Old 12-02-2008, 04:46 PM   #1
yep
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Default Why do your recordings sound like ass?

Nothing personal, if the title does not apply, please ignore. But if you have ever asked yourself some variant of this, or if you have ever tried to figure out the answer on web forums, I'm here to help. This is in part a spin-off of some of the ideas explored in the acoustics thread, so there is some overlap.

Here's the scenario: Joe Blow, proud owner of a Squier Strat, an SM57, and a Peavy amp, buys an MBox so that he, too, can "produce professional-sounding recordings on his computer," just as it says on the box. He makes recordings. They do not sound professional. He goes to the makeprofessionalrecordingsonyourcomputer.com forum and asks why. Responses include:

-Mbox sucks and you can't make good recordings on an Mbox
-I make recordings on Mbox and they sound pretty good
-You need a tube amp to record guitar
-You need a POD to record guitar
-You need an API preamp to record guitar
-You need two mikes to record guitar
-You need to get waves plugins to make good recordings
-Waves suck, you need UAD plugins to make good recordings
-I like Peavy amps
-I used a firepod and it sounds good
-What kind of speaker cables are you using?
-I use an all-analog boutique amp emulator pedal and it sounds just like Slash
-Strats suck, you need a vintage Gretsch guitar
-Pros use mastering to get good sound
-I also have an MBox but it doesn't play MIDI, please help
-Copy protection is evil.

Just in case those answers didn't clear things up for ol' Joe, I am endeavoring to create a thread of specific, practical, gear-generic methods for evaluating recording techniques and approaches, and yes, making purchasing decisions, all with an eye towards identifying weak links in terms of gear, acoustics, techniques, and methods.

Question:
What is the single biggest thing you can do to improve your recordings?

Answer:
Fix the weakest link.

Follow-up question:
Okay, wise-ass, what's the weakest link?

Answer:
Read on.
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Old 12-02-2008, 04:57 PM   #2
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Before we get started, I'm going to make a request the participants try to avoid recommending or debating specific pieces of gear. There a billion threads all over the web for that. What there is less of is specific focus on principles and practical approaches. And at any budget, there are principles that can be used to make good-sounding recordings.
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Old 12-02-2008, 05:08 PM   #3
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And at any budget, there are principles that can be used to make good-sounding recordings.
Preach on...
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Old 12-02-2008, 05:18 PM   #4
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First, a bit of theory to set the tone:

"All you need is ears."

So said George Martin, legendary producer of the Beatles, among others. Regardless of whether you regard the man as the final authority on all things audio, his resume is worthy of respect, and the simplicity and contrarianism of this statement makes it worth a few moments of thought.

If you have more or less functional hearing, then you have everything you need to make the same evaluations that million-dollar producers do (in fact many of them have less functional hearing than you do, probably).

Your objective is simple: to make recordings that sound good. And regardless of the complexities along the road, you, as the creative mind behind the recordings, are the final arbiter of what sounds good. So all you have to do is fix it so that it sounds good to you.

There is this notion of "golden ears," of people with a super-magical ability to hear the difference between good and bad sound. The idea is that this this supernatural hearing is what makes their recordings so good. That is nonsense. If their hearing were so much better, then none of us would be able to detect how much better their recordings were. They make "golden recordings" that are still "golden" even to those of us with regular ears. If you cannot distinguish between good-sounding recordings and bad ones, then yes, you should give up, but that's not the case, because otherwise you wouldn't be reading this thread. You'd be perfectly happy with bad recordings.

The fact that you can tell the difference between good-sounding recordings and bad-sounding ones means that you have the necessary physiological attributes to get from A to B. Skills, experience, and learned techniques will speed up the process, but the slow slog through blind trial-and-error can still get you there if you keep your eyes on the prize of getting the sound from the speakers to match the sound in your mind's eye (or mind's ear, so to speak).

In other words, if it doesn't sound good, you have to fix it until it does. This is sometimes easier said than done, but it is always doable, as long as you are willing to turn down the faders, take ten deep breaths, and repeat out loud: "all you need is ears."
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Old 12-02-2008, 06:12 PM   #5
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Following the above, and this is going to disappoint a lot of people, I'm afraid, we are going to start with the very un-glamorous back end of the recording chain.

Before you can do anything in the way of making polished recordings, you have to be able to trust your ears.

This cannot be over-stated. You must be able to trust what you hear, and only then can you start to make good decisions. This is partly a philosophical, state-of-mind thing, but it is also partly a practical matter. You need to be able to trust that what you hear in the control room (or in the spare bedroom you use for recording) is what is actually on the tape or the hard disk. And that means that you need to have at least a certain bare minimum of room acoustics and monitoring quality.

If there is one area in your studio to splurge on, it is monitors (aka speakers). I'm going to do a detailed buying guide later, but for now it is enough to say that the studio monitors are the the MOST important component. I would rather make a record in mono on a four-track recorder with a single decent monitor in a good room than try to make a record on a Neve console with a Bose surround-sound setup in a typical living room. And I'm not even kidding.

Passable monitors don't have to be all that expensive, and they don't have to be glorious-sounding speakers, they just have to be accurate. Let's talk for a moment on why home stereos often make bad monitors, even expensive or impressive-sounding home stereos:

The purpose of a studio reference monitor is to accurately render the playback material. The purpose of a good home stereo is to sound good. These goals are often at odds with one another, and a simple frequency chart does not answer the question.

A common trick among hifi speakers is a ported design that delivers what I call ONB, short for "one note bass." The speaker designer creates an enclosure designed to deliver a dramatic "thump" right around the frequency cutoff of the speaker. This gives an extended sense of low-end, and it gives a dramatic, focused, powerful-sounding bass that can be very enjoyable to listen to, but it is the kiss of death for reference monitoring. Every bass note is rendered like a kick drum, and the recordist cannot get an accurate sense of the level or tonality of the low-end. If you play back something mixed on a ONB system on a different stereo, the bass is all over the place, reappearing and disappearing, with no apparent consistency or logic to the level. This is especially acute when you play a record mixed on one ONB system back on a different ONB system. Notes and tones that were higher or lower than the cutoff of the other system either vanish or seem grossly out-of-proportion.

Another serious consideration is handing of the crossover frequency. On any enclosure with more than one driver (e.g. a tweeter and woofer), there is a particular frequency at which the two speakers "cross over," i.e. where one cuts off and the other picks up. The inherent distortion around this frequency range is arguably the most sensitive and delicate area of speaker design. Hifi speakers are very often designed to simply downplay the crossover frequency, or to smooth over it with deliberate distortions, and often manage to sound just fine for everyday listening. But glossing over what's really going on there is not good for reference monitoring. The fact that this often occurs in the most sensitive range of human hearing does not help matters.

Other common issues with home hifi systems are compromises made to expand the "sweet spot" by, for instance, broadening the overall dispersion of higher frequencies at the expense of creating localized distortions in certain directions, a general disregard for phase-dependent distortions that occur as a result of simultaneously producing multiple frequencies from a single driver, nonlinear response at different volume levels, as well as the more obvious and intuitive kinds of "hype" and "sizzle" that are built in to make speakers sound dramatic on the sales floor.

The important thing to understand is that none of the above necessarily produces a "bad sounding" speaker, and that the above kinds of distortions are common even among expensive, brand-name home theater systems. It's not that they sound cheap or muffled or tinny, it's just that they're not reliable enough to serve as reference-caliber studio monitors. In other words, the fact that everyone raves about how great your stereo sounds might actually be a clue that it is *not* a good monitor system.

In fact, high-end reference monitors often sound a little boring compared to razzle-dazzle hifi systems. What sets them apart is the forensic accuracy with which they reproduce sound at all playback levels, across all frequencies, and without compressing the dynamic range to "hype" the sound. On the contrary, the most important characteristic is not soaring highs and massive lows, but a broad, detailed, clinical midrange.

The two most common speakers used in the history of studio recording are certainly Yamaha NS10s and little single-driver Auratones. Neither one was especially good at lows or highs, and neither was a particularly expensive speaker in its day (both are now out of production and now command ridiculous prices on eBay). What they were good at was consistent, reproducible midrange and accurate dynamics.

Last edited by yep; 12-02-2008 at 06:38 PM.
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Old 12-02-2008, 06:24 PM   #6
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Whether or not to use a subwoofer with monitors is a topic for another thread, but it's worth touching on here.

The main thing to be aware of is that reference-caliber subwoofer systems tend to be expensive and tend to require some significant setup, unlike a home-theater or trunk-mounted thump box. The second thing to be aware of is that subwoofers and very low frequencies in general are not always necessary or desirable for good recordings.

The old RIAA AES mechanical rule for vinyl was to cut at 47Hz and 12k, and some great recordings were made this way. Human perception at extreme highs and lows is not all that accurate or sensitive, and a little goes a long way. If you have accurate monitoring down to say 50 cycles or so, and you simply shelve off everything below that, then you are making recordings that will probably hold up very well in real-world playback on a broad range of systems. The real-world listeners who have the equipment and acoustics to accurately reproduce content below that, and who have the sensitivity to notice it and care are very few and far between.

If you do monitor with subs, make sure the record still sounds good without them.
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Old 12-02-2008, 06:29 PM   #7
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The second part of trusting you hearing is having decent room acoustics in the listening room where you make decisions. This is the most commonly-overlooked aspect of home studios, and it affects everything, so it is worth putting a little effort into. You *CAN* treat a bedroom studio pretty easily and inexpensively, and the difference is anything but subtle.

There is a sticky at the top of this forum where I and others have said quite a bit already, so refer to that for details. (Hint: do NOT stick any acoustical foam or egg crate on the walls until you understand what you're doing).
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Old 12-02-2008, 06:26 PM   #8
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I agree that quality monitors are essential to mixing, but not necessary for good tracking. If you are in a scenario, as many are, where you record at home, but send your projects out to be mixed, I would say that you can get spectacular results with a $100 pair of AKG headphones...and your neighbors will thank you!

If you're recording with a guitar amp mic'ed with an SM57, your neighbors will also thank you for using an amp sim VST...That also gives the mixing engineer the option to re-amp your sound...
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Old 12-02-2008, 07:28 PM   #9
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I agree that quality monitors are essential to mixing, but not necessary for good tracking. If you are in a scenario, as many are, where you record at home, but send your projects out to be mixed, I would say that you can get spectacular results with a $100 pair of AKG headphones...and your neighbors will thank you!

If you're recording with a guitar amp mic'ed with an SM57, your neighbors will also thank you for using an amp sim VST...That also gives the mixing engineer the option to re-amp your sound...
Even though I'm going to disagree with your premise, I thank you for bringing the topic up.

You gotta do what you gotta do, and if it works, go with it. But my experience is that it is very difficult to make primary decisions with headphones, whether tracking or mixing, especially on stuff like electric guitar.

Headphones obviously exaggerate the soundstage, but they also tend to deliver exaggerated fletcher-munson effects, even at low-ish volume levels. Things that sound rich, full-bodied, and "big" on headphones have a way of sounding tinny and muffled on playback with regular speakers. Detail and presence evaporates, and electric guitars (for example) often sound excessively over-driven and nasally when you play back the tracks in the car or on a stereo.

There is nothing wrong with monitoring at conversation-level volume or below, in fact it is often desirable to do so. If you live in a circumstance where even conversation-level sound is too loud, then it's going to be hard to make a serious go of recording, but people have done it all with headphones.

In any case, this leads perfectly into my next post, which is all about level-matching...
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Old 03-24-2009, 08:10 AM   #10
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Sorry to jump in out of nowhere but I have to respectfully disagree. You have to know what you're recording! Without accurate monitors during tracking you'll end up with some unpleasant surprises come mix time.

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I agree that quality monitors are essential to mixing, but not necessary for good tracking. If you are in a scenario, as many are, where you record at home, but send your projects out to be mixed, I would say that you can get spectacular results with a $100 pair of AKG headphones...and your neighbors will thank you!

If you're recording with a guitar amp mic'ed with an SM57, your neighbors will also thank you for using an amp sim VST...That also gives the mixing engineer the option to re-amp your sound...
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Old 12-02-2008, 04:57 PM   #11
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I look forward to reading this! It's never a bad thing to reinforce the basics of how to get good sounds when recording.
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Old 01-25-2009, 02:05 AM   #12
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Default Time.

I think the answer is time. if you never give up on your song and keep adjusting and listening to the mix on all different speakers you're eventually going to end up with a mix you love. Guitar sounds are always going to be one of the hardest things to get, but If you just keep trying until you start to find what works well.. it will work. Other things matter too, but the amount of time you put into learning technique is waaaay out in front of gear.

Gear wise I think good monitors make the most sense. Also, I think having one good mic, preamp and A/D converter is a great start. If you can afford one nice channel you can use is as a reference for your other channels. you can even figure out what other channels lack and compensate for them really quickly.

if I ever have a decent cash flow again I'm going to look into checking out mics so I can sample a bunch of them and see what I like the best. selecting the right mics to own seems like a pretty tough job...
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Old 01-25-2009, 08:04 AM   #13
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I think the answer is time. if you never give up on your song and keep adjusting and listening to the mix on all different speakers you're eventually going to end up with a mix you love. Guitar sounds are always going to be one of the hardest things to get, but If you just keep trying until you start to find what works well.. it will work. Other things matter too, but the amount of time you put into learning technique is waaaay out in front of gear.
Or you could end up with Tom Scholtz Syndrome and never release anything. :O)
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Old 01-26-2009, 01:07 PM   #14
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Okay, so I just happened to plug my laptop into some real speakers and wow do I need to learn my own lessons!

The compression in the second track is terrible-- the detection filter was set too high for the A note and there are these monster notes every so often... Goes to show why you need decent monitors! The laptop speakers wouldn't reproduce lows accurately, so I couldn't tell what was happening until I plugged the laptop into real speakers three days later. But the example still works for the purpose intended, to show how compression can alter the sonic quality of the music.

In any case, this also illustrates another lesson-- don't go using these settings as presets!

I will get back to this and talk through some of the settings.

PS quick addition to the great answer from FarBeyondMetal: palm-muted chugs usually require lower gain (less distortion) than you might think. past a certain point, more distorted no longer sounds tougher, only fizzier. Also, how you hold the pick makes a difference. The guitar-teacher-hated "pencil" grip/wrist picking combination often sounds considerably chunkier than the more technically correct flat grip/elbow picking. keep in mind that almost 100% of all fast-picked metal riffs have the guitars doubled by kick drum, bass, and more tracks of guitars, so it is not necessarily realistic to expect a single track of guitar have the same effect.
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Old 01-27-2009, 07:41 AM   #15
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great thread, thanks to all involved.

Could someone post the audio files as mp3 or .wav?

I do my internetting on a very basic pc with no audio software that didn't come preloaded.

Thanks
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Old 01-27-2009, 11:36 AM   #16
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great thread, thanks to all involved.

Could someone post the audio files as mp3 or .wav?

I do my internetting on a very basic pc with no audio software that didn't come preloaded.

Thanks
Just for the record, and for the benefit of any non-Reaper users who might be linking into this thread:

Reaper is the most ridiculously easy-to-demo software ever made. Takes about 40 seconds from when you click the "download" link to when you are actually recording with the full-blown unprotected software, on a moderate broadband connection. And I mean that literally. It is nothing like installing Nuendo or Sonar or that kind of stuff, where you have to set aside 2 hours to install, validate, and configure. Any examples are going to get harder to make sense of without some kind of common platform.

Even if you hate Reaper and never plan to use it for anything and have other DAW software that you love and your internet computer is a crappy piece of junk like mine, I heartily encourage you to download the little REAPER exe for the examples. If you have the bandwidth to download wav files, you have more than enough bandwidth to download reaper and my ogg sample project. Reaper is the easiest way to have a common grammar and interactive examples that everyone can use.
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Old 01-27-2009, 08:24 AM   #17
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...Goes to show why you need decent monitors! The laptop speakers wouldn't reproduce lows accurately, so I couldn't tell what was happening until I plugged the laptop into real speakers three days later.
This leads to a question. In last month's SOS, there was an interesting article how these guys recorded Chinese folk music, but got stuck with almost nothing to mix or record with. He said he used a technique to monitor without decent speakers...

He used the MDA limiter, with limiting cranked way up "to see what's ducking the mix".

I don't quite get this. Could you explain? Is it a viable technique?
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Old 01-27-2009, 12:01 PM   #18
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...He used the MDA limiter, with limiting cranked way up "to see what's ducking the mix".

I don't quite get this. Could you explain? Is it a viable technique?
I'm just guessing, but I think he meant he was using a limiter with aggressive settings to figuratively "see" what the dynamics or low end were like because he could not trust his ability to "hear" the dynamics or the low end.

There are a few clues that a limiter could give someone in such circumstances. For one thing, limiting artifacts in the higher frequencies (that the speakers CAN reproduce) can reveal what's triggering the limiter in the frequencies that you CAN'T hear. For instance if the cymbals and vocals abruptly suck down every time there's a kick drum hit, then you might have either too much kick drum, or a kick drum that is unbalanced or overly bass-heavy, e.g. if you can hear it clearly well-balanced in the mids but if the low end is obviously causing major ducking, then the lows might be disproportionate.

Similarly he may have been using the limiter's meters and filtering controls to see the "spaces in between" the audible music, to see how the measured signal level differs from what the signal sounds like. Looking at a "limit" indicator or gain reduction meter in conjunction with an ordinary signal level meter can tell you a lot about how the compressor or limiter filters and responds to the input signal. If you already KNOW how the limiter works, then looking at those meters could theoretically tell you something about the program material in terms of how it sounds, especially in terms of how much/what aspects of the sound make it "through" the limiter or compressor and cause more of a jump in output level than they "should."

We're getting way, way ahead of the ground I've covered so far in terms of metering and technical operation, but those are ways that a knowledgeable engineer might try and chase shadows of sounds that he knows he can't actually hear. Either of them could have actually revealed to me that there was a problem with the example file I posted, but I never bothered to check anything like that.

Is it a "viable technique" for getting around the problems of bad monitors? No, not unless you consider eating dead people and tree bark a "viable technique" for camping. People in desperate and demanding circumstances must do what they must do, and some of them make it through in inspirational ways. Are you trying to be an inspirational story, or to make good recordings? (hint: the latter has a much lower rate of tragic failure).

If you need to save money, sell an instrument. Don't eat out for three months. Make your own coffee. Cancel cable. Quit drinking or smoking. But splurge on monitors. Even if they are just the cheapest monitors actually sold as "monitors" they are probably better than anything in a department store, when it comes to monitoring.
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Old 01-28-2009, 01:04 AM   #19
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This leads to a question. In last month's SOS, there was an interesting article how these guys recorded Chinese folk music, but got stuck with almost nothing to mix or record with. He said he used a technique to monitor without decent speakers...

He used the MDA limiter, with limiting cranked way up "to see what's ducking the mix".

I don't quite get this. Could you explain? Is it a viable technique?
I know a similar technique that uses a clipper. The basic idea is that you just slam the clipper (on the master buss) until the mix starts distorting, now everything just start distorting equally (= mix is balanced no major problems), when something starts distorting way before the other instruments, e.g. the bass gets all boomy before the kick or vocals start distorting, the bass is too loud or has too high peaks in its spectrum, etc...
Is this technique usable ... if you know what you're doing everything is usable, but if you don't you will just make things even worse.
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Old 08-30-2009, 02:00 PM   #20
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Nothing personal ... OK.

Question:
What is the single biggest thing you can do to improve your recordings?

Answer:
Fix the weakest link.
Me. I need to learn to play and record better.
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Old 10-23-2009, 11:24 AM   #21
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Finally stickied this now-legendary thread.
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Old 10-28-2009, 09:48 PM   #22
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Wow I have just read every post of this amazing topic and I cant thank you enough Yep for your efforts. Also to everyone else who has asked or shared knowledge.

I know if it sounds good it is good, but what happens when you are trying to capture, no lets say copy/clone a sound you have heard but dont know how to go about achieving that sound. I guess im really talking about FX.
I was wondering if you could please give us some pointers on routing FX and what kind of FX normally work well with say guitars or vocals or anything to achieve a type of sound. (very broad question I know)
I know your not one for presets and recipes but some tips would help us all out alot.
EG the first time someone told me to try a dry guitar panned left sent to a wet bussed reverb panned right, I couldnt belive what I was hearing. This was beacuse I had allways just put a reverb on the instrument strip etc.
Like you mentioned the New York compression trick earlier, those sort of tips are a huge help.

I dont want to take up to much of your time, but lets say you do want a wall of guitars sound, how do you go about getting it? I remember your earlier analogy about if all the colors where drawing on the same line, they would be making one murky dark line oppossed to a rainbow all seperated etc. So can this sound be achieved with eq and panning alone with multiple tracking? or does it need to come from combinations of different guitars, amps, pickup selection, picks etc tracked multiple times.

I dont like Red Hot Chili Peppers, but its sort of my era that I can relate to. I really like the production on there albums and the bass playing is amazing and im really drawn to it. Im not sure if its the hit bass you speak of but I really have tuned my ears to listen to everything and I have found them to be a great tool in training my ears.
Thanks again.

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Old 10-29-2009, 05:25 AM   #23
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EG the first time someone told me to try a dry guitar panned left sent to a wet bussed reverb panned right, I couldnt belive what I was hearing. This was beacuse I had allways just put a reverb on the instrument strip etc.
The above quote made me think of an idea for a possible side thread. Just a big list of "things to try". I know yep has been an advocate of taking 5-10 minutes to just try something and hear how it sounds, i.e. judge for yourself, rather than discuss/argue merits in a forum.

For example, I probably spent hours reading about parallel compression mastering techniques in various forums, magazine articles, etc. I finally got around to trying it and it's a pretty impressive tool for increasing volume and presence without overly crushing a mix. Not always the right tool, not always the best tool. But now it's a tool I have in my arsenal that I understand well, and how/when to use/not use, from direct experience. Took about 10 minutes to set up, do a couple of quick test and level-matched A/B comparisons with both previous mastering attempts and with the original mix.

So the idea is a thread of just a big list of things to try that can be done in 10 minutes or less. Very succinct descriptions of the technique, how/when it's used and why/when/where the poster thinks it's a useful technique to try, maybe a couple of examples (commercial) of where this is used, and most important an accurate description of how to set it up. And ideally very little commentary on the pros/cons of the technique within the thread (I know that's a hard one). I'm imagining "a thousand things to try to train your ears, learn what's possible/tricks of the trade, build your arsenal of audio tracking/mixing/mastering tools, and train you ears some more".

I actually keep a personal list going already and my next one to try is live tracking of a solo singer/guitar player using dual figure-8 mics positioned to provide maximum isolation of the vocal and the guitar.

..ant
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Old 10-29-2009, 08:23 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by VortexOfShit View Post
The above quote made me think of an idea for a possible side thread. Just a big list of "things to try". I know yep has been an advocate of taking 5-10 minutes to just try something and hear how it sounds, i.e. judge for yourself, rather than discuss/argue merits in a forum.

For example, I probably spent hours reading about parallel compression mastering techniques in various forums, magazine articles, etc. I finally got around to trying it and it's a pretty impressive tool for increasing volume and presence without overly crushing a mix. Not always the right tool, not always the best tool. But now it's a tool I have in my arsenal that I understand well, and how/when to use/not use, from direct experience. Took about 10 minutes to set up, do a couple of quick test and level-matched A/B comparisons with both previous mastering attempts and with the original mix.

So the idea is a thread of just a big list of things to try that can be done in 10 minutes or less. Very succinct descriptions of the technique, how/when it's used and why/when/where the poster thinks it's a useful technique to try, maybe a couple of examples (commercial) of where this is used, and most important an accurate description of how to set it up. And ideally very little commentary on the pros/cons of the technique within the thread (I know that's a hard one). I'm imagining "a thousand things to try to train your ears, learn what's possible/tricks of the trade, build your arsenal of audio tracking/mixing/mastering tools, and train you ears some more".

I actually keep a personal list going already and my next one to try is live tracking of a solo singer/guitar player using dual figure-8 mics positioned to provide maximum isolation of the vocal and the guitar.

..ant
I support this 100%
(I dunno how I managed in life before parallel compression)
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Old 10-29-2009, 01:20 PM   #25
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Vortex that is a great idea!
Hopefully yourself or someone else that has the time will get the ball rolling.
Tips like you mentioned with parallel compression are all tools that can help speed up our workflow and even simplify some workflows. We would probably all end up with the same results but if we can achieve it with much less time and effort then great aka "give the job to the laziest person and they will find the easist way to do it"

Stuff like sidechaining and reverse reverb before a vocal so you get the sssshhhhhp sound to build dramatics (is that a word lol)
etc
Putting a low cut on reverb to remove mud but boosting the highs to add sparkles.
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Old 10-29-2009, 12:19 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by schwa View Post
Finally stickied this now-legendary thread.
You should not call it "this" thread. Call it "The Thread".
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Old 11-02-2009, 10:39 PM   #27
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Default sorry this probably doesn't belong in this thread...

I know I suck for asking so many questions but Igot another....

it kind of fits with the whole t-amp guitar amp diy kit idea....its an alternative. basically, my deal is a singer songwriter who uses drum loops, guitars, midi keyboards, and vocals to make my music in my living room. i live in a cottage, but its basically an apartment volume level vibe needed.

so i have the ridiculous fender performer 1000 head 100 watts to go with the fender 412....i feel ridiculous with an amp this big considering how small my 1 bedroom cottage is etc....plus i can't even turn it up and it doesn't sound that good unless its turned up (i know, volume equals sounds better, but i think there is something like saturation at play in that situation too)...anyways, so its seem a very small amp would be perfect for my sitch, as long as it doesn't deliver significantly less sound quality than some bigger amp....i have an emu 1820 , use sonar 8, akg c3000b condenser mic, beta 58a dynamic....

so i was thinking Roland Microcube vs. Vox DA5... http://www.tdpri.com/forum/amp-centr...da5-print.html

http://acapella.harmony-central.com/...t-1356541.html

http://acapella.harmony-central.com/...t-1516305.html

but the thing is....
I don't even know if mic ing guitars is the way to go anymore with all these amp simulators, etc (i have all the software and plugins I could ever use, so that is an option).

And I don't really know what DI entails...Direct INject....when I plug my guitar into my fender head and then go from the head's line out to my emu line in (on the back, not one of the two preamps xlr/ guitar jack sockets on the front) is that DI? is there any point to doing that? How does that compare to plugging my guitar into the preamp jacks on the front of the emu 1820? is that DI? under which scenario is one generally supposed to utilize the amp simulator/speaker simulator plugins and all that stuff?

And what about just going straight from my guitar to one of the line ins on the back of the emu (again these are not with preamps and or phantom power like the 2 input jacks on the front). Is that DI? Where does a DI box come into play? Would an ebtech humx or hum eliminator fit into any of these scenarios?

I'm not even sure where a v amp thing fits into all this (i know google everything, but, I am exhausted from googling for hours upon hours). I've tried these various ways out, which has been somewhat hard given my fender amp gets crackly sometimes, but generally it seems that taking the line out from the back of the amp into the emu results in a superior signal going into sonar and getting tracked. its louder, seems more "real", etc. whether that matters given that maybe one could take the

(my guitar is a 1994 strat custom shop american classic holographic deal with rosewood fretboard and a smallish/thin neck which is probably not so good for me because i have really large/rachmaninoff type hands...this is probably too much guitar for me and selling it might mean i could get gear more integral to the process?)

I think this all might make a good thread (if seven of them don't exist already....)


Okay, so assuming a home recording guy like me still has a place for guitar amps in his studio, and knowing I want quality and the ability to keep my options open for later (which I assume means tracking a clean version of my guitar playing, ie, no distortion or reverb from a guitar amp and or no guitar amp at all, so I can manipulate later with amp sims and plugins); and given the fact that I don't want some ginormous Mount Guitarampmore in my living room/studio and that big guitar amps generally are too loud for my sitch anyway....do I need an amp that has a line out? Do the Roland Microcube and or the Vox DA5 fit the bill? If not, would the next wattage up for small amps be the way to go? seems like that is a choice between Roland cube 30x vs Vox Valvetronix VT30 :

http://acapella.harmony-central.com/...2421301&pp=100



thanks for any insight you will offer

Peace,

ZC
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Old 11-02-2009, 10:56 PM   #28
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DI boxes are used in place of Audio Interface for certain application. For example, if you were recording into a device with a different impedance level. Hi-Z to Lo-Z. Generally, Audio Interfaces for PCs achieve the same effect as DI boxes, plus more. There's a great thread about DI and "reverse DI" on here somewhere.

It sounds to me that what you want to do (if this is possible with your amp) is crank it up, but use the line out so there's no sound coming out of the speakers, it's all coming out the back into your PC. Short of that, maybe your amp IS too big for the sort of thing you use it for. But before considering gear purchases, assess what you have and what you want out of it. A lot of gear purchases could be avoided if they're increasing the complexity of your situation.
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Old 11-03-2009, 12:43 AM   #29
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Hi funtimesman,

for what you want to do, there are tons of options these days...

You can use the EMU's DI to record the guitar totally clean without an amp (which in itself sounds pants in most musical scenarios) and then use plugins to give it the proper "amp mic'ed up" sound you (probably) really want.

If you find guitar amp plugins too fake sounding (some people do, some don't) then you can invest in a small 5W to 15W guitar amp - there are dozens of such small guitar amps (even tube ones) on the market, e.g. Vox AC4TV, Fender Vibrochamp XD, Fender Superchamp XD, Marshall Class 5, Laney Cub 8 and Cub 10, Bugera V5 and lots more. It's just a case of trying them out and picking the one that has the msot appropriate sound for your style of music. Because they are low powered they can be cranked up more without being too loud - mic that up well and you should be pretty much guaranteed a decent guitar sound. (A lot of classic rock stuff was actually recorded on small tube amps like these...) Some fo these amps also have "speaker emulated" direct line outs so you could record them without micing them up - as they are "speaker emulated" outs they do pretty much retain the sound of a guitar going through the speaker even though it doesn't actually.

Or you could get a V-amp or a POD - which is in essence a guitar amp plug-in in a stompbox format. In my opinion, software plugins tend to sound better though, especially for clean sounds...

Hope this helps.
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Old 11-03-2009, 02:37 AM   #30
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Hi funtimesman. This is just my opinion (obviously) but reading your post, what seems most important is that you're working in a small space which limits your options for volume and mic placement, and also (if I'm picturing this correctly) your ability to isolate your live sound from your monitored post-DAW sound.

If that's the case, and if your goal is to get (at least) listenable recordings of reasonable quality that showcase your writing/arrangement/production, AND do this in some kind of reasonable timeframe, then I would suggest relying less (if at all) on your current amp, or a replacement amp, and instead go with a POD or similar box.

In a recording/monitoring environment like you describe, the theoretical pros and cons between "real" and "sim" fall apart bec of your inability to actually hear what's being recorded BEFORE it's recorded and played back. Going "real" becomes a trial and error process comparable to trying to paint or mix colors with your eyes closed: you won't see what you've done until you look at the canvas.

Authenticity aside, the advantage of doing a POD (or similar) direct is that you're always working with a "monitored" sound, which is the only sound that matters in the end.

The fact that, theoretically, in a finished mix, a POD doesn't sound quite as "real" (say, because it's not "moving air past a diaphragm") isn't as important as being able to actually get things done efficiently and creatively.

Basically, direct/POD/sim lets you eliminate the amp-mic-room factors from the equation, which is a good thing, as those are the most difficult (and time consuming, and creativity killing) to control for in one-room, self-engineered recordings.

PODs and so-called amp sims shouldn't be measured by how close they simulate real live amps, but by how close they can get you to the *recorded* and *mixed* sound that you want. In reality, they're not "amp sims" at all. Besides, all recorded sound is "sim," no matter what its origins.

Personally, I wouldn't even consider using a miced amp unless I had great separation between the control room and the live space, and at least one other person to play the guitar, tweak knobs, and move mics, while one of us was monitoring through nearfields. (And even then I probably wouldn't do it unless the other person was, say, a Lord-Alge brother or sim-ilar. hahahha!)

IOW, make music.

Last edited by Marah Mag; 11-03-2009 at 02:44 AM.
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Old 11-03-2009, 06:49 AM   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marah Mag View Post
I wouldn't even consider using a miced amp unless I had great separation between the control room and the live space
That sounds like great advice. Do you record acoustic guitars? It's hard to examine the recorded sound of a mic-d acoustic for the same reasons you said above. I can get a decent acoustic sound from the pickup of my acoustic, but like to use a mic too. Any thoughts?

On a tangent, I might have a go at recording my acoustic from pickup and putting it through a clean amp-sim VST.

Thanks,
-Gus
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Old 11-03-2009, 07:55 AM   #32
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Hmmm... does it sound like I record acoustic guitars?

No unfortunately acoustic guitar, like vocals, etc., still have to be tracked the old fashioned way. Someone should work on a way around that. It's 2009 already! (Maybe in Reaper 4!)

What I've done on occasion to get an acoustic rhythm effect is record my electric through a clean setting on my POD X3, and then thin it out and brighten it, maybe add some delay/chorus, and then set it into the mix. It doesn't truly sound like an acoustic when you listen closely (in the mix) but it can sometimes effectively function like one, which might be more than acceptable. Full strummy acoustics in an otherwise full mix of electric/electronic insts often become part of the percussion layer. But they don't stand up when they're more exposed.

I keep meaning to see how it would work to record an unplugged electric "acoustically" with a mic. That's happened by accident a couple of times and it seemed like it might be worth doing intentionally. I'm sure others do that all time.
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Old 12-09-2009, 05:36 AM   #33
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Hey yep,

I am guessing that you know of these recordings already, but this site http://www.ricksuchow.com has some great isolated bass tracks from Jamerson's recordings. It's an awesome listen.

Cheers and thanks for all your efforts.

kindafishy
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Old 12-09-2009, 07:09 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by kindafishy View Post
Hey yep,

I am guessing that you know of these recordings already, but this site http://www.ricksuchow.com has some great isolated bass tracks from Jamerson's recordings. It's an awesome listen.

Cheers and thanks for all your efforts.

kindafishy
Cool, I did not know that!
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Old 12-11-2009, 03:39 PM   #35
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Yep, For three days I've spent every spare minute reading this thread from the PDF file (300 freakin' pages). I've got 10 pages of notes and a new enthusiasm for continuing my recordings. Thanks.

I record our all-acoustic blugrass-ish, band which consists of upright bass, guitar, dobro, mandolin, fiddle and female vocalist w/harmonies. I couldn't agree more that the quality of the "final" mixes I've done is exponentially improved by well-adjusted, well-tuned instruments, attention to mic placement, and rehersal to the "stage 3" level. And, to me, nothing is more important than having musicians with good timing. I think the next thousand dollars most folks need to spend is on lessons and a metronome - they can find the time for this by cutting down on web-surfing for the world's best equipment.

Anyway, our music, it seems to me, calls for minimal "effects", and more focus on "clean space" for each instrument. I've already screwed around with EQ filters based on your advice, and you've got me smiling (because it sounds better and I know why). I'd like to hear your thoughts on placing instruments in "space" - front to back and right and left (I don't think I missed that earlier, but maybe so).

Also, I've had the experience of putting together a mix that sounds good on the monitors and "like ass" in the car - muddy, with, I suspect, the acoustic guitar and bass stepping all over each other in the lower frequency ranges (maybe dobro as well) - also no-"thump" in the bass. Part of this might be what I'm hearing in the mixing room (I'm ordering bass traps next). The EQ tips should help here, but this brings me to the whole acoustic bass/rhythm issue -

Our music has no drum (sorry to sidetrack the recent drum posts). Our rhythm section consists of an upright bass note on the downbeat and a mandolin "chop" on the off-beat. Being "Reaper specific", have you got some ideas how I can draw out the thump on the bass with a tight percussive "chop" from the Mandolin and not have it all become muddy when I stick an acoustic guitar in there? I'm going to play with the compression now that I understand it better, and as noted, the EQ (specifically high-pass and mud-zone) tips have already helped. I know, the first rule is to use my ears - and I'm trying.

Thanks.







I could screw with tracks for months
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Old 12-11-2009, 06:51 PM   #36
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...I'd like to hear your thoughts on placing instruments in "space" - front to back and right and left (I don't think I missed that earlier, but maybe so)...
No, I haven't talked about this too much (thanks for the kind words, BTW).

Before I get started on that, an aside on building a sense of rhythm, punch and thump from non-percussion instruments: First, foot-tapping and hand-clapping can be just as good as a drum kit. Second, if a track needs drums then it needs drums. I can no more tell you how to get a string bass and a mandolin to sounds like a kick and snare than I could tell a drummer how to get a kick and snare to sound like a string bass and mandolin. Third, if the music doesn't call for drums, but could still use a little more "punch" or "oomph", look to arrangement and performance first. An ounce of a band that sounds right in the room is worth a metric ton of recording and mixing technique. That said, all the stuff said about guitar and electric bass and everything else is relatively applicable to mandolin and string bass, vis-a-vis compression, frequency, mic placement, and all the rest of it.
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Old 12-11-2009, 07:36 PM   #37
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In terms of front-to-back space, this is actually a topic that I am a little skeptical of (or maybe just incompetent about). I usually tend to think that good "front-to-back" placement is really no different than just plain old good sound. I.e., an instrument that sounds "too forward" or inappropriately "pushed back" is not much different than an instrument that has been played, recorded, or processed inappropriately.

In a general sense, resonant low mids sound "further back" and dry or gated upper mids sound "up front". And it's often that simple. There is a strong instrument-specific component to this principle. A string bass with a little bit of gating or close-miking, and a smidgen of EQ to bring up the string/finger sound will seem to be pushed a lot closer to the listener, whereas a mandolin with a little reverb and a slight upper-mid rolloff will sound pushed to the other side of the room.

I.e., it's not about how the frequency spectrum looks in an analyzer, it's about the psycho-acoustic cues that tell us the difference between, say, snapping fingers right next to your ears versus snapping your fingers with your arm stretched far away (try it-- it's obvious). One "pops" and even leaves a bit of sharp, residual pain, and we can hear detail and texture in both the high and low frequencies. The other sounds cluckier and thuddier.

Close to the ear, the highs reveal every rasp of the fingerprints in an articulate and detailed way. Further away, they become a ghostly whisp of air. Close in, the lows are a quick, thunky "punch" of pressure on the eardrum. Further away, the lows are are felty, thuddy "puh". Close in, the mids sound like a sharp, slightly painful "click", like a wood block hit sharply by a drumstick. Further away, the mids are a meatier "snap", like the sound of slapping a steak on the counter, if that makes any sense.

In a way, you can learn all you need to know by snapping your fingers or clapping your hands in different ways in different places.

"close" (and "small") sounds like: articulated, textured highs; punchy, thunky lows; and sharp, pointed mids. "far" (and "big") sounds like airy, ghostly, harmonic highs, poofy or wahwy lows, and "bamphy", explosive mids.

Note that I linked close and "small", along with far and "big" sounds. Rolling thunder does not sound "in your face". A lover sighing in your ear or kissing your cheek is about as "close" and "in your face" as sound gets, but it does not sound "big". For men who shave, or for women who apply makeup, that distinctive, articulated rasp and textured brushy sound are the best comparison for a literally "in your face" sound that you can get.

"close" sounds have a dry, textured, sandy, maybe grainy or powdery quality. "far" sounds have a boomy, rolling, "full" and "washed out" quality.

A lot of modern production aims for both "big" and "in your face" from the same sounds. This is a very dramatic, very artificial kind of soundscape that can become rapidly fatiguing to listen to. But good or ill, it's worth talking about.

Maybe the most common example of "big" and "in your face" sound is the stereotypical movie sound effect of a puff on a cigarette. I think everyone is familiar with that throaty, crackly, satisfying sound of burning tobacco in a movie soundtrack. As a former longtime smoker, I can tell you that in reality, a cigarette makes practically zero sound. But the movie sound does a brilliant job of approximating what it FEELS like to take a drag off a cigarette. If all you knew of smoking came from the movies, you'd think that every puff of a cigarette filled the room with a rumbling crunch of crackling tobacco. Another similar effect from the movies is the big, satisfying crunch of boots walking in snow or gravel. Nevermind that it doesn't actually sound like that in real life, it FEELS that way--the skill of the foley artist lies in creating a soundscape that sounds realer than real, larger than life, and truly cinematic.

You can apply similar techniques in music recording, although much like in foley recording, intensity needs to be used with discretion. Making everything sound huge and in-your-face creates a painful, deafening, "TV commercial" sound at any volume.

Audio engineers and audiophiles often make a lot of fuss over "smooth" and "vintage" sounds, and they are frankly right, most of the time. There are not very many popular recordings made in the past 10 years that I expect people will still be listening to in 40 years. Music mixed to sound like a television commercial does not age well.

That said, it would be disingenuous to pretend that such soundscapes and techniques are irrelevant or illegitimate-- they are the dominant sounds on commercial radio today, for good or for ill.

What defines this modern sound of having both size and immediacy, both depth and in-your-face-ness is the combination of textured, detailed mids and highs with depressed, clean lower mids, and deep, booming, exaggerated lows. This is typically achieved by either multitracking or parallel processing (ie, two or more tracks of the same instrument, each track having a different sonic role).

If you have followed this thread all the way through, you should have a pretty good idea of how to achieve these different effects. It bears repeating that recording a single source with multiple mics, or processing it differently across multiple stems creates an unnatural sound, and that unnatural sounds can become tiring, gimmicky, and fatiguing to listen to.
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Old 08-08-2010, 11:29 PM   #38
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I know this thread has gone a little cold but I just wanted to say a big thanks to Yep for this goldmine. I know I shouldn't be spending so much time searching forums but like many others I'm addicted to that new piece of information that's going to inspire something new or unlock some old audio grievence. This thread has been THAT thread.
Thansk again Yep.
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Old 08-11-2010, 10:49 AM   #39
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flmason: People aren't so much annoyed with the points you're making, as much as the fact that you quote and reply to 8 posts in a row, and each time you write a novel. We're tired of 700 lines of flmason in a row. Especially since it's mostly on a topic that has already been said over and over, is not really suitable for this thread. Make your own thread. Don't bother quoting my comment (you probably will anyway, though) with a mile long reply, because I added you to my ignore list also. Just move on, everyone, including yourself, will be happier.
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Old 08-11-2010, 11:51 AM   #40
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I have learned more from your thread than I have in 10+ years about reading about recording. You really should consider putting this in a book, we would all support you and you truly have something to offer.

That being said, I would like your help with something. This is in reference to recording death metal guitars. Here is the example I will provide:
(no vocals on this song, don't worry)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bducLR8gHM

This band usually tunes down to B flat, but for this song they are tuned to A flat(!)

I do not want to copy their guitar tone. What I do want, however, is to have that same grinding-in-your-skull "power" and crunchiness that they have. I know all the gear they use, (heavy strings, high output pickups, mesa boogie amps), and I use the "standard gear" for a clear yet immensely powerful heavy tone (heavy strings, high output pickups, bugera 6262 amp (which is a 5150 copy)). In my (ignorant) recordings in the past, I have come nowhere near this sound, even though the sound out of my amp is HUGE (even at low volumes). This thread has shown me why, I believe. However, getting to my main point, and the question that lies within:

I know what a "scooped" guitar tone sounds like, and to me that guitar tone sounds scooped. Also, the parts where they're just palm muting the open low string - it is just too damn crunchy and saturated, there's no way you can get that sound palm muting a single string without a proverbial buttload of distortion. So people say turn down the gain and up the mids, but this guitar tone seems to completely defy that. And if you are to listen to the rest of this album, even though it's an unfortunate victim of the loud wars, it is remarkably clear (for it's genre, mind you) even when they're playing 16th notes at over 200bpm. The bass is audible, the drums sound good, each instrument is in it's own place in the audio spectrum.

I'll be blunt. I don't mind mids that much, but when I turn them up on my amp, it sounds like absolute shit. Horrible. I have them on about 1.8 right now, which is the highest it can go without sounding, well, "honky" and nasal, and all those bad qualities that midrange can have. If I nudge it up a touch more, and turn my gain down from 10 to maybe 7 and quad track my guitars, panned 100L 80L 80R 100R, will it at least put me on the path to a powerful, heavily distorted tone like that? I've always believed that only 2 rhythm tracks were needed (metallica's self titled album only uses two on most songs, 3 on some). I'm not sure if I'm being clear here, sorry. I'm just having a really hard time believing that I can turn down my gain considerably, boost my mids some, and get a tone that is thicker and more saturated, even with quad tracking. Does quad tracking really offer any benefits beyond just double tracking? Sorry for the novel, I tend to ramble because I feel everything needs a huge explanation and backstory
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