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Working at the source

The ultimate guide to audio recording - Part 5

You'll fix it in the mix... right? Wrong! That's why I'll try to make sure that this phrase never makes into your home studio.

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Golden rule #1

Would you come to the idea of recording Smells Like Teen Spirit with a ukulele expecting to achieve the same spectacular tube sound of Nirvana? Would it be wise to choose a baritone to play the part of the Queen of the Night in a faithful reinterpretation of Mozart’s famous singspiel The Magic Flute? Obviously not. It would be just as absurd as trying to play a Jimi Hendrix riff with a drum or trying to make a cat bark.

00 Source

Behind these silly sounding examples lies an important fact often neglected by most home studio owners just starting out: you should try to make your instruments sound as close as possible to what you have in mind before you even start recording. You might have the best gear in the world and honed your mixing skills to perfection, but that won’t be of much use unless you have put the same amount of effort at the source!

That’s why I strongly recommend you to take all the time you need to search for “the sound” that you have in your head before you press the Record button. Pick the right guitar, test different effects combinations, choose the most adequate cymbal, etc. To cut a long story short, start off on the right foot. That’s the best way to make sure that you’ll arrive safe and sound at the destination you’ve chosen.

As a logical consequence you will also need to choose the right microphones and their placement. Again, take all the time you need to find that magic combination that will faithfully capture the sound of the source you have been painstakingly giving form to. In the end, it will only save you time in future stages. And don’t be afraid to make radical decisions. If that’s what it takes, then so be it. Trust me, you won’t regret it during mixdown.

I can already hear you saying “yes, but…”

To err is human

What if you mess up your choices? Well, first of all you should start by playing it down a bit. It’s not like it’s an open heart surgery what you are doing here, so nobody is gonna die due to your mistakes, okay? On the other hand, only those who never try anything never make mistakes. In my opinion, mistakes are as encouraging as the lessons you learn from them. So take your best shot and make as many mistakes as you must, that’s the only way to learn and do things better the next time around! Besides, the main advantage of a home studio compared to big recording studios is that you won’t have any pressure regarding the time and money it takes you to get it right. Hence, if you ever feel lost, take note and go back to the source.

And yes, in case you are wondering, I have made some awfully nice mistakes throughout my career. See you next week!

← Previous article in this series:
Recording levels
Next article in this series:
Recording a trombone →
  • angelie 350 posts
    AFfluent Poster
    Posted on 10/12/2016 at 09:38:07
    :-D all those examples, they made me laugh
    But your right. Most time in the studio is spend trying everything out.

    And yes if you need a percussion but can't find the right thing try jamming on a table top with some pencils with some weird effect on it. You may be surprised what you end up with

    Remember that weird song?
    "da da da" preformed by Trio
    That amazing casino math ruler synth sound.
    Just great :-D to use a kids toy in their preference.

    - Angelie
  • Nantho Valentine 336 posts
    Nantho Valentine
    Posted on 10/14/2016 at 04:43:41
    Quote from angelie:
    And yes if you need a percussion but can't find the right thing try jamming on a table top with some pencils with some weird effect on it. You may be surprised what you end up with

    That's the spirit :bravo:
  • John Graham 5 posts
    John Graham
    New AFfiliate
    Posted on 10/16/2016 at 09:58:11
    Totally agree you shouldn't approach a project with a "Fix it in the mix" attitude. While there are some amazing tweaks you can accomplish when necessary, I've "overdone" it plenty of times and wound up trashing a mix and starting over. There is no substitute for a clear, quality recording. If the source needs that much help, record it again.
  • Nantho Valentine 336 posts
    Nantho Valentine
    Posted on 10/18/2016 at 02:09:36
    Exactly ! To get the best result, everything should be right from the beginning of the process :bravo:

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