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, 04:57 PM   #3
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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 12-02-2008, 05:08 PM   #4
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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   #5
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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   #6
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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   #7
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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, 06:26 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, 06:29 PM   #9
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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, 07:11 PM   #10
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The next most important thing, after trusting what you hear, is to trust your recording chain. This means mic>cable>preamp>converter>recording software (REAPER, presumably).

Notice that I said "trust" is the most important thing. That is, it is more important to trust it than to have it be a great one. If this seems counter-intuitive, it is. More time and money is wasted by home recordists second-guessing their gear and wondering whether the preamp or whatever is good enough than anything else. If these people simply trusted that what they had could work, and focused confidently on technique, they would achieve more in an hour towards improving their recordings than by spending months reading reviews and forums and how-to books.

So if you have any doubts about the ability of your gear to capture good recordings, try this test (suggested by the brilliant Ethan Winer in this month's Tape Op):

Take a great-sounding CD and record it through your soundcard. Play back the recording. If it still sounds great, then you know that your soundcard is capable of rendering great-sounding recordings. No more blaming the interface.*

Next take the same CD and play it back through your monitors, recording the playback with your favorite mic (this is actually how the earliest records were duplicated). Still sound good? No more blaming the mic, cable, or preamp. If it doesn't sound good, then go back to the above post and make sure that your monitors and room acoustics are up to snuff. Even the lowly SM57 should reproduce a pretty accurate picture of whatever you point it at.

If you cannot get a good capture with what you have, then it's time to try and wring out the signal chain for the weakest link. But since I suspect that most home recording rigs will more or less pass this test, I'm going to set that part aside for later.

*Please note that none of this is to say that preamps or converters or mics don't matter. Better tools make things easier. But merely adequate tools can still build a great project. The pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, Buckingham Palace, and John Hammond's brilliant recordings of the Benny Goodman Orchestra were all created without tools that modern craftsman take for granted.
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Old 12-02-2008, 07:20 PM   #11
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The idea here is not to say that you never need to buy anything other than an Mbox and an SM57, on the contrary, upgrading the studio becomes a lifelong process for most of us.

The idea is rule out fruitless anxieties about the gear, and to focus on listening and good techniques, which are the most important things in any studio, at any budget. If you are not confident in the ability of the gear to render acceptable recording quality, then that doubt will hamstring everything you do, and will cloud your judgment every step of the way.
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Old 12-02-2008, 07:22 PM   #12
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Awesome thread so far.
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Old 12-02-2008, 07:28 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jplanet View Post
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 12-02-2008, 07:58 PM   #14
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great thread so far.. when your finished, youll have to make a book from it. It already has a great name..
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Old 12-02-2008, 07:59 PM   #15
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Interesting, looking forward to more.
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Old 12-02-2008, 08:15 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yep View Post
The idea here is not to say that you never need to buy anything other than an Mbox and an SM57, on the contrary, upgrading the studio becomes a lifelong process for most of us.

The idea is rule out fruitless anxieties about the gear, and to focus on listening and good techniques, which are the most important things in any studio, at any budget. If you are not confident in the ability of the gear to render acceptable recording quality, then that doubt will hamstring everything you do, and will cloud your judgment every step of the way.
Can I get an "amen"?

Preach on brother... the choir needs to just stay relatively quiet - contrary opinion wise - and just listen for a minute. No pun intended.

Quote:
In any case, this leads perfectly into my next post, which is all about level-matching...
Please continue ...
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Old 12-02-2008, 08:34 PM   #17
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How to get golden ears in one easy step (seriously)

Level-match playback anytime you are making any kind of comparative decision. The world of making good audio decisions will become an open book. This is going to be a long post, but it's important. Bear with me.

"Level-matching" does NOT mean making it so that everything hits the peak meters at the same level. Digital metering has massacred the easiest and most basic element of audio engineering, and if you're using digital systems, you have to learn to ignore your meters, to a great degree (even as it is has now become critical to watch them to avoid overs).

Here's the thing-- louder sounds better. Always. Human hearing is extremely nonlinear, due to a thing called the "fletcher-munson effect." In short, the louder a sound is, the more sensitive we are to highs and lows. And as we all know from the "jazz" curve on stereo EQs, exaggerated highs and lows means a bigger, more dramatic, more detailed sound.

Speaker salesmen and advertising execs have known this trick for decades-- if you play back the exact same sound a couple dB louder, the audience will hear it as a more "hifi" version and will remember it better. This is why TV commercials are compressed to hell and so much louder than the programs. This is why record execs insist on compressed-to-hell masters that have no dynamics (this "loudness race" is actually self-defeating, but topic for another thread).

What this means for you, the recordist, is that it is essentially impossible to make critical A/B judgments unless you are hearing the material at the same apparent AVERAGE PLAYBACK VOLUME. It is very important to understand that AVERAGE PLAYBACK VOLUME is NOT the same as the peak level on your digital meters, and it absolutely does not mean just leaving the master volume knob set to one setting.

Forgive me for getting a little bit technical here, but this is really, really, important.

In digital recording, the golden rule is never to go over 0dBFS for even a nanosecond, because that produces digital clipping, which sounds nasty. Modern 24-bit digital recording delivers very clean, very linear sound at all reasonable recording levels* right up to the point where it overloads and then it sounds awful. So the critical metering point for digital recording is the instantaneous "peak" level. But these instantaneous "peaks" have almost nothing to do with how "loud" a thing sounds in terms of its average volume.

The old analog consoles did not use the "peak" level meters that we use in digital, and they did not work the same way. Analog recordings had to thread the needle between hiss on the low end, and a more gradual, more forgiving kind of saturation/distortion on the high end (which is actually very similar to how we hear). Peaks and short "overs" were not a big deal, and it was important to record strong signal to avoid dropping below the hissy noise floor. In fact, recording "hot" to tape could be used to achieve a very smooth, musical compression.

For these reasons, analog equipment tended to have adjustable "VU" meters that tracked an "average" signal level instead of instantaneous peaks. They were intended to track the average sound level as it would be perceived by human hearing. They could be calibrated to the actual signal voltage so that you could configure a system that was designed to have a certain amount of "headroom" above 0dB on the VU meter, based on the type of material and your own aesthetic preferences when it came to hiss vs "soft clipping."

In REAPER's meters, the solid, slower-moving "RMS" bar is similar to the old analog VU meters, but the critical, fast-moving "peak" indicator is something altogether different. If you record, for instance, a distorted Les Paul on track 1 so that it peaks at -6dB, and a clean Strat on track 2 so that it also peaks at -6dB, and you leave both faders at 0, then the spiky, dynamic Strat is going to play back sounding a lot quieter than the fatter, flatter Les Paul.

The clean strat has big, spiky instantaneous peaks that might be 20dB higher than the average sustained volume of the notes and chords, while the full, saturated Les Paul might only swing 6dB between the peak and average level. If these two instruments were playing onstage, the guitarists would adjust their amplifiers so that the average steady-state volume was about the same-- the clean Strat would sound punchier and also decay faster, the dirty Les Paul would sound fuller and have more sustain, but both would sound about the same AVERAGE VOLUME.

Not so when we set them both according to PEAK level. Now, we have to turn down the Strat to accommodate the big swings on the instantaneous peaks, while we can crank the fat Les Paul right up to the verge of constant clipping. This does not reflect the natural balance of sound that we would want in a real soundstage, it is artificially altered to fit the limits of digital recording.

To be continued...

*Note that, contrary to a lot of official instruction manuals, it is not always good practice to record digital right up to 0dBFS. Without getting too far off-topic, the reality is that the analog front-end is susceptible to saturation and distortion at high signal levels even if the digital recording medium can record clean signal right up to full scale. The practice of recording super-hot is one of the things that gives digital a reputation for sounding "harsh" and "brittle." Start a new thread if you want more info.
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Old 12-02-2008, 08:46 PM   #18
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*Related Reference: "The Consequences of Traditional Digital Peak Meters"

http://www.cadenzarecording.com/pape...distortion.pdf

Bookmark and read it later in the context of his lecture and footnote above.
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Old 12-02-2008, 08:49 PM   #19
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Level-matching continued...

I broke this off because this is where it gets important.

Continuing the above example, if you compare a half-finished home recording to a commercial CD that has been professionally mixed and mastered, the the commercial CD is likely to be a lot more compressed, and is therefore going to play back at a much higher volume than your record in progress, unless you turn down the CD or turn up your recording.

It is not a fair comparison to listen to two sources unless they are at the same average level. See if this sounds familiar:

Joe Blow records some stuff. Doesn't sound as good as his favorite records, sounds a little dull. He adds some highs. Sounds better, but a little thin. Adds some lows, sounds a little better, but a little hollow. Adds some mids, sounds a little better, but still sounds kind of harsh. He adds some reverb, sounds a little better, but now he notices it's clipping. So he turns down the levels.

Now it sounds a little dull, so he adds some more highs. Better, but a little thin, so he adds some lows...

Repeat until 2am, go to bed, and wake up to find that the "improved" recording sounds like a vortex of shit.

Now replace every instance of "better" above with "louder" and see if you get the idea
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Old 12-02-2008, 08:58 PM   #20
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I am Joe Blow, wow! hours and hours looping that same progression.
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Old 12-02-2008, 09:18 PM   #21
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I am Joe Blow, wow! hours and hours looping that same progression.
You are not alone, Mr. Blow.

This whole idea of steady-state vs peak level and the effects of frequency thereupon has MASSIVE implications throughout the entire processes. If you can swing a simple SPL meter from Radio Shack it's a worthwhile expenditure of $30 or so, not that it has a lot of direct application to the recording process, but it's very useful to start to quantify and analyze the ways in which we perceive sound, and to have a sense of, for instance, how loud your car is, and how loud you like to listen to movies, and so on.

It's getting late here in Boston, and I'm taking phone calls and such, but I'm going to try and get in one more post tonight since it might be awhile before I can continue. Anyone else with something to say is free to jump in.
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Old 12-02-2008, 09:56 PM   #22
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So now that we understand that it's important to compare sounds at consistent playback levels, and that simply adding more effects without adjusting playback for the additional signal level can be deceiving, the obvious question is: how loud to monitor?

For people of a technical bent, the first answer is 83dB SPL (but hold your guns). SPL means "sound pressure level," meaning the actual air pressure of the moving sound waves. There is no way to measure it in within reaper or any other software, you can only measure it in open air, after the sound has left the speakers.

83dB SPL is right about where human hearing is most linear. It is about as loud as city traffic, or a noisy restaurant. Alarm clocks are supposed to ring at 83dB. THX movie mixes are supposed to be calibrated with an average speech level of 83dB SPL, somewhat louder than typical conversation in a quiet room. 83dB sounds "loud," but not painful. OSHA requires no more than 8 hours continuous exposure to 83dB for workplace hearing safety, so it's right on the cusp of where you could spend a full work day without hearing damage. The legendary Bob Katz recommends that mastering engineers master music recordings at an average level of 83dB (actually, he recommends mastering at comfortable levels with a system calibrated to have a certain amount of fixed headroom above 83dB playback, but that's getting ahead of ourselves).

As it happens, 83dB is not only where hearing is most linear, it is also right about the average level where average listeners tend to set the playback volume when listening to music on a capable system. Just before "too loud." (what a coincidence!)

So, 83dB seems like an obvious level for monitoring, but not so fast, partner!

Remember what we said above, that louder always sounds better. We can make this rule work for us as well. As it happens, almost anything that sounds good quiet will sound even better loud, but the reverse is emphatically not true. Cranking up the playback speakers (or just adding more gain with piled-on effects) makes shitty mixes sound great. By the same token, turning something down makes it sound worse.

This effect is especially brutal on live recordings of metal and hard rock bands. When you're standing in the crowd, and hearing a roaring 110dB that shakes your bones and pierces your ears, the effect is massive. But when you record that sound and play it back at workplace-background levels, the huge guitar sounds like nasal fizz, the furious double-kick turns to mushy paper, the churning bass becomes clackety mud, and the screaming singer sounds wimpy and shrill. These kinds of acts require a lot of tricks and psycho-acoustical funny business to achieve the right effect of power and loudness WITHOUT the actual power and loudness (more later).

But the same principles apply to anything. If you want your recording to sound right to every listener, then you cannot rely on high-quality 83dB playback every time. Your records are (hopefully) going to be heard in noisy cars and bars, on crappy speakers at 50dB in shopping malls, and so on. Unless you want them to sound wimpy and limp, it is really important to make sure that they sound good even in worst-case scenarios, because that is often where they will be heard.

So there is a really good case to be made for monitoring at very quiet levels as much as possible. In fact, I think it is safe to say that a majority of commercial mix engineers do a majority of their work at conversation-level or below, occasionally turning up the volume to check the lows and the balances at higher playback volume.

Monitoring at quiet levels has another practical advantage. Even before we hit the levels of hearing damage, our ears get desensitized by loud sound. Listening to 83dB for extended periods is like being in bright sunlight-- it's hard to see when you walk indoors. Keeping the lights dim allows you to occasionally focus spotlights where you need to check detail without dulling your overall vision. So it is with sound.

If you can create recordings that sound good at very quiet playback levels on decent nearfield monitors, they are almost guaranteed to sound better or at least as good in any other circumstances, including headphones and louder systems. But of course, it's always easy to double-check by putting on some headphones or cranking the volume for a few seconds.

There are a lot of schools of thought, but if you haven't already done so, I would encourage you to try recording and mixing at very quiet levels, and see if you don't start making better decisions, and generally better recordings.

Last edited by yep; 12-03-2008 at 08:44 PM.
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Old 12-02-2008, 10:22 PM   #23
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Having said all of the above, I will now contradict a good deal of it in a short follow-up. If you get in the practice of level-matching AB comparisons, and of monitoring at infuriatingly quiet volume levels, you will rapidly start to develop an ear for fletcher-munson effects, and taking these measures will become less necessary.

This is where the "golden ears" business starts to kick in. You ears are the same, your hearing is the same, but your perception becomes better-attuned to the effects. This happens fast, like learning to detect an out-of-tune instrument, but it requires a certain amount of careful, educated, practiced listening.

More later.
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Old 12-03-2008, 07:51 AM   #24
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very useful thread, mate, thanks for letting me to discover one or two of most awful nightmares of mine....
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Old 12-03-2008, 08:31 AM   #25
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83dB SPL (but hold your guns). SPL means "sound pressure level," meaning the actual air pressure of the moving sound waves. There is no way to measure it in withing reaper or any other software, you can only measure it in open air, after the sound has left the speakers.
83dB sound pressure, measured where? At the source? 1 meter from the source? At the ear? I guess the sound pressure diminishes with the square of the distance from the source, so the only meaningful measure would seem to be at the ear. Right? (I'm not sure that it has any real significance, I came to think about it.)

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More later.
No! More NOW :-) This is among the best thing I've read about audio, and recording and mixing... Thanks for taking the time, yep.
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Old 12-03-2008, 08:42 AM   #26
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Yes - thanks for this - its very well founded. More now please...
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Old 12-03-2008, 11:11 AM   #27
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Wow!!!

This is reading at it's best. Though I was somehow aware of some of the things you describe, I never saw them explained in such a understandable and readable way. Do you write books? If not, you definitely should and if yes where are they available?

I instantly bookmarked this thread. Hope you find some time to continue soon.
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Old 12-03-2008, 12:50 PM   #28
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I agree. Need to sticky this one.

Thanks yep!
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Old 12-03-2008, 02:48 PM   #29
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Wow!!!

This is reading at it's best. Though I was somehow aware of some of the things you describe, I never saw them explained in such a understandable and readable way. Do you write books? If not, you definitely should and if yes where are they available?

I instantly bookmarked this thread. Hope you find some time to continue soon.
yea, what he said ^3
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Old 12-03-2008, 05:04 PM   #30
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The adage "you can't polish a turd" is apt here. Garbage in = garbage out. There is no "fix in the mix" or "fix in mastering" - anyone who tells you otherwise, be they sound engineer or your drummer (why are you listening to a drummer anyway?) is a hack.

Seems like simple advice, but you'd be surprised by the number of people that think computer can fix suck.
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Old 12-03-2008, 05:14 PM   #31
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83dB sound pressure, measured where? At the source? 1 meter from the source? At the ear?
At the listening position. Anything you measure related to it possibly affecting your mix decisions should be measured there since that's where you'll be. I have an area that propagates standing waves in the back of my control room that I left there on purpose. More bass for the producers and clients. Less requests of "more bass".

I trapped it a little but not as much as I could have.

Clients - and your musician buddies - tend not to have those "neutral studio ears" like what he talks about and often like to hear music like if from a home stereo, more bass. Good for them back there, but it would be terrible for me at the mix position.

His advice about mixing at relatively low levels (whenever possible) is pure gold. Especially for home recordists. Not only for the reasons he stated, which are very good reasons, but also because the bad rooms, and the smearing of what you hear in those bad rooms, is much less of a factor in the mix decisions... or more accurately the result of those decisions.

Good stuff. This should be a sticky.

And just to stay on track, this lecture by Yep has nothing to do with polishing turds in my view. It's more to do with turning perfectly decent tracks *into* a mix turd by not following some basic "sound" practices like what he's describing.

Recording a decent track or 12 isn't very hard and can be done with inexpensive gear in bad environments, DI and otherwise. Mixing them into something that sounds very good, and that translates, is a little more difficult and requires more thought, skill and much more concentration.

Good stuff.
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Old 12-03-2008, 08:43 PM   #32
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83dB sound pressure, measured where?
At the listening position, like Lawrence said.

Thanks to all for the kind words, I have never written any books and have no immediate plans to do so, but I do plan to get back to this thread when I have time. There are an awful lot of basic principles that hardly ever get talked about with this stuff. The people who know them tend to take them for granted, and the people who don't know them don't know enough to ask.

Cheers.
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Old 12-04-2008, 01:11 AM   #33
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The adage "you can't polish a turd" is apt here. Garbage in = garbage out. There is no "fix in the mix" or "fix in mastering" - anyone who tells you otherwise, be they sound engineer or your drummer (why are you listening to a drummer anyway?) is a hack.

Seems like simple advice, but you'd be surprised by the number of people that think computer can fix suck.
Sadly, much engineering today IS about creating performances, not recording them

The best musicians in the world aren't capable of playing at the timing and tuning level that is expected of many of them, due to the fact that even the crappiest band can be edited to perfection timing and tuning wise

What does tone matter anyway if its going to be square wave distorted to max loudness at the mastering stage?

pessimisstic rant over
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Old 12-04-2008, 02:02 AM   #34
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The adage "you can't polish a turd" is apt here.
True, but you can roll it in sparkles

Really appreciate you taking the time to post your hard earned wisdom yep,
I'm all ears, or eyes in this case.

Cheers
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Old 12-04-2008, 07:00 AM   #35
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Sadly, much engineering today IS about creating performances, not recording them

The best musicians in the world aren't capable of playing at the timing and tuning level that is expected of many of them, due to the fact that even the crappiest band can be edited to perfection timing and tuning wise

What does tone matter anyway if its going to be square wave distorted to max loudness at the mastering stage?

pessimisstic rant over
Next Topic: "What A Volume Knob Is For."
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Old 12-04-2008, 11:21 AM   #36
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Yep, please drop us soon to the chapter: "why does my mix still sound crap with all those super plugins per track enabled... I'd better run "open with FX offline (recovery mode)" and start it again from scratch"....

...and: "don't listen to the commercial records: they are made for driving you nuts"
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Old 12-04-2008, 12:24 PM   #37
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. . . the people who don't know them don't know enough to ask.
That'd be me! Thanks for your hard work yep.

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Old 12-04-2008, 01:17 PM   #38
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The garbage in / garbage out thing has already been mentioned, but I thought I'd get a little more specific on the garbage points that bug me.

1. Performance quality: While you can pitch and time shift a performance to be on key and in time, you can't edit in emotion/feel. If the level of musicianship is high enough, who is going to think about the quality of the recording?

2. Arrangement: Does the song have an ebb and flow to it? Are there changes in texture, and do they make sense? You can fake this a little bit thru mixing and editing, but if it's not in the song, then you've got your work cut out for you.

3. Instrument quality: I don't have anything against affordable gear, but gear that's not properly maintained is painful to record. If your guitar isn't properly intonated, microphonic pickups are causing extra clanking sounds in your bass, you've got grounding issues that's causing things to buzz, or your drum hardware is squeaky or not stable enough to stay in one place, you're building barriers between yourself and a decent recording.

4. Bass mud: High pass your stuff. Just because your guitar tracks, vocals, and snare sound awesome and full when soloed without the rest of the mix, doesn't mean they'll fit in with each other. This is especially true in the bass frequencies when dealing with close-miced stuff.
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Old 12-04-2008, 01:24 PM   #39
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Originally Posted by Wolffman View Post
True, but you can roll it in sparkles

Really appreciate you taking the time to post your hard earned wisdom yep,
I'm all ears, or eyes in this case.

Cheers
Sure, it's not exactly rocket surgery, but you'd be surprised how often the simple things get thrown by the wayside.

To Pipelineaudio's point, I hear ya. It's not always black and white, but I still stand by my "play it right" mentality. I was never afraid to tell a paying client to go home and practice, and it never put me out of business.

I often listen to old recordings and the musicianship involved in say, a choir, to get everyone to do it right because there's only one shot. I really don't think it's asking too much for Johnny Rockstar to get those 3 chords down....
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Old 12-04-2008, 03:00 PM   #40
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The garbage in / garbage out thing has already been mentioned, but I thought I'd get a little more specific on the garbage points that bug me.

1. Performance quality: While you can pitch and time shift a performance to be on key and in time, you can't edit in emotion/feel. If the level of musicianship is high enough, who is going to think about the quality of the recording?
True. But it in a commercial environment it's not the engineers job to make that determination. We record what they play.

It doesn't bug me since it's their music. We - engineers getting paid to be engineers - should be neutral unless asked not to be. We're not generally paid to be producers.

And to your point I've heard great or very good playing - and especially singing - ruined by the engineer fiddling with things that he probably shouldn't be fiddling with. So yeah... the "quality of the recording" ...

Translation: What the engineer chooses to do *to* the recording during and after tracking.

... can come into play even with a high level of musicianship. Some people feel compelled to turn knobs (or insert plugins) even when it's not necessary.

Quote:
2. Arrangement: Does the song have an ebb and flow to it? Are there changes in texture, and do they make sense? You can fake this a little bit thru mixing and editing, but if it's not in the song, then you've got your work cut out for you.
See the above. This also is the producers job. Yes, you can engineer in a little fake emotion with automation but this is the producer's and the talent's job, to make sure it's a good song to begin with.

If your song sucks *before* I hit record ... whose fault is that?

Quote:
3. Instrument quality: I don't have anything against affordable gear, but gear that's not properly maintained is painful to record. If your guitar isn't properly intonated, microphonic pickups are causing extra clanking sounds in your bass, you've got grounding issues that's causing things to buzz, or your drum hardware is squeaky or not stable enough to stay in one place, you're building barriers between yourself and a decent recording.
Now this *is* the engineers job in the studio. We tape down squeaky drum hardware and troubleshoot ground loops as best we can. Slap a direct box in line and throw the ground lift or whatever.

Quote:
4. Bass mud: High pass your stuff. Just because your guitar tracks, vocals, and snare sound awesome and full when soloed without the rest of the mix, doesn't mean they'll fit in with each other. This is especially true in the bass frequencies when dealing with close-miced stuff.
Agreed. Engineer's job. Whoever is serving in that role at the moment.

Point being, that when an artist takes on the engineers role for himself he must multi-task to levels that are sometimes detrimental to the overall project. Some pull it off and some don't.

Artist, producer, engineer and mastering engineer. Usually something suffers. Again, the theory to learn to avoid unnecessary roadblocks (Yep's chat) to good recording/mixing quality is an entirely different subject from a discussion about how good a song or musician or a particular band are as musicians and/or songwriters.

That's a whole 'nother conversation.

You can make a beautiful recording and mix (i.e. technically sound product that translates well and presents what's there very faithfully) of a truly crap song. That's the mission, record and mix the song. It's for others to judge if the song itself is any good.

Of course we all think all of our songs are great.

When you put on the engineers hat (even for 20 minutes) put the other ones down.
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