Recently I did an experiment. After so many attempts at getting a good mix, never being satisfied, and going over so many tutorials, I began to notice something: In most of those tutorials, the initial recording already sounds really good.
An example of my usual routine means calling up the guy who needs to record, having him plug the guitar in, tune up, and then spending about an hour to get all the parts good and in time. This gave good results on its own, but when all the tracks came in it started to sound like a mess.
Time to change the routine!
Instead, I dedicated one full day to recording and used tons of simple, fun, tricks to make the initial sounds come together as best as possible. Guess what: the mixing phase only took about 4 hours across two days and gave me better results than I ever had! Another truth I found is that you don’t really need a pro studio to get good recordings.
Oh, and if you’re a VST/sample user, don’t worry. You can also make good use of carefully choosing sounds that mesh well, instead of only picking the ones that sound best on their own (or your favorites for that matter).
Drums are something I can’t record in my home studio. I don’t have the space for it. If you are recording real drums, then you’ll know there are a lot of factors here: what mic to choose: dynamic or condenser microphone, mic position, mic distance, kit position in the room, more dampening, less dampening, tuning… It’s the most acoustic-dependent instrument and you really have to play with it.
For all you using samples and VSTs: I used a VST for the drums and this time I didn’t choose my favorite sounding samples. Instead, I thought about the other instruments. The song needs a very rich and consistent bass line to give it more power. So there won’t really be room for that deep, fat kick. Instead, I chose something with more clicks.
Then, because of the bass needs, I know that the thick snare I really love won’t work. Instead, I chose something with more snap. Get the point? This way, the initial drum sounds won’t clash too much with the bass guitar and it’ll be easier to blend.
Bass was a real challenge. For this particular song, I needed a really thick bass layer. So, I unleashed the deepest, beefiest sound I could get and went with it. That gave it a good low end, going from 120Hz and below, but left the space from 120 to 300Hz quite hollow.
How did I fix this? I soloed the neck pickup and played a bit closer to the bridge (tighter sound). This gave a very good mid-range tone that I combined with the previous sub-bass recording. The end result was a nice, fat, filled-out low-end.
Guitars have one massive problem – separation. They often clash with one another. That’s because most guitar players love their bridge humbuckers, for their cutting presence. If both guitars run on bridge humbuckers you get constant collision.
How did I fix this? I gave each guitar player a lead part and a supporting part. They recorded their lead part with that insane presence tone while switching to neck single-coil pickups for the support part.
Suddenly, both guitars came out shining whenever they had their lead while giving a nice thick background layer when they played support. Most importantly, since both had a lead part, neither player felt hurt when I asked them to dial back the tone.
Vocals mostly depend on the singer, their technique, style, tone, everything. There’s a huge human factor here, but that doesn’t leave us at the mercy of their vocal cords. Something I noticed with a particular female singer was that she had an insanely loud and fierce voice. So much so that, when recorded, it drowned out everything and even hurt my ears a bit.
To make it worse, turning down the volume made her sound thin. How did I fix this? I told her to turn and sing at an angle, from the side. Her voice still had all that power, except it was no longer over-present and didn’t pierce the ears (since it wasn’t “attacking” the mic directly). Perfect!
That’s it! It took a long while, but I couldn’t believe how great it sounded before I even began to mix. Of course, these tricks worked for me. You may be working under radically different circumstances. Hopefully, though, my little example will give you inspiration and ideas of your own. Have fun with this and do share any cool tricks you come up with!
You may also like to read: How To Record Vocals (8 Common Mistakes You Should Avoid).