THE EVER-GROWING LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL MAKE YOUR RECORDINGS SOUND REALLY BAD
One of the most valuable ways that you can pass your time if you are a musician is to listen to the efforts of other musicians on websites such as Myspace or Soundclick, so that you can learn what works - as well as what does NOT work.
Periodically I will add some new things to this list depending on what I’ve been hearing lately that drives me nuts.
MICROPHONES OUT OF PHASE – See Upcoming Article Under Tricks
FLUTTER ECHO – In the most extreme case, this is what you hear in a tiled bathroom caused by sound being bounced back and forth between reflective and parallel surfaces. Less extreme cases can happen in regular rooms in your house too. If a microphone picks up a flutter echo in addition to the primary sound – whether that sound is a vocal or a guitar amp - you’re screwed. Don’t confuse the sound of a "live” acoustically treated room with the sound of Flutter Echo – One can sound good on recordings, one can kill recordings.
Any room that has acoustically reflective surfaces or parallel surfaces is subject to flutter echo. The remedies are the placement of sound absorption materials - which deaden the room or the placement of sound diffusion materials, which are usually slotted or curved, or have surfaces at varying angles and depths. The placement sound diffusion materials is usually a better choice if the room is not too obnoxiously “bouncy” because it retains a more neutral sound and will not make the room unnaturally dead sounding. Wall mounted diffusion materials are also a more viable treatment concept for most people, than moving the walls to different angles to avoid parallel surfaces or building a slightly angled interior ceiling so that it’s not parallel with the floor.
GROUND LOOP HUM – You’ve all heard it. Lots of things can cause it, but mostly it’s caused when you have several different audio devices plugged into different electrical circuits on your breaker box but they all have a common ground path. The hum is caused by interference currents between the grounds. The most common fixes are those three prong to two prong AC power adapters called Ground Lifts. These can be dangerous though – VERY DANGEROUS. Try isolating which components in your system are causing the hum and then connecting them to the same electrical circuit…without overloading it! Remember that several outlets in a room can be on the same breaker - which is usually O.K. OR outlets in the same room can be on different breakers - which can cause a Ground Loop. If you use a power strip on one outlet to avoid a Ground Loop, just make sure not to draw too much power through it.
BAD METER – Some people think they are either too good to use a click track to maintain their time in a song, or they think that using a click track will drain the emotion out of the song. Ninety eight percent of the songs that you hear on the radio are done with a click track. Pros know how to work with them and so should you. Find a sound that you can live with - like a high hat or a low cowbell - and go for it. If the sound of a click track is messing up your ability to play, it’s probably just the wrong sound - and you need to find another one that bugs you a little bit less.
BOOSTING TOO MUCH IN E.Q. It is fairly common knowledge boosting frequencies using equalization causes phase smearing. The truth is that BOTH additive and subtractive E.Q. will cause phase smearing, but the smear when you are boosting is much more obvious. CUT BEFORE YOU BOOST. THINK OF IT AS CARVING AROUND THE FREQUENCIES THAT YOU WANT TO KEEP IN TACT.
NOT COMPRESSING ENOUGH DURING TRACKING – there are a ton of people out there who write articles and post on recording forums about the unnaturalness of compression. What is actually unnatural is OVER COMPRESSING a signal. Part of the recording process is making a sound more VIVID than it is in real life. Compression used in the right amounts and in the right stages of the production process can do that.
The trick is to compress IN STAGES on an as needed basis when you are tracking, and then compress a bit more - if you need it - when you are mixing. When a mastering engineer gets the project, they will probably use multi band compression to reign in certain frequencies when they are putting the finishing touches on your project. Another trick is to copy tracks, compress them and add them alongside the originals to make the overall sound a bit more...Hyper Realistic. Remember: Compression and E.Q. are two tools that are indispensable when you are recording. If you were on a desert island and could only have two effects to make recordings – COMPRESSION AND E.Q. would be the effects to choose. Makes the whole idea of all those plug-ins look kind of dumb huh?
COMPRESSING TOO MUCH DURING TRACKING OR MIXDOWN – Too much of a good thing is ALWAYS BAD - and too much compression can drain all the life and all the dynamics out of an instrument or a voice – especially if you do not know how to use it correctly. Use it sparingly and use it correctly.
SELF-MASTERING – Did you notice how I slipped in the part about the mastering engineer in on the compression topic? Seriously, mastering can make or break the sound of your recordings. DO NOT TRY TO DO IT YOURSELF! If you plan to release your material to the masses, do them a favor and have someone who really knows what they are doing polish the project so that it can compete with the other products out there. People spend their entire lives developing their skills as mastering engineers and they are worth their weight in gold. Mastering can be really reasonably priced and your material and your fans will thank you.
AC, FURNACE, FAN AND COMPUTER BACKGROUND NOISE – This is a no-brainer. When you’re recording, turn off the stuff that makes noise, and if you can’t turn it off – as is the case with your computer - then move away from it or isolate yourself from it.
NOT USING THE SAME TUNER TO TUNE YOUR INSTRUMENTS – Even the best tuners can vary slightly, so always share a tuner when you are recording.