| By Thomas Brett |
Audio engineering is a technical profession.
The problem is…
There are hundreds, even thousands of fancy terms, tools and tricks to explore and play-around with when first starting out, often causing people to skip past some of the crucial fundamentals which are actually far more important.
Back To Basics…
One of these fundamentals is the fact that a good source recording won’t require much post-processing to begin with.
A perfect example of the “Power of the Source” is The bass tone on Meshuggah’s “Future Breed Machine”
Before delving into some of my tips on “getting it right at the source”, let’s take a moment to talk about Meshuggah:
Observation: Every musical element within a Meshuggah track is distinctly “Meshuggah-y” and brutal sounding from the get-go.
Well… In the case of the legendary “Future Breed”, I’m willing to bet that Daniel, and each of the guys in the band knew exactly how they wanted the instruments to end up sounding in the final product, and that they crafted / recorded / committed the tones from day one with the intention of them being “the sound”.
As a result of these visionary, goal oriented recording decisions, Daniel Bergstrand is able to mix one of the highest-regarded songs in heavy metal to perfection while relying mostly on basic desk-EQ.
“Make it so you like it, because if you like it, they’ll like it” – Chris Lord Alge
Learning to make these types of bold tonal decisions on-the-spot during recording rather than always delaying them for “future you” to deal with is a surefire way of creating something unique and interesting, as well as preventing option-paralysis when it comes for mixing.
Another “Perfect Recording” example is Meshuggah’s “MonstroCity”: 20 Years later, different album, different engineer, different studio, different gear, same high standards of recording quality and lack of over-processing (resulting in another incredible mix):
Now that you’re aware of what’s at stake, here are some tips towards capturing better source material for your own productions:
Learn To Reference (But don’t over-do it!): If you want, let’s say… your raw rhythm guitar tones to sound bright enough to compete with a full-track without needing any additional EQ in the mix, you need to have an accurate point of reference for what “bright” sounds like while you’re dialing them in.
- Briefly listening through a few similar-genre tracks from other engineers and comparing the general tonal balance of their final tones to yours can help give you a better understanding of what they need to sound like in order to work well in the context of a whole mix.
- Remember though: Referencing doesn’t mean blindly copying, it means taking inspiration from.
NOTE: I personally like to reference various productions from Andy Sneap and Adam “Nolly” Getgood when it comes to dialing in electric guitars.
Choose The Right Sound For The Part/Song: Unfortunately (but also thankfully!), there’s no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to music. The fact that a certain tone or setting worked well for a particular song doesn’t mean it’s gonna work equally as well for another…
- You can’t just copy other people’s sound presets and expect them to slot right into an entirely different musical context without, at the very least, some “adaptive tweaking”
- Don’t come up with tones/sounds in solo! Make sure you’re always checking to see how things fit together in the mix… Unless you want to spend countless hours trying to carve out space during mixing.
NOTE: In the case of drums, for example: As funny as it sounds, often doing something as simple as switching to a more appropriate kick or snare drum sample can make all the difference in the world towards gelling the drums into your mix!
TRULY Learn How To Use Your Microphones: More often than not, our go-to solution when trying to figure out how to mic up an instrument/source is to Google the “best” placement positions.
- How do you think those engineers you’re blindly choosing to copy came up with those “best” positions to begin with? Was it some kind of super-technical rocket math…? Was it divine inspiration…? Were the secret plans hidden inside a noisy little droid…?
- They probably just set up the mic and moved it around until they were happy with the sound… THAT SIMPLE!
- Stop wasting your time searching for magic audio solutions and just start using your ears. It’ll help you unlock a whole new world of sonic possibilities, and you can thank me later.
NOTE: I can honestly tell you that the first time I was truly blown away by one of my acoustic guitar recordings was the time I decided to abandon my “go-to” position and experiment with the mic.
“The Tone Is In The Hand” / “Crap In, Crap Out”: Music Production is a long chain of events eventually culminating into a final, unified product. If the very first links in the chain are weak, it really doesn’t matter what the rest of it looks like… It’s fundamentally flawed.
- A lot of this basically comes down to how the instrument you’re recording is being played. (Remember the best guitar>amp combination in the world will still sound like garbage in the hands of a terrible guitarist.)
- Playing-technique related issues are rarely fixed overnight, and are more likely to take months/years to perfect. Realistically, the best you can do in such recording situations is to make-do with the hand you’re dealt… And simply do whatever it takes to make the situation workable. (Often through having to resort to drastic after-the-fact corrective measures)
- This being said, fix it in the mix shouldn’t be a valid option/excuse if you can actually help it. If you’re ever in a position where you could drastically improve the sound of something through some simple re-tracking or re-amping if you wanted to, don’t be lazy, just do it!
Mixing is (or should be) about applying the bare minimum of processing necessary to make an already-great-sounding recording sound even better.
Mixing isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about hopelessly trying to u-turn a terrible recording into something amazing through ungodly amounts of processing and “studio magic”.
To bring this week’s article to a close, here’s a good music production philosophy to live by:
“Record as if there’s no such thing as mixing, and don’t ruin your well-recorded material by over-mixing” – Me, 2017
This concludes “Get It Right At The Source! (Ft. Meshuggah)” I hope that this article has given you some new ideas to try out during your next project. Be sure to comment below if any of this information has helped you out, or if you have any questions.
Stay tuned for more production/mixing related articles in the not-so-distant future!
Thomas Brett is a producer, mixing engineer and songwriter at Brett Brothers recording studio in the UK. Check out the Brett Brothers studio website for more information and articles on all things mixing www.brettbrothersstudio.com
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