Sunday, February 28, 2016

DrScythe Recording Blog - Part II or Know Your Gear!

Let me begin with good news: my fifth song is out!

And this inspired today’s topic: Know Your Gear. D’Angelico and their European Distributor FACE lend me an EX-SS and I used it for this song. The difference between using this wonderful guitar vs. one of my guitar in the end? None. The difference on the way: large. 

It’s nice to own (or at least use) the best stuff available but it’s also quite expensive. To some my (regular) equipment might seem luxurious but if you take a closer look at it you might know why I could afford it (my AT2020 cost me 25 bucks as it is scratched and damaged but works fine). So if you’re not into looks – this can improve the audio quality vastly and you can keep your kidneys.

But besides that it’s all about knowing your stuff. Which flaws does it have and how to work around or with it. All the legendary EQs, channel strips and compressors are not legendary because of their perfect neutrality but because their flaws. You want those to add ‘character’ to a signal or mix. And as there is a lot of very good free stuff (plugins) out there, there is no excuse left to settle for something less than ‘decent’ except for style reasons.

The first step is to learn what compressors, gates, expanders and EQs actually do. While it is quite obvious for the EQ what it does the possible results are not always exactly what you expected at first. And compressors were completely unnatural to me so I had to learn everything about them until I could really use them. With that being said one can easily see why many first attempts on mixing fail. It’s much more than just randomly adding comps and EQs using factory presets. Especially with VSTs often offering many more controls than analog devices you easily end up messing things up more than improving it.

So after you learned how those things work in general you got to learn to differentiate between two aspects: controlling and coloring a signal. I will go into detail about that in a later blog so for now you just need to know that most DAWs offer enough tools for controlling the signal. Coloring is a whole different story that needs some sort of idea of where you’re going with your material (see:

Well, what to control and watch? Noise, (nasty) frequencies, dynamic range, correlation. The easiest way to get a clean base mix for later shaping is to know where the weaknesses of all your gear are. Certain frequencies that your acoustic guitar lacks or pronounces. The combination of your voice and your mic (my voice and the AT2020 are not friends…). After saying that: the easiest way is equipment that doesn’t have flaws but if we all could afford that stuff I wouldn’t write this blog…

And it doesn’t stop with your physical gear. Your workflow and plugins are also part of it. If you know the stuff that you use you will be way quicker than if you have to look for functions and think about which plugin works best for a specific task all the time. This applies to editing too – learn the shortcuts of your DAW and it will save you time and work.

The more knowledge you got the faster you get rid of the problems and the more time you can spend on actually sculpting the song and create something bigger than some instruments accidentally playing the same. Which leads to better results even if you’re going for a lo-fi sound. Ok, if you already recorded lo-fi for the sake of it that doesn’t apply but I don’t think you’d read stuff about recording if you always want a cassette recorder type of sound.

That’s it for this week and until next time


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