the Ugliest Studio
in Utah

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Common recording mistakes

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the Ugliest Studio in Utah

Common Recording Mistakes

As we listen to a variety of music, we hear a number of problems with the recordings. Certain problems recur so often, we decided to put them in a list so you'll know the things to look for. You need to be aware of these issues in order to get the best possible recordings.
  1. Putting the vocalist behind the music. This is perhaps the most common problem we see. Frequently, the vocalist gets hammered by the piano. It sounds like the singer is standing behind the music instead of in front. Sounds closer to you should sound louder than those farther away. It's a simple matter of mixing the vocalist's volume a little louder than the band. A singer who mixes their own song tend to do this because they know what they sound like and hear it more clearly than it really sounds. This is where some fresh ears help.
  2. Singing in the wrong key. Vocalists will often choose a key where they can hit the highest note comfortably. However, after many takes, the voice tires and those high notes become harder and harder to hit. Then suddenly, the voice cracks and the session is over.
    A better way to select a key is to find the lowest note the vocalist can sing comfortably. Singers often resist this because they don't feel the same power in their voice as they do with the higher notes.
    Engineers have compression to deal with this. The effect of compression is to bring the softer sounds up closer to the louder sounds. A softer low note is no longer a problem. Another technique is to slightly reduce the volume of the music while the vocalist sings preventing the voice from getting lost in the mix.
  3. EQing to fix a muddy mix. Sometimes a mix will seem muddy when several instrument interfere with each other. Taking out interfering frequencies with EQ is often used as a quick fix. Taking out frequencies is like taking out some of the keys of a piano. If the instruments have been recorded correctly and they sound good when the tracks are played solo, there may be another problem: panning.
    We hear sound 3-dimensionally. We should also mix 3-dimensionally. Panning places sounds side to side. Volume places the sounds front and back. When two instruments interfere with each other, the best solution may be to pan them away from each other. It's amazing how two instruments that sound like mud together can be heard clearly when one is panned to the left and the other panned to the right.
  4. Sharing the same sonic space. This is where two sounds producing the same frequencies are located in the same space. An example would be of a vocalist and a piano. Both produce the same frequencies so when notes of the piano match the notes of the singer, it becomes hard to distinguish them, although the piano usually wins out because of the sharper velocity.
  5. Too much compression and limiting. This is a trend that distresses many engineers. It is the use of compression and limiting to increase the volume on CDs. Producers seems to forget that listeners have a volume control and can manage that function by themselves, thank you. And if the producers are trying to increase the volume of the songs played on the radio, that is controlled automatically by the radio stations. You just cannot play any louder than the transmitter is set for.
    (A note here to be said in the defense of engineers. The engineer may have created a great mix only to have it destroyed when the producer has it mastered.)
    So what is wrong with extreme compression and limiting?
    First, compression brings up the volume of the softer sounds making the performances sound more like midi music. Engineers like to use equipment with more dynamic range. Then the producer asks for it to be removed with extreme compression. (So why are we spending more money for better equipment?)
    Second, if the peaks of the wave form are chopped off with limiting, the overall volume of the recording is raised. However, removing part of the wave form causes distortion. The distortion from compression and clipping can make music tiring to listen to.

Remember: Having recording equipment doesn't make you an engineer. This is a problem when artists try to save money by doing their own recording. Just because I own a guitar doesn't make me a guitarist. It takes time to develop the skill and talent to make that guitar play music. Artists will spend years developing musical skills and talent. But when it comes to recording, they expect those skills and talent to somehow transfer to engineering. That may be sufficient for creating a demo but rarely is it enough to make good recordings. And developing those engineering skills often takes too much time away from being a musician.



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