Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Studio Basics: Coming Full Circle

At 5 posts into this corruptive little blog, I think it's time to visit a few concepts that as both a guitarist and audiophile, I often have to remind myself of, and in which a few of you may find some benefit.

As you might already know, this audio biz can get extremely maddening. Your mixes don't sound right, the guitars don't cut the way you would like, the drums are weak, etc. This usually ends with you standing in front of your recording rig with a baseball bat debating whether or not it's really worth it to have all of that gear. Just kidding . . . but it can certainly have that effect on your psyche. I know I have certainly felt that on numerous occasions. My purpose for this blog is to hopefully aid anyone in need of assistance in working on their own projects and in turn create a more competitive mix. It is very easy to get bogged down in all of the various technical sides of mixing, production, recording, etc. But, there is one thing to remember, especially for the guitarists (and really any musician who is dabbling in recording) . . . garbage in, garbage out or GIGO.

GIGO was a phrase/acronym I learned from a good friend (audio engineer) who took me under his wing when I started trying to record and mix my own tunes. This acronym encompasses the entire foundation of a good mix. In the spirit of GIGO and a good mix, you need several elements present (not necessarily limited to just these though):

1. Be able to play your instrument

This may sound harsh but it is true. Good audio production is not and should not be used as a cure-all for a lack of talent. This goes against the grain of today's musical ethics (or lack thereof) but I firmly believe it to be true. If you are going in to the studio (be it your own or someone else's) and you are going to record a song in the style of Yngwie Malmsteen, you had better be able to play it. In contrast, if you are a singer/songwriter and you play along on guitar (a la Melissa Etheridge), you should be able to execute that in a cohesive fashion.

2. Have a good song

Good song craft should be at the absolute core of any mix. To clarify, I'm using song craft to encompass the next top 40 pop hit, a progressive endeavor, a neoclassical symphony, or any other possible permeation of music in existence.

3. Known your gear and be competent at producing a good sound from your amp . . . prior to the recording rig.

It's very crucial that you know how your gear works and how to produce a pleasing tone that is not only useful in playing live, but also in a studio environment (trust me, they are different). We have all been guilty of this at some point or another, but it is really important to know how to tweak your gear based on the aural requirements of a situation. This could mean dialing in some more highs on your processor because the provided amp at the studio just isn't cutting it, or it could mean designing a new patch on the fly because the old one sounds really weak when recorded.

All this being said, it all comes back to item #1. There was a recent project I produced where an individual sent me their guitar tracks (his playing is absolutely incredible), and honestly I didn't have to do very much to them. Some slight carving in the EQ department, and a few tweaks to fit it in the mix and his tracks were good to go. This is the best scenario . . . both item #1 and #2 fulfilled. He plays extremely well and knows his guitar sound and how to capture it. If you are having to conduct edit after edit after edit, then it might be time to circle back to #1 with either yourself or the player(s) you are working with and rethink a few things. Now, this is not to say that you will always have a choice on who plays and who doesn't. Especially if you are only a link in the chain and a producer says that a certain individual is going to play on a particular recording, then that is a different scenario. Sometimes, you are required to work with what you have been given. However, that being said, much of this blog is centered around your own studio and your own projects.

Keep all of this in mind as you work through your endeavors and remember who you are in both playing and recording. These concepts will help you tremendously in the long run. Perspective is everything!