Friday, December 24, 2010

Trust Your Ears

I've been mixing records for the past 14 years and in all that time I still hold on to the best advice I've ever gotten...." Trust your ears." With the advent of computer based recording software such as pro tools, logic, nuendo, sonar...etc, recording has become less expensive and more accessible to the masses. It used to be that only record companies or people with access to big budgets could afford to make records because the studio time would cost so much. Those days are gone but the only thing I see that is suffering in some cases is recording and mixing technique. We have developed a generation that puts more trust in technology than they do in developing sound recording and mixing fundamentals. Most people get so caught up in having unlimited tracks, processing speed and a million plug ins that they miss the purpose. Brace yourself but all of this gear and software is only there as a means to an end. No matter how much gear you buy or how many plug ins you have, it doesn't teach you how to write a good song. The key to making and mixing a great record is to understand that less is STILL more. It is best to start out with a basic set up to get an understanding of clean tracking and how to use leveling, EQ and compression to achieve a great mix. When I started recording, I was using a tape based 4 track recorder. Now anyone whose ever used this medium knows that you have to develop your skills and your ears to get a good mix on a 4 track. We used to ping pong and stack tracks like crazy and we actually got really good at getting a quality sound. By the time we got a chance to work on a Trident or SSL, we were so excited. I had an engineer named Randy Everett tell me to not get intimidated by all of the bells and whistles. He said just approach it like a BIG 4 track. Each module had EQ, compression, aux sends and returns, just like a 4 track. So from years of analog recording, I learned how to get a great sound out of the most simple pieces of gear and the cheapest speakers. If you can make a mix sound good in cheap speakers that is the key. I still have a set of $75 technic speakers I've owned for twenty years. I've listened to music on those speakers most my life so I know them very well and when I'm testing my mixes in them, I know exactly where things should hit. The same principle applies to any reference monitor. No matter how expensive or flat, you still have to get use to the sound of the speaker. We mixed a record with Prince Charles Alexander who has worked with Sean Combs, Prince and many others. He gave us the same advice, just trust your ears. So I'm telling you the same thing. Don't get too caught up in having the latest this or that. Start simple and develop your ears. It's OK to invest in great drum and keyboard sounds but you still need to know how to record live drums, bass, guitar and a great vocal. Don't put plug ins, effects and technology in front of developing your fundamental recording and mixing skills. One way to do so is by listening to records that sound great. I highly recommend any Steely Dan record and any of the Quincy Jones produced Michael Jackson records in particular, Off The Wall. Every piece of that record from the engineering, the writing, the arranging, the musicianship, the mixing and mastering are all perfect examples of what a great commercial recording should sound like. Just continue to listen and study. Develop and trust your ears. Now go make another well mixed hit.

The Truth
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