Getting It Right At The Source
No matter how creative you are…
No matter how good your gear is…
No matter how long you spend editing and mixing…
Things will never sound great unless you get them right at the source.
Garbage in, garbage out is one of the most applicable phrases to apply to recording. “Fix it in the mix” has become a popular catchphrase as well, but I have no idea why, as it is almost always a misnomer. More often than not, attempts to make things sound “right” when they didn’t before will be futile. Spend time getting things right from the beginning and your job will be much easier and more rewarding. The quality of your source material is what will make or break your recording.
Great for musical styles requiring robot-like gating, but not a good solution for sloppy playing
(image courtesy of Adam “Nolly” Getgood)
First of all, set up your instruments properly. Replace your drum heads and have the entire kit tuned by someone who knows what they’re doing. Oil that squeaky kick drum pedal. Intonate your guitars. Toss out bad cables that short out or create noise. Even with great players on the instruments, these things will make a recording sound abhorrently amateur.
Experiment with different microphone choices, positions, and preamps. The pre-recording process can be lengthy and it’s tempting to jump right into the fun, but the fun will be replaced by tedious frustration in the mixing stage if you don’t put enough care into recording preparation. See which choices are the best for certain instruments, styles, and musicians. EQ and compression can’t fix everything.
Last, but certainly not least, practice! This is actually the most important tip, in my opinion. A truly amazing player can still sound good when recorded on lackluster gear with poor recording decisions. However, the best gear in the world set up by a recording master will never make a bad player sound good. Sometimes what is perceived as a recording anomaly is actually subpar technique. If you want your recording to sound tight, you have to be a tight player, plain and simple. Become truly proficient at your instrument and learn to create musical arrangements that complement the mix. Editing can only do so much.
If you spend time before recording, whether it’s hours of drum tuning or months of practicing, you’ll be closer to achieving a professional sounding final product than you ever imagined.