Friday, March 11, 2011

Want a fantastic sounding recording? 6 Easy Steps!

Ok, you might hate me after this post, but I'm only saying this to help. Follow these 6 easy (or very hard) steps and you WILL end up with an amazing sounding recording:

1. Get a great song/arrangement
2. Get great musicians
3. Get great sounding instruments
4. Get a great sounding room
5. Get a great engineer
6. Get great sounding recording gear

The steps above are all important, but I've place them in the logical order. If you fail at one of the steps, the ones after it don't really matter. However, with each step closer, you give yourself a better chance. One thing often said on my favorite studio forum (shout out to and Tweak's guide there as an AMAZING resource) is "Get it right at the source".

Let's do some digging and see how each one affects the process.

1. Get a great song/arrangement

It sound so simple, but if you don't have a good song that is arranged well, there's no point recording it. It's just not going to be good. All the work in the world to capture everything and make it sound good is going to fail because the song just isn't good.

Also, to break it down a bit farther, you can have a good song with good lyrics and good melody, but if it's arranged poorly, it's also going to fail. The way you build the song's arrangement is critical.

Top Tip: Work on your song-writing skills as well as with your band on dynamics and placement of things to really bring the song alive. Make space in your music and keep experimenting with arrangements until it really sticks.

2. Get great musicians

If you can't put together a group of great musicians, you're not going to have a good sounding recoding. Period. Many people start working on the later steps in the equation, but this is critical point #1. Continually push yourself to be better and your recordings will get better. Amazing bands can have one mic stuck in front of them and sound good. Keep getting better! All the best gear, songs, engineers and producers can't make bad musicians sound good (except for auto-tune the news). Don't sell yourself on the idea that they'll just "Fix-it-in-the-mix" or "Protools it". Great musicians don't need that.

Top Tip: Keep working on your skills as a musician and your recording will keep getting better. Don't be afraid of lessons. We should all always be bettering ourselves.

3. Get great sounding instruments

Let me just say it. You're not going to get great sounding recordings if your instruments don't sound great (voices included). If you're not loving the sounds coming out of your gear, it's time to switch gear. One thing you'll find is that a recording can never capture all of the magic of your gear so if you're gear is a 4 out of 10, you're probably going to get a 2 or 3 out of 10 on the recording. If it's a 9 out of 10, you're going to be getting something like an 8 out of 10 on the recording. Be objective about your instruments and find people who know what they're talking about and will be honest with you. It will only make you better.

However, don't let cheap gear stop you from moving forward as you'll never has as nice of gear as you wished you had, but just realize expectations or see if you can borrow/rent better stuff for a recording.

You can't record bad sounds and expect a good recording.

Top Tip: Buying gear and selling it usually always results in a loss of money. This means buying cheap gear is only going to hurt you in the long-run. Keep saving for something good and keep checking for sweet stuff at the music shop - there's often gems there that just suit what you're trying to do. A quality instrument will stick with you for a long time and help make you better. Find pieces of gear that are giving you the sound you want right from the get-go. Don't try and fix it with something else. Check out a relevant post of mine on the Internet is Ruining Your Gear HERE

4. Get a great sounding room

This is especially true for things like drums, vocals, or other things that take the room into account. If you record drums in a bad sounding room like your small, empty basement bedroom, you'll get a drum recording that sounds like it's been recorded in a small, empty basement bedroom. If you record your vocals in a closet with foam on the walls, it will sound like you recorded vocals in a closet with foam on the walls. Look for open, balanced spaces or spaces where your instruments sound like how they want to sound. If you don't have that option, look for deader spaces that have broadband (meaning they absorb all frequencies unlike foam) absorption that can make it dead so you can add reverb/delay or other effects to make them sound more full.

Doing some acoustic treatment isn't actually too hard. I've been making my own for a while now and the differences are HUGE. You can buy it you have more money than time (look at companies like GIK Acoustics or RealTraps) or you can DIY if you have more time than money. Search for "broadband absorbers DIY" or check out the acoustics sections on forums like Studio Central or Gearslutz. You can make your room sound A LOT better. There's also lots of tips for how to setup your room to have it sound the best.

5. Get a great engineer

If you have all the previous things in place, you do actually stand a chance of getting a good recording without a great engineer because good music almost mixes itself, but it's definitely a crap-shoot and not recommended. A great engineer will take all your goodness and make it great.

Finding someone with experience in recording and mixing techniques will make a huge difference for you. They'll make sure that the great sounds you are creating get captured in the recording.

If you're doing your own recording, keep working on honing your skills and your ears. It takes a lot of time and practice to get good at recording. Yes, reading things can help, but you have to develop yourself as well.

Top Tip: Get a great engineer :). If you're doing the recording, stay humble, and always keep learning. Experiment and practice as much as you can. Don't just throw up a mic and say that's good enough. LISTEN to the differences things make and keep practicing. Oh, and keep practicing. None of us ever arrive.

6. Get great sounding recording gear

I think some people would be surprised to find this as the last thing, but it really is. People often blame the gear for the reason why their recordings don't sound good, but that's not the problem 99% of the time. If the sounds are good, then a decent engineer can get great results with entry-level gear. Give a novice a million dollars worth of gear and they're still not going to get a great sounding recording. The right gear in the right hands is so much more important.

Top Tip: Gear is a law of diminishing returns. The higher end you go, the less noticeable the difference. Buy quality gear that you can afford and be strategic about what is going to have the best bang for your buck. I.E. A $2500 preamp is not going to be very noticeable over a $300 pair of "studio monitors" in an untreated space. A proper monitoring chain is critical so you can hear what is actually going on. Get your priorities right. Check out my other article on monitoring HERE.

Wrap Up:

The biggest myth out there is that you can go buy a $3k Neumann mic and plug it into a $3k Avalon preamp and instantly have a great recording, but all the things I mentioned before that need to be in place to make that happen.

So there you have it. It's easy. This really isn't meant to be discouraging, but rather encouraging, because it's simple in thought and mostly just some hard work. Yes, it would be nice to buy our way into good sound, but it doesn't work that way. However, you can keep working and getting better - so do that!

Comments? Let me know what YOU think!



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