In 1975, Brian Eno [Tape Op #85] and multimedia artist Peter Schmidt published their first set of Oblique Strategies: Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas. These cards work as creativity resets, prompting breaks in non-productive work patterns as well as inspiring new methods. As we've seen the tools of music recording become more affordable, and now in so many musicians' hands, I think there's also a need to examine the basics of music production. With that in mind, I present my version of their groundbreaking work. Let’s call it the Not So Oblique Strategies. Use these suggestions wisely!
- Is this song too long?
- Is this key too high or low for the vocal parts?
- Is that the best place to put the drums?
- Can all those parts be submixed for easier use?
- Is that guitar amp making too much buzz or hum?
- Do you have a decent talkback system set up?
- Can you hear everything said between takes? Set up a mic!
- Is anything out of tune?
- Are the lead vocals legible? Should they be?
- Are you sure you need so many overdubs?
- That's a lot of mics on the drums. Mute all but four. Add sparingly.
- Are there tracks in the mix with low end noises you didn't notice?
- Listen to the headphone mix before asking others to do so.
- Does this song need a click track?
- Is this the best tempo? Listen to vocal delivery.
- Do vocals need de-essing?
- Is the de-esser removing too much?
- Pick one doubled vocal or instrument and remove that double. Better? Worse?
- Turn off all reverbs and delays. Is the song stronger or weaker?
- Check drum phase on all mics. Check again.
- Press the mono button. Is the mix worse now? Repair.
- Listen from the other room. What stands out? What’s missing?
- Do the drums ring out in annoying/obstructive ways? Listen.
- Is the singer as comfortable as possible?
- Does the acoustic guitar have loud squeaks on chord changes?
- Solo the kick drum and bass instrument. Listen closely.
- Do you really need this many drum mics?
- Is the electric bass going sharp? Examine.
- What is the structure of this piece of music?
- Turn off all plug-ins. Is the mix better or worse?
- Are the bass amp and DI box really in phase?
- Are all those stompboxes causing ground loops?
- Does that guitar chord really need to use every string?
- Perform the song again. Compare to the previous take. Decide.
- Listen to the artists as they are talking and prepare for the next task. Think ahead.
- Do you really want the guitars and vocals to be panned to the exact same position?
- Solo the subwoofer and listen for conflicting sounds.
- When was the last time the musicians ate?
- Is everyone tired? Go home and try again tomorrow.
- Honor thy intention as a hidden error.