Random thoughts on today’s music production

Written by Oliver

Guitarist & Bassist for The Haunted Echoes, Kissing Lucifer and Sulfur Kings.

17/06/2022

Limit yourself

You are working in a DAW. This means you can record as many tracks as you like. Imitate a standard recording studio. 24 tracks should be enough. OK, maybe you need 48 tracks. But if you need 100 tracks for a Rock song, something is going wrong. Seriously. Same applies to the number of Effects you are using. You don’t need 58 compressors or 12 different delays. Believe me. Challenge: Use only 8 tracks!

Commitment

Using Amp-Sims is OK. But commit to your sound. Don’t change sims or IR’s after you recorded your tracks (only if your guitar sound really, really sucks). This refers to other instruments as well.

Leave your tracks alone

You can grid align every note, every beat. But it kills your music. Music is not necessary for perfection. It’s about the soul. Soul is not attached to a grid. Fact.

Avoid Perfection

Pitchy notes can be sexy and refreshing. You don’t need Autotune to have a great vocal performance. You need a great singer. And even the great ones have pitch issues from time to time. Drummers are humans too. They shouldn’t be mechanical drum machines. Tempos may vary a tiny bit. This is human. And music should be human. Right?

Finish your work

Don’t run a hotel for unfinished songs. Don’t spend months writing a song or a lyric. Focus and finish it. Let it rest for a couple of days. Revisit your work. Make last changes. But now it’s about time to label your song as finished.

Less is more

Let the music room to breathe. Why always double tracking a guitar? Is one voice sometimes enough to fill the shoes of your song? Does it really need this one more embellishment?

Don’t be afraid of sounding different

There are plenty of producers out there with their signature sound. They are great for sure. But do you really want to be a Copycat? Be brave. Be yourself. If you feel like having the drums on the right channel only, go for it. If you like all the hum from your amplifiers, forget about the noise gate.

You’re Snare isn’t loud enough?

Most commented issue by “professionals” is the sound of the snare. Or better said – the loudness of it. I don’t know when the focus on the snare sound became the number one topic to discuss. First of all, it’s about the song and not about the snare. Right? There are plenty of great sounding songs that haven’t the loud snare that some people can’t live without.

Add color to your music

Sometimes an instrument like a Marimba or a Sitar is a great addition to your music. Have you ever tried to have a heavy distorted piano as a layer in your sound? Think outside the box. Try crazy things. Try “forbidden” things. If you feel like having a bag pipe through a Leslie – go for it. If it sucks, you can delete it anytime.

Listen to all genres of music

Do you want to live in a one room apartment for your entire life? Leave your cozy home from time to time and explore the wilderness of other genres.

Listen to records

Many of my friends made the same mistake I did a long time ago. Selling their record collections because CDs appeared on the stage. The sexy CD format was so comfortable, so easy to use. Later music became a “Stream”. The CD lost its sexappeal and we wanted cheap music in “All You Can Eat” style.

In 2020 I tried it with my old love once more. Vinyl was back in my life. Immediately I noticed how much I missed it. Taking a record out of its cover. Cleaning it before spinning it. Sitting in a chair to enjoy side A. Getting up after a while to flip the record. Meanwhile checking the artwork and the lyrics. This is a celebration and not just listening to music in a stream. Try it yourself. It will give you a new experience that you don’t want to miss anymore.

Dynamics

There is something in between loud and silent. It’s called dynamics. Today’s productions are often like a never ending staccato of slaps on your face.
The Loudness War is over. If you can hear the drop of a needle, you will be more surprised by a heavy guitar chord coming out of nowhere.

Get real drums

Superior Drummer, EZ-Drummer and all the other artificial drummers out there are nice to compose in your bedroom or home recording environment. But let me tell you the truth. A real drummer is always the better solution. There are so many great session drummers on the market. They will bring your tracks to life for little money. I worked with drummers I never met in real life and they delivered the goods without a doubt. And don’t be afraid of mixing acoustic drums. It’s not wizardry. There are plenty of great tutorials on YouTube and many great plugins that will help you make your drums sound big (or small).

Tape

Tape saturation doesn’t write hit records. But it helps to give your tracks more life. A tiny bit of wow and flutter can do some magic. But don’t over use it.

One amp sim is enough

Get yourself S-Gear by Scuffham and you won’t need another amp sim. I’ve tried a lot but when I discovered S-Gear I knew: “That’s it”. If you are a Clean to Crunch guy, you will love it. The response while playing is fantastic and it sounds awesome. I use it on all my recordings. I use some pedals (the real stomp boxes) and I have all the sounds I need.

If the drum room sucks

Many session drummers are great drummers but their recording rooms are not top notch. There is one thing I always do with my drum tracks. I send my drum bus into Waves Abbey Road Chambers. There is a great preset by Adair Daufembach called “Add Room To Your Room 2”. This will do the trick.

Don’t fear the gear snobs

You can make a hit record with cheap gear. Many, so called gear snobs think, that only top notch equipment and instruments can achieve top results. Forget about it. There are tons of great albums on the market that were recorded with cheap gear in cheap studios. Don’t let people make you feel bad because you can’t afford a 10 000 Dollar guitar or a boutique amp. Everything you need are your skills, your expression, your imagination.

YouTube is a great source for knowledge. But not always.

There are too many engineers who aren’t on top of their game anymore telling you what to do or what to avoid. If somebody is spending more time in advertising plugins and producing YouTube-Content, you should be skeptical. And if dogmas are king, you better unsubscribe.

Don’t become a plugin hoarder

So many plugins and so little time. Some of them are even free! Temptation everywhere. How many plugins do you really need? How about mastering the ones you have and not spending hours hunting for new ones that eat up your time and hard disk space?

DAW hopping

I am always surprised to see people changing the DAW like others change their underwear. If you find one, stick to it. Now this may shock you but all DAWs can do the job! You will find the features with different labels, you will have another workflow, maybe some limitations but at the end of the day, a DAW is a recorder with some goodies. By the way, I am using Reaper. Just because it’s the first DAW I’ve tried and I was able to work with it. Talking about DAWs….

DAW religion

Spending time on online forums is mostly like spending time on Facebook. Frustrating and not really helpful. If you have a problem with your DAW and you start a thread in the forum of your choice, to get a solution, chances are high that the first comment will be like: “Why don’t you use DAW XYZ?”. People behave like lunatics to tell everybody that the DAW they are using is simply the best DAW ever! EVER!!!

Radio edit

This is a castration of a song. Just don’t do it! If you want to be on the radio, write songs that radio stations have to play, even if it’s a seven minutes song.

Mastering is essential

This may hurt some folks but it’s not! Mastering can bring some sparkles to your music or solve some issues that should have been solved in the mix already. But a good mastering won’t make your songs any better.

The Click Track

Many use it. Sometimes it’s a must have because there’s too much midi triggering awesomeness going on or the drummer can’t keep the timing. If you can dispense with it, you will bring some extra life to your song. Listen to Zeppelin or Van Halen. Both recorded without Click Tracks. But their songs kicked serious ass. Right?

Cheating

Sometimes some cheating is required. You are one a budget but you need some strings? Today’s string libraries are top notch and in the song context they will work like a charm. But choose wisely. You shouldn’t go for a Zimmer- Sound when you need some strings in a delicate ballad. Make sure to use the dynamic functions of your library and try to program some humanity and imperfection. Another great workaround is using a Mellotron. Fake strings but good ones! Word Music instruments are also a nice color addition to your palette. But where do you find your Tabla player? Probably not in your neighborhood. Again, there are plenty of great libraries on the market. Some are even free.

Session Musicians

The world wide web can be a great place. You can find hundreds of talented and affordable session musicians on platforms such as airgigs.com. I worked with many musicians together that I never met. I never had a bad experience. I’ve found an awesome singer on Fiverr! When I needed a saxophone solo for “Songs Like Horses”  I searched on airgigs.com and found a guy from the Ukraine who sent me for versions for 40 dollars.

Try a Hammond

A nice B3 can add some serious thickness to your tracks. A low rumble is sneaking into your song. Sometimes barely audible but it’s there. You don’t have to be a Jon Lord. A simple chord or single note here and there can make a huge difference. Even the B3 that comes with the KONTAKT Factory library gives you decent results. Add some saturation to it and you are ready to go.

Nashville Tuning

Do you have more than one acoustic guitar? If so, it’s about time for Nashville Tuning. It’s an ordinary E A D G B E tuning but the four low strings are tuned one octave higher. That means that you have to get yourself a Nashville Tuning set of strings. Now you can record your “normal” acoustic guitar first and then add the high strings to your recording. Sounds like a 12-String guitar with a special something. Yummy!

Vintage guitars don’t work in a studio situation

You can’t do a recording session with a vintage guitar. They don’t stay in tune, the humming is awful etc. Give me a break! How many of the great session cats play old Fenders, Gibsons, Martins, Gretsches? Yes – plenty. Those guys know how to keep their guitars in tune and they deliver. You don’t need necessary locking tuners to play in tune. You have to know your instrument. That’s all. So don’t listen to those so-called experts on the interwebs who are telling you that vintage guitars suck. People like Josh Homme or Jack White are often using garbage guitars for their recording sessions to achieve a certain sound. Don’t be a guitar snob.

 

Thanks for reading. What are your thought on this topic?

 

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