In just like today, there was also the crap equipment that was to be avoided, like the plague. And we didn't have the Internet to warn each other. So you always had to make the best of what ya had. It'll just make you a better engineer so one day, you can amaze your grandkids, also.

    I'm addicted to the old stuff in the old way and style I've always enjoyed from the 1960s/1970s/1980s. When musicians were musicians. The singers were singers. And the engineers were real engineers. Because ya really basically had to be. The equipment was not goof proof. Had to be regularly tweaked and maintained. And yet didn't have too many selections of anything, to lose your mind over as one has, today. Decisions can be daunting. So why suffer through those decisions? If you don't have to?

    Just remember, stay away from better Chinese condenser microphones. Get a bag full of 57 & 58''s. You won't need any others. Contrary to popular belief. And what you can get with a bag full of those? Will likely get you closer to what you want then anything else.

    And so it goes
    Mx. Remy Ann David
    ChrisH likes this.
  6. audiosphinx

    audiosphinx Active Member

    I think you are being misguided to thinking that it is the gear or the engineer (to a degree), that makes those old records sound great. Performance is first..if the band or musicians suck, (and I don't mean being a virtuoso, I mean feel, tuning, timing, etc.), there's no way you'll end up with a great mix...it will only bring out the poor musicianship and performances if anything. Also, keep in mind the arrangements were very well thought out due to the limitations of track counts. You have a handful of tracks, compared to today's technology, so lots of time went into the arrangement..In other words, you start with a great song, don't over crowd it with elements that don't belong. Today, producers have 100's of tracks and unfortunately, they use them all. Also, there were no guitar simulators or plugins to create effects, so time was spent in making sure the tracking was dead on.

    As for the gear...I don't believe that we can attribute the great sound of the older records to the gear alone, as we have technically better gear to play with nowadays...it's all in the HOW it's used, rather than WHAT is used.
  7. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    A Great recording lies at the mic with a great musician, in the right room, playing a quality instrument, generating the right tone, captured by the right mic in the PERFECT mic position, into a good preamp at the right level, IMHO.
    If all of that is right, it's just a matter of making it even better and not messing it up and in essence "processing" should be simple and over indulging in it shouldn't even cross your mind, unless completely necessary of course.

    The initial capture is paramount as they say "you can't polish a turd, you can only role it in glitter!".

    One of the best things I ever learned was to forget that processing after capture existed, including eq.
  8. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    tape! .....tape!.....tape! .....tape!......tape! .....tape!.....tape! .....tape!......tape! .....tape!.....tape! .....tape!......
    it compresse's, it de ess's .... it sounds different than digital. with analog each process reduces dynamic range in a more natural and gentle way. even with semi pro analog the 2-bus doesn't clog up ... you don't need a dozen instances of compression because the tape is doing it for you. you can take real world dynamics of 125dB + down to a very manageable 65dB without a dozen comps. someday everyone's gonna figure it out ... analog rocks, digital sucks.
  9. apstrong

    apstrong Active Member

    I've been saying this for years, and no one ever listens to me. Please delete this bot's spam posts :)
  10. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Good gear, serious talent (on both sides of the glass), solid writing and arrangements (a great song with a great hook), and a plan to put it all together and bring out the best that the artists and the gear has to offer, is what makes good recordings. There's no magical MMNS (Make Me Not Suck) switch on any DAW - or on any console for that matter, either.

    It's a recipe. You leave out just one of those ingredients and suddenly, instead of chocolate cake, you have a gelatinous goo that nobody wants to eat (or listen to, as the case may be.) LOL ;)

    IMHO of course.


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