mixing a bad arrangement.

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by vinniesrs, Jun 2, 2003.

  1. vinniesrs

    vinniesrs Active Member

    May 12, 2003
    I am just starting a full time carrer as a recording engineer, in my own studio, and for others in the area as well. Currently my market has been low level bands. A lot of the stuff is poorly arranged, chord voicings, one part stepping on another, etc.
    I sometimes spend more time than I should to tweak stuff, just cuz I don't want crap with my name on it.
    Have any of you got some horror stories, andor solutions to cleaning up a badly arranged mix?
  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    This is a very common problem. I have been lucky in this respect as most of the time I have come across this problem, the bands I was working with were receptive to changing the chord voicing. When this can't be done use a little eq to make one of the instruments carry more lows and the other more mid or highs. Panning can help also. When this problem presents itself, don't record the instruments in stereo. Do them in mono and use panning to keep them out of each others way. Sometimes you just have to settle for it all being a big wash of sound. Remember, you are going to be your harshest critic. Most people won't ever hear what you are hearing and if the stuff is really bad, it won't get listened to that much anyway. This stuff has a way of going away quicker than you would think. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet to keep the doors open. Kurt
  3. realdynamix

    realdynamix Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2001
    The low level bands you record now are the greatest challenge. But, there is a good side, and you said it. It gives you all the practice to work things out, at their expense. IOW, you get to record real sounds in real situations. Sometimes there isn't much you can do, as time goes on, you will develop skills where you can help bands do a better job from your experience, helping them give their best.
    Best of luck!

  4. wwittman

    wwittman Active Member

    Apr 28, 2003
    Let me say this:
    a LOT of people learned to produce that way (by jumping in, in a NICE way, and helping sorting out those bad arrangements.)
    But I disagree that it's necessarily good ENGINEERING practise.
    For one thing, the sorts of things you might labour to do in a badly arranged recording are often unnecessary or ill-advised when you get your hands on a GOOD band (that is well arranged and played and who has good instruments and sounds at the source)

    Early in my career I worked with some great people, then after a time i took a job (don't ask) at a 'low level' studio and found myself in that remedial recording scenario. And all of a sudden I found all my good techniques were changing; mutating into ones that worked THERE, but not necessarily good habits.
    When I got back to GOOD studios and started working with good players again it was a shock.
    But I found myself remembering all the things I used to do that worked and giving up all the "tricks" and oddities I had accumulated in trying to polish various degrees of turdism, working around poor equipment, listening on strange monitors, and so on.
    Anyway I was VERY glad I had that initial grounding in good studios so that I didn't ONLY have bad, or odd, habits to fall back on.
    It's sometimes good to know that if it sounds bad it MIGHT be the monitors, the preamps, the mic itself, the player or instrument..it's at least useful to KNOW it isn't your technique that's the issue.
    Working in a world class studio, if the assistant plugs in the U87 i ask for and when i bring it up it sounds 'funny', i know immediately to say "hey, that sounds funny!" and we change the mic, check the cable, etc.
    In a home studio or small studio it's far more likely that someone less experienced will bring it up and think he has to "fix" the sound with EQ or that it "should" sound right because he read somewhere that so-and-so uses a U87 on this so it "should" work.
    The idea that he might have a bad mic or a bad cable is less likely to occur to him.
    just an example...but similarly i think people develop ideas as to how to record or EQ or treat a snare drum that's based on BAD drums , poorly tuned, played by bad drummers in bad rooms... those techniques do NOT "prepare" you in a constructive way to deal with a great drum in a great room with all the mics in the world and a great desk with a great drummer out there waiting.
    Know what I mean?
    So that was a longwinded way of saying i would take more from what you can learn in helping to make better arrangements..rather than altering good engineering practises to fit the bad arrangements.
  5. realdynamix

    realdynamix Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2001
    :) wwittman, I understand your analogy. Once, just for the heck of it, I bought a Moped. I lived 3 miles from my day job, and I drove that bike everywhere, winter, summer, hail, you name it. 2 years later I bought a Mercedes S Class.

    Now, had I started with the finest first, I don't believe I would have appreciated the car that much, or understood the difference, both vehicles accomplished the same thing.

    There are so many variables to learn about, that if all that is provided for you, then a person may not gain certain crucial knowledge.

    An example is a crappie drum set. Tweaks will fix a lot of the ringing and rattling. This is part of the gig. A vocalist doesn't know how to work a mic in his favor, perhaps from too many bar gigs. Or a lead player, plays to much solo stuff in the wrong places. The experience is priceless.

    Send me into a fine pro studio only after I have gone through this stuff, and took the hard knocks and the crap, and still worked hard to make a decent sound. It is a right of passage.

    When I started you could have given me the best of everything, that will not mean that I am going to produce world class, and even the most experienced confronts something new all the time.

    It's learning about musicians, attitudes, dealing with frustrations, turning out fair and respectable work despite bad musicians, performances, instruments, and equipment.

    With respect,


  6. Alécio Costa - Brazil

    Alécio Costa - Brazil Well-Known Member

    Mar 19, 2002
    Rick, things vary a lot on here. I have been working with top classical artists once in a while but lots of crap appear. Man, it hurts the ears to see those wrong chord inversions and so.
    I am not a specialist in harmony, but people just do not seem to know the basics of establishing a simple nice sounding arrangement.
    Problem 2> Practice, Exercising.
    Pre Production is a must, but if that only filtered 1% of the s!!?lol

    Last weeks I had a situtation that was hilarious.
    A person contacted me , he wanted to sing in another language and he had no sense of tone and rhythm!lol

    I never had the wish to become a doctor because I do not have talent and stomach for that...

    People are just searching for quick money and their 15min of fame!lol
  7. Davedog

    Davedog Well-Known Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    Sometimes you will find that not only are your 'bottom feeders' poor at their playing abilities but they also are 'poor' at listening.
    Its a fine line to walk when you begin to step on others arrangements. No matter how good you are at it and no matter how much experience you may have at solving details, there are those amoung the unwashed that simply dont want to hear it.For them, laying down their cash to record their own music is a touch of stardom and thats what they want out of it.
    Its these times that as a studio/owner/engineer/producer, that the reality is, you've offered a service for a fee, and as long as you are doing what you can to make it sound good, and you have no producer arrangements with said band, then you have to shutup and record the turd.
    I have found over the years that the end product will suffice to prove any points you might have made along the way with regards to helping them move a little closer to quality.
    Then theres those who simply want to blame the studio for their problems.
    A pre-session set of arrangements can, most times, ease the situation when dealing with beginners.I always make sure that I know what the client wants and what hes willing to learn in hiring me and embarking upon his adventure into the recording world.Hearing any recordings that the client has made prior to starting is a huge help in dealing with arrangement/tuning/pitch control issues. Perhaps, if its possible, you sit down with your beginners and listen to their boombox/four trac bedroom mix/"my buddy's got this recorder dude"/ material, and go over it point by point as it plays and out line to them how you're going to deal with this and that. Point out strong points(if any) to their songs and give advice on strengthening weaknesses that are obvious to anyone listening.And NEVER EVER promise that you can "FIX IT IN THE MIX"...Always insist on the best performance possible or you'll wind up living the horror of never making it right.Remember, its NOT YOUR MUSIC....Dont get caught up in trying to own someone elses turd.If you make it clean and clear then no matter what else is there...ie bad songs, no one is going to blame the studio.And even if Its not good, a positive studio experience will bring you far more business than not.

    Peace and good luck...........
  8. Alécio Costa - Brazil

    Alécio Costa - Brazil Well-Known Member

    Mar 19, 2002
    I agre with you Dave. That is what I have been doing at thelast 7 years.lol
  9. vinniesrs

    vinniesrs Active Member

    May 12, 2003
    I think there is a strong point in that I am not being hired as a producer. I know the difference between a producerengineer, and an engineer. I won't comment on some of these things, except to say that it's a producers call, and the should get one, or hire me in that context. Most low level bands do not fully understand the role of a producer, and have this ego thing about doing everything themselves. I have had this conversation with others, and some but not all, agree with me.

    A chemical engineer, a mechanical engienr and a computer engineer all go out for a car ride together, when suddenly there is a strange noise, and the car breaks down. The chemical engineer says, "I think we ran out of gas!". The mechanical engineer says, "I think we dropped a valve!". They all turned to the computer engineer and said, "What do you think?". The computer engineer says, "I think we should all get out of the car, and get back in again.".

    A business owner hires an accountant because he is a specialist. He makes the books look good to an auditor. Why is it that people cannot make this differentiation with independant music? It is frustrating.

    I always make sure that each track sounds good. Eq's are handy, but to me the more I have to use an eq, means I didn't do my job well enough while tracking.
    The problem I am having, as an example, is the heavy band with two guitars playing the same stuff with only small differences, a bassist who follows the tonic, but has the picking rhytyms of a calypso percussionist. They want this full rich stereo image, but separation is a real bitch because everyone is playing the same thing.
    My first instinct here is to thin out the lead guitar under 200hz and bring up the 600-1200hz range a bit, while maybe putting a 2k enhancer on the bassist to bring out the picks. Thin out the rhythym guitar in the 600-1200 range, and pan to suit. This works okay, but I am hoping there may be more I can do.
    I did respectfully ask the guitars that:"wow great take, we lots of tracks left over, did you want to try a couple ideas and experiment?". They did not.
    Maybe I have done all I can.
  10. Davedog

    Davedog Well-Known Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    AAhhhhh....the 'engineering corner'....cant get out and dont remember how ya got in....been there/done that

    Pan the crap outta the guitars....squeeze the bass till it hurts....make the drums and the vocals the loudest things..........admire your work.


    Different enhancer on each guitar...BBE on one, Aphex on another...
    bass is again, compressed.....w/the same eq point as the kick...3k ...
    drums loud...vocalist close to mic...put a lid on him(limit)....admire work....wide pan for ALL

    Collect money......sleep worry free.....

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