Log in
Log in

Create an account


Thread October 17, 2015 editorial: comments

  • 10 replies
  • 7 participants
1 October 17, 2015 editorial: comments

I Can’t Recall

These days, being able to instantly recall a session in your DAW is something we all take for granted. Want to switch to another song when you’re mixing? No problem, just close one file and open the other. Want to revisit a mix six months later? Piece of cake. Just open the file. As long as you still have all the same plug-ins, you can get back to the exact spot where you last saved a session.

This contrasts greatly with the way things worked in the days of analog recording. Back then, when a mix was finished, you pulled all the faders down and returned all the knobs to their defaults in order to ready the console for the next song. Of course, that meant you were wiping out all the settings for your mix.

Doing a recall was time consuming and relatively imprecise. You had to have written down all the settings on the board and your hardware at the end of the mix session, before you zeroed out the console and the outboard gear. Studios typically printed “recall sheets,” that had simple line drawings of all their gear, which the assistant engineer or intern whould use to mark all the knob and fader positions when the mix was finished.

Even with recall sheets, it was very difficult to precisely recall a mix. As a practical matter, it was best to definitively finish one mix before moving onto the next.

We’ve certainly come a long way since then technologically, but I wonder whether the old system, clunky as it was, had some advantages. Now that we have the option to endlessly reopen and tweak a song, it makes it harder to say without reservation, “It’s done.” 

Don’t get me wrong, even if I could give up total recall, I wouldn’t do it. But I do wonder whether it enables my obsessive nature. Unless I have a deadline that's forcing me to finish, I know in the back of my mind that I can always revisit the mix. There’s just not the same kind of closure.


I can relate to all of this as I started as a young engineer in LA when I was 19 ( 1972 ) and as Mike mentioned, everything had to be accurately and comprehensively committed to paper or finishing a mix downstream was difficult or even impossible... This lead to many endless/ sleepless nights at the board with an increasingly "unreasonable" producer who understood this need for the seamless completion of the project at hand... I remember Big Mac's for breakfast, lunch and dinner sometimes for endless days until we put it to bed...

Anything can sometimes benefit from more time, reflection and effort, but I love the new technology..! It allows a continuous process of refinement which we could only have dreamt about in the old days... So we loose nothing in that.

I'm not the perfectionist Mike describes, but value the wisdom of the 80/20 rule which in the recording world is closer to 95/5... meaning, 95% of the listeners will never notice that last 5% of sweat/perfection unless it comes with a complete creative epiphany and breakthrough in the mix and in my experience, if an engineer follows a regular process when mixing, this is rare...

I've also been self-employed and conscious of the economics more than my employee /engineer might be and that comes with a different world view too...

All in all, although I regularly cuss at Pro-Tools... I would never even consider going back to the stone age... not so long ago...
Claytonian--great comment. Very interesting stuff. Thanks! :bravo:
I certainly am not advocating a return to the old days. I am saying that sometimes it's good to have to commit to a mix, or one could tweak it endlessly, and (often) counter -productively. I find that when I'm working on a mix and have a deadline for finishing it, I have a focus that I wouldn't have on a mix where I know I can reopen a few weeks down the road. Of course, I try to build in enough time so that I can let a mix sit overnight, or at least for a few hours, before finalizing it, in order to get my perspective back and make final tweaks. But when it's a song of my own and I don't have to get it done at a specific time, I often will end up doing countless versions over a period of weeks or months, and never really feel like it's truly done.
Although I've never worked as a professional mixer or engineer, I do find myself going back to previous mixes of songs and seeing if I can "improve" them. When I learn a new technique or mixing trick, I think to myself: I wonder if such and such song could benefit from this. So, I'll open up the song and try the technique.

Now, if I were doing this for a living, I'd probably be broke and out of business. Sometimes the tricks/techniques really improve the mix, but usually not much. However, with a DAW, making changes is easy. That said and having previously mixed using tape, I would never want to go back to the analogue days. Never having to worry with tape wearing out or the fidelity decreasing with repeated playback is well worth the loss of "warmth" that many complain about. And I love being able to do "precise edits".

I'm not OCD (I don't think), but like many people, I want my songs to sound as good as I can make them sound. I want others to hear the potential in every song that I hear, and if making a tweak here and there allows me to achieve that, then I'll go for it. DAWs make it easy. Not so easy going back to the analogue days.
I remember the old days as well. 4 pairs of hands on faders, while we mixed. Each mix was a performance of sorts. I couldn't go back to the old way. On a separate note, I am repairing several old 2 track machines. I miss the sound of tape. These machines went out to 31.kHz as the 3db down point. at 15ips. I still say there's some sort of ambiance we miss with our tight digital filters these days. It makes me want to start projects at 96kHz.
(Isle Of Wight reader, UK)
I was lucky enough to begin my career in the industry when analogue desks were fully automated so a flick of a switch and all the EQs and faders slid into their positions for a particular song/project.

However, I would have loved to have been around in the `60s and `70s working with the basics. I am sure that artists would have to had worked harder too in order to create a great sound.

I believe there is too much high tech around. I purposefully avoid too many guitar effects and vocal effects etc. The artists that are very good at what they do choose my studio. The ones who are here to pose and get rich do not choose my studio in which to record their greatness.

The Isle of Wight is a small island off the south coast of England with a population of just around 145,000. But there is a lot of talent here. The Manana attitude is annoying though so more hard work on my behalf. Being born in Liverpool I was not used to this laid back way of living life.

This island also plays host to The Isle Of Wight Festival and Bestival so world renowned stars play here each year. A funny little place really when all is said and done.

Now though I am more or less fully booked all of the time as news travels fast on a small island. I have no need to spend on advertising apart from on a few nearby mainland towns and cities.

Overall I agree with Mike. I now finish one song at a time and move on! It is the only way for me otherwise I be playing around with projects in my grave.


Simon Connor
Home Grown Studios UK
In the analogue days using the Glyn Johns approach, I never had a problem with recall because we didn’t Eq music to death like we are doing now! Nearly everything was based on using our ears as we were trained to do, by setting Mics up correctly whether drums or guitars so as to minimize equalization when it came to mix-downs...

Often during overdubs engineers would continually balance/sub-mix instruments as they were been printed to tape, rather than leaving a mountain of work during post production as we are doing now.

So isn't ironic in the era of Digital Eq, and with the plethora of plugins available, the modern sound engineer seems more interested in the assist of visual graphics to make sonic decisions rather then using his/her ears to a point where most folks have actually forgotten what natural drums or guitars sound like, and that’s called “SAD”?
Say Mike: Interesting article. In the years since I've been using DAWs, my already obsessive nature regarding the "perfect" studio recording was already way beyond the pale. Of course, the exorbitant hourly rate attached to studio time, put my obsession for perfection in check (big time)! As you mentioned, "deadlines" certainly have a way of keeping our propensity for tweaking the heck out of our tracks under control. Shucks, even as I write this little missive, I have scads of "unfinished" material nestled on my various computers (Macs and PC's alike). It's no wonder that I rarely get anything finalized And published! <lol> All that being said, when a piece of music is floating around in my head, I am thankful that I can just go into my "home" studio, fire up my keyboards and DAWs, and allow my "obsessive" nature the luxury of free and unfettered reign.
I remember the old days as well. 4 pairs of hands on faders, while we mixed. Each mix was a performance of sorts.

Yeah, exactly. On a large format console it could be pretty crazy, with everyone stretching to reach a particular fader or knob at a particular time, and trying not to bump into each other in the process. DAWs definitely simplify that a lot.
Overall I agree with Mike. I now finish one song at a time and move on! It is the only way for me otherwise I be playing around with projects in my grave.

With the way technology is going, perhaps someday we'll be able to do mixes in the afterlife. ;) Seriously, though, congrats on have a successful business. It must be very cool to live and work on the Isle of Wight.