I don't want to explore this concept with as many words as I might for a Tape Op "End Rant", but I had to dump this shit out of my mind immediately. Someone dropped me a line recently; "I'd like you to hear this record I worked on. We didn't use EQ, compression, plug-ins, etc." They went on to describe all sorts of "rules" they created for the project. Fine by me; I do a similar thing when I record to sorta reign the project in and understand how we will proceed, though I always seem to bend every rule by the end. But in this case the artist/engineer/producer was certain that he or she had not done so. 

So I put on a random song off the album and within a few seconds I'm like, "Hey, was that drum intro hit a little off?" I keep listening and the drums get more and more off. Not "good" off like a Shaggs album or some odd Syd Barrett, but just way off and distracting from the song. l skipped to another song and heard the same thing when drums entered near the end of the song and basically derailed it instead of lifting it up. 

Look, if you're gonna burden your recording with little rules that dictate how it is recorded that's great. Fine. Whatever. But when you do so please think about what that will mean. Is it helping the songs? Is it making the songs sound worse than if a few retakes, overdubs or fixes were going on? Or maybe the player/overdubber in question should have been replaced with someone with better technique or feel? When you listen to a classic song recorded under "primitive" or "simple" conditions yet the song sounds fantastic, a big part of it is because the performances were so damn good. But it's never because the technology was limited or the track count was low. Never. Ever. Was. 

Sorry. 

 

Tape Op is a free magazine exclusively devoted to
the art of record making.

 
Tue, Oct 21, 2014 - 6:56PM
Add your two cents to the discussion below:
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Sun, May 27, 2012 - 3:50PM
steven villano said about this:

amen and amen, good sir.

 
Sun, May 27, 2012 - 3:58PM
David Oversby-Powell said about this:

Couldn't agree more!!

 
Sun, May 27, 2012 - 3:59PM
mark solomon said about this:

I'd rather listen to a bad recording of a great performance than a great recording of a bad performance.

 
Sun, May 27, 2012 - 4:04PM
Matt P said about this:

Thank you Larry! I've been wrestling with balancing spending a ton of money on gear with spending my time on improving my ear and brain to become a better producer. I listen to recordings I did on cheap gear with minimal mixing knowledge and low track counts, but with a phenomenal drummer, bassist, guitarist and vocalist, and they sound as good in many ways as the ones I do now with 12 more years of tracking & mixing experience and tens of thousands of dollars in gear acquisitions.

As much as we all love and focus on the journey from song to master recording, the proof is in the destination, not the amount of "indie cred" one can claim.

 
Sun, May 27, 2012 - 4:16PM
Steve Krolikowski said about this:

Don't forget - it also has to be a good SONG!

 
Sun, May 27, 2012 - 5:10PM
Gun R said about this:

so true? also for other disciplines?

 
Sun, May 27, 2012 - 5:42PM
Andrew Berlin said about this:

In "Motown. The View from the Bottom", Jack Ashford writes: "The 'real experts' said that the equipment had to be the answer to making hits, so they would overhaul their consoles or purchase new ones for their studios. Some felt it was the Motown engineers, while others felt it was the dimensions of the Studio A. Some wanted to take a look at the wooden floors to see what kind of wood the floors were made of. There were so many asinine and dumb impressions. Most people overlooked the simple truth and essential element - the musicians, The Funk Brothers".

 
Sun, May 27, 2012 - 5:48PM
Allen Farmelo said about this:

Well, sounds like their rules met the goals of an honest recording :-0

 
Sun, May 27, 2012 - 6:39PM
Joe McGrath said about this:

Justifiable rant Larry. I tell my students that it's all about performance, not the latest, greatest piece of gear.

 
Sun, May 27, 2012 - 7:50PM
Darren Morton said about this:

Performance trumps the medium every time. Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain", Replacements "Pleased...", and Aerosmith's self-titled debut...'nuff said.

 
Mon, May 28, 2012 - 3:09AM
Don Arney said about this:

Good rant, Larry.
As others have pointed out, the keys to a good recording are A) A good song, B) A good performance. Good being completely subjective in (A) and in (B) meaning in tune and in time. Everything else in a recording should be done to support and enhance (A).

 
Mon, May 28, 2012 - 10:08PM
Michael Erickson said about this:

Know you material! Rehearse it! Play it right?Why did we let the bass guy get away with 26 punch ins?I'll never know.

 
Fri, Jun 1, 2012 - 2:38PM
Steve Oppenheimer said about this:

"Back in the day," a lot of bands performed new material live for a good while before recording it, not only to nail down the songs but to get audience feedback. By the time we recorded, we had a much better idea of what worked, and we could pull it off, although we might expand the arrangement in the studio with a producer. I think there's still value in that approach.

 
Mon, Jun 4, 2012 - 2:32PM
Justin Colletti said about this:

Well said Steve. A valuable approach even today. Outside for the overly-manufactured Rihanna style of production, that's how the bands who are really making waves still seem to do it - according to what I've observed anyway.

 
Wed, Jun 6, 2012 - 11:22PM
Colin McCaffrey said about this:

Indeed.
1) Great Song
2) Great singer/player
3) Great instrument
4) Great mic
5) Great pre/signal chain
6) Great converter
7) Great monitors
8) Great engineer
9) Great mastering engineer

I'm happy if we even get the first one "great."

 
Mon, Jun 11, 2012 - 11:04PM
Graeme Hague said about this:

It's also worth suggesting that a lot of new bands who lack experience and just plain talent will use this minimalist approach as an excuse for a poor performance. It's "rough" or "raw" sometimes means they can't be arsed to learn their stuff, but want to put something out there anyway. Like, "it's only a demo" is a sad excuse for not doing your best?

 
Tue, Jun 26, 2012 - 8:13AM
Tim said about this:

Well, it's horses for courses, I just spent a weekend recording a band with a singing drummer who hadn't played for twenty three years and suffered from bipolar disorder. I have fixed a few wayward beats here and there but I have left it still wonky on the time front. I decided that rather than fix it and churn out an other quantised recording that I would leave the timing idiosyncratic and allow the listener to move to the recording rather than move the recording to the listener. Yes I agonised over this, but ultimately the band were powerful enough to ride the oddities through and even though it's weird I think we made a fairly unique recording. Not unlike the first Liz Phair record the more you listen to it the more it seeps into your soul. I did however used Eq and compression!

t

 
Sat, Jun 30, 2012 - 11:01PM
LangMick said about this:

Doing things simply takes tremendous effort if done well.

 
Thu, Jul 5, 2012 - 3:28PM
Mathew Abercrombie said about this:

Seriously, nostalgia seems to cloud som many peoples minds. When did progress become a four letter word? If a little digital manipulation and enhancement can make the song sound better, then why deny it?

 
Wed, Jul 18, 2012 - 11:47AM
Matt said about this:

?Better the
rudest work
that tells a
story or records
a fact, than the
richest without
meaning.?
(John Ruskin, 1819-1900, English art critic and
social commentator.)

 
Fri, Jul 20, 2012 - 10:23PM
mike ferguson said about this:

My biggest problem with young artists is that they usually won't accept criticism of their performances. In the old days (I'm in my sixties), you had to listen to producers and engineers; they had the keys to the studio. But today an "artist" can say "To heck with you. I'll go home (or to a firend's house), and record it myself." And there really isn't an answer to that, is there?

 
Tue, Aug 7, 2012 - 7:34AM
Graeme said about this:

A colleague of mine recently mixed a live gig with the intention of not using EQ at all. He relied solely on mic choice and mic placement. He's very, very good at that sort of stuff although the client might be alarmed (if they'd known) about the approach. Rare skills, though.
Bring together a good band and a good engineer and anything's possible. There is a difference between failings and limitations created by circumstances that a good engineer can overcome.

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