Blog Post 1
So you're interested in recording?
15th of July 2018
Welcome to the first of possibly many, possibly few posts I may ever write on this website. I figure that seeing as this is my site (my name is in the url and everything) that I can write whatever I dang well like! Such a strutty, heady feeling that thought gives me. What a rush. So with that in mind, strap yourself in for the blog post of the century; what is sure to be a series of unbearably opinionated pontifications...
'twas the 25th day of May in the year of our lord, two thousand and twelve. I had recently got to the point where I was fed up with coming up with (definitely) platinum worthy musical ideas for my band and then promptly forgetting them. I was unsure as to how I could go about remedying this problem, until one fateful day I found myself in Allens+Billy Hyde in Brisbane City in the middle of their closing down sale, and it was there that a Purple Box caught my eye. And wander over did I, and what had I spied? Pro Tools 10 bundled with an audio interface. I promptly called the bank (my dad) and asked him to front the money. Graciously he agreed and that was the beginning of my love affair with audio.
I've learned so much in the last 6 years, and figured it would be good if I wrote to my 23 year old self with a few pieces of advice that I wish I had taken more seriously the first time I heard them. So without further ado, here is my list of rules for quality sounding demos/general recording advice for beginners:
1. No amount of post-processing will make your crappy performance sound good.
The first thing anyone learns who starts to record for the first time (and most importantly, possesses the ability to be constructively self critical) is that you're never as good a player as you thought you were up until that point. Your take is sitting there on the screen in front of you, sneering at you, telling you how messy, out of time and weak your playing is. You can go one of two ways with this, you can either knuckle down, learn humility and practice what you know you have to, OR you can give up all hope of ever being a musician, get a desk job and talk to Karen from accounting whilst standing at the water cooler about how you used to be in a band once before your boss walks past and asks why he hasn't received that report that was due last week.
Learning that you suck more than you thought can actually be an empowering experience, because it means you have a clear path foward to becoming a truly excellent musician, and to creating great sounding recordings that you can be proud of. It's been my personal experience that almost everyone who is inexperienced with recording has a tendency to rush ahead of the beat. It is often partly due to nerves, but mostly it's due to thinking about the thing you're about to play instead of focusing on, and internalising the pulse. So if you're unsure where to start, let that be number 1!
The reasons great records sound great is because they were played well. It doesn't matter what brand of strings you're using, what mic you're singing through or what new patch you've got dialed in on your Axe-Fx if your performance is sloppy. Learn to be truly constructively self critical, compare your playing to your heroes, and try and close that gap!
Now with that out of the way...
2. New strings, new strings, new strings.
This is non-negotiable if you want a quality tone, ESPECIALLY for bass players (sorry my low-end bros, I know they aren't cheap). As a guitarist, I have a tendency to get really wrapped up in making my tone as tight/clear/heavy/ballsy/moist (pick your favourite adjective) as possible, and over the years of recording I've come to rely on 2 axioms. 1, your guitar tone doesn't matter as much as you think it does, and 2, almost every amazing guitar tone you ever heard recorded was actually due to the killer bass tone that brought it all together... and you simply cannot achieve that without new strings. Not a lot more to say here, this is just one of those truths that is self evident.
3. You don't need fancy plugins... But you'll end up buying them anyway.
My experience with plugins has been the following (and I daresay I'm not alone here)
1. My recordings sound bad, it must be because all I have to work with are these crappy stock-plugins.
2. I'm going to fork out lots (thousands) of dollars on new plugins to try and make my recordings sound better.
3. These fancy new plugins sure are fun... but why do my recordings still sound like a fart recorded on a phonograph inside a paperbag onto a warped cassette?
4. (Fast forward months/years) I wish I had saved my money and not bought that Waves/slate/soundtoys/Fabfilter/whoever eq/compressor/reverb/whatever, because since I learned how to listen critically I've learned that the majority of what I need on a day to day basis (bar a few one-trick-pony plugins) came with my DAW.
5. ...Oooooh, Waves has 50% off sale!
Seriously, the only plugins I've found to be truly worth every penny, and have acheived real consistent use in my mixes have been The Slate Everything Bundle ($15USD per month) and Fabfilter Pro Q2 and Pro MB.
4. Don't get too fancy with panning
At the risk of sounding like bad click-bait, my mixes sounded narrow for years, and no amount of stereo-widening plugins did anything for me until I learned this simple rule. Kick/snare/Lead vox/lead guitars/bass up the middle, everything else including Guitars hard left and right, the only exceptions being toms and the occasional effect for flavour here and there. If that's good enough for Chris Lord-Alge, it's good enough for you. If you stick too many things in the gap between centre and hard LR you can actually decrease the perception of width in your mix.
5. Don't blindly follow any specific advice from anyone - Everything has context
In my early days of mixing I was watching an episode of "Into the Lair" with Dave Pensado (one of the greats), and he was mixing a bass guitar. For him on that particular session, he applied a low-pass filter on the bass guitar down to something like 3-4k. On that particular song, on that particular bass, it worked well and he explained his rationale at the time, but my brain went "I now low pass bass guitar to 3-4k, because that is what Dave Pensado does". In fact it isn't a rule of his, it's just something he did that one time, and for the next few months while I continued to do this, I would wonder why I could never get my bass guitar sounding the way I wanted. It wasn't until I watched another mixing legend mix a bass guitar and pump all KINDS o' brightness into the bass tone and didn't low-pass at all until I realised what a fool I had been. I have countless other personal examples of this. Do what makes it sound good, not what someone else does to theirs. There are of course general guide lines that I are useful (eg, highpass guitars to approx 100hz is a pretty solid rule of thumb), but consider them guidelines only.
Anyway, I've rambled on for long enough and 5 is a nice round number to end this list on. If you got this far, my google website analytics thanks your eyeballs for their attention, and I thank you for stroking my ego.