20 thoughts on recording music | MUSIC: Rock & Roll Quarterly | Indy Week
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20 thoughts on recording music 

Advice from the pros

Editor's note: Like Kitchen Mastering's Brent Lambert said in the first piece, recording is an act of physics. That's the science. The performance and capturing it is where the art comes in. Following are a mixture of tips, tricks and things to keep in mind when you're engaged in both.

Before you record
"Be as prepared and rehearsed as you can. It doesn't happen as much anymore. But then everyone has Pro-Tools, and you can sit and monkey with stuff forever, which is great, but there is nothing better than a really tight performance just to build things on."
--Brian Paulsen

"Headphones are kind of weird; you need to be careful about a headphone mix. It's ambitious to think you can go in and wear headphones never having worn them before and play like you normally do. They're a necessary evil most of the time, but I'd say practice over headphones if you can set up a little mixer. Get used to the headphones, because that will definitely throw you. It will throw your pitch; it'll throw your rhythm."
--Chris Stamey

"If rap is the only music you listen to, you're in big trouble," says Ninth Wonder. "There ain't a rapper yet who's said 'I don't like Coldplay,' at least for most of us in the game. Young cats trying to get in the game are like, 'I don't listen to that shit.' Why not? You need to. It will teach you a lot about your own music. You think Linkin Park just got the bright idea one day to do something with Jay-Z like that? I know for Phonte a lot of his harmonies come from Beach Boys records."
--9th Wonder

"The smartest thing is to know the songs. Have them well-rehearsed and have played them live. It's great to have done a couple tours. Because just from a performing perspective, you don't know if a song is good or bad until you've played them in front of a room full of people."
--Rick Miller

"I like people that are well-rehearsed and comfortable with a song; it makes recording so much easier. If everyone is comfortable and you're capturing what is going on in that moment, to me that makes the rest of your recording with the overdubs and the mixing much better. If you get the sound there at the recording stage, mixing it is simple."
--Nick Peterson, Track & Fields Studios

In the studio
"I think all the time about 'Hello Mary Lou.' Rickey Nelson was lined up to be in the studio, I think it was a three hour session, but there were other bands in the sessions and it came down to 15 minutes, and they were 'OK, we've got 15 minutes,' and they cut their record in that time. That also happens in regular sessions where the first 15-20 minutes and the last 15-20 minutes are really golden times, where magic happens all the time. You need to always honor that time when the tape is running out."

"To make beats you have to be able to hear. In order to rap you have to be able to write rhymes. You might have raw talent. But that raw talent can benefit from something else. If you don't have the raw talent, no machine in the world is going to make you better."
--9th Wonder

"The biggest most common mistake I see is really poor arrangements musically, where you've got too many instruments fighting for the same real estate sonically, especially within a certain octave. It seems like the art of arranging is disappearing. Is the bass playing way up the neck an octave higher than a low D and if so, what are the guitarists doing, are they playing in the same octave? Did the bass get tuned down so he can play the bass note an octave lower, and stay out of the way of the guitars? It's so simple to fix if you're aware of them."
--Brent Lambert

"Study where you come from. If rap music started for you in 1998, you got a really big problem. If you want to learn how to make beats then you got to go back, not maybe to the Cold Krush Brothers, but start at least when sampling became big. (The Bomb Squad might confuse you--don't start there.) At least when sampling became popular--around 1990--if you want to learn to chop samples."
--9th Wonder

"[Musicians should] like the sound of their instruments. Sometimes that's a big shock for people. They have this ideal they place on their guitar or drum sound that is just not there. That happens to me even when I record myself. Yet be persistent and know the sound you want , and don't be afraid to ask the producer that you work on it if you're not happy. Whoever you're working with should take the time to make everybody feel good about what they're recording."

"I'd say try to play together and play it for real . Don't think you're just playing a guide, and stay physically close to each other."

Getting the sound
"You want to be able to use good room mikes. I really like a good room mike. If you put your head down where that mike is next to the snare drum, it really doesn't sound very good. You've got to have something around it."

"Microphones are a big thing for me. I generally have a good idea about which mike to record the vocals, but I'll usually put up at least three mikes for what I'm doing. So when somebody steps up to the mike with a set of headphones on, they can go down the line of two or three vocal mikes and use whichever one you see their eyes kind of light up--kind of let them choose. Hopefully they also learn a little bit, like, 'Hey, this does make a difference,' and they're more involved."

"You can make the creative part, you can record things, but if you don't have an accurate monitoring environment , there's no way you can make correct decisions. It's like being a graphic designer on a monitor that all the colors are set wrong. You just know that what you're looking at isn't reality."

"The other thing that's important about the studio--and Mark hipped me to a lot of this stuff--front end is where everything happens. It's the instruments, the microphones, the cabling, the power that you use. It's the interfaces. If you don't begin with a good sound , you can't fake it later. You've got to start good."

"Technically, two mikes close together give you a blurred image, and singer/songwriters are at their best when they're playing guitar and piano and singing at the same time. So you kind of decide what you want to get. Whether you want to get the ear-gripping performance with a little bit of blur, or whether you want to use just one mike on the voice and on the guitar. Whichever, it's always kind of a trick. I approach it different ways with different people. If they play guitar really quietly, it helps. If I think they can overdub a vocal and get it there, that's fine. But if a song was written to feel right, with a guitar in their hand, a lot of times everything changes when you take that away."

"The nice thing about the real gear is it cost a lot but it never loses its value. You can spend so much money on this digital stuff and two years later it's obsolete."

"We've rarely used any compression on anything that came in here, in fact. A lot of times we really do the opposite. Now I have tools that can back transience back in and expand things back out so we can even work on them. It's interesting--there are some other tricks you can do, like ... parallel compression ... so you get the heavy, thick, compressed sound mixed in with totally uncompressed sound. And that sounds awesome. But most neophytes don't do that; they just hammer it until there's nothing left."

"We were just talking about EQing stuff the other day. That's where you get into the most trouble. You shape things too much in here, other than listening to what the band's playing. I'll help bands if I feel there is a problem. But most of the problems with playing rock 'n' roll are too much. Ninety-eight percent of the time I'd say less is more. And trying to overreach. Like, technically, there's a part you're having trouble doing. That happens a lot to me, and everybody. You've got to scale it back. Things like that."

"When people get into mixing, the most common mistake I have is sort of the same thing--too many things fighting for the same space either left to right in a mix or sonically as well. If you're a mixer and have an arrangement where the piano player or the guitar player happen to play in the same range as the vocalist, cut the EQ of one of them to make space for the other. A lot of times people miss the boat on that."

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