The Differences Between A Good Recording And A Bad Recording: Part 1December 4, 2016

Hello and welcome to the first ever PYAR Studios blog. We take pride in giving musicians and producers far and wide, honest and helpful advice with no holds barred. We apologise if some of it comes off a little blunt but truthfully, if you can’t take advice from experience then you’re definitely in the wrong industry. Honesty, friendliness and high quality recording is the name of the game at PYAR and we will always pay you the respect of telling you the truth because that’s how the best relationships are formed.

So where do we start with this one? Such a broad topic and so many things to discuss. Well let’s narrow it down to a perspective that a lot of bands overlook. Ultimately the best thing that any band can do before they enter the studio is be prepared and that’s what we’re going to look at in this article. Let’s talk about bands who are headed into a session.

This applies to anyone, whether you’ve done a thousand records before or whether you have just booked your first ever studio session: The difference is in the detail. It’s no secret that the detail of a recording session is a vast sea of possibility that can vary from artist to artist but there are basic fundamentals that every musician can abide by in order to get the best out of their time. We will expand on what we mean by details later. Everyone’s music is different and when it comes to being creative, there are no rules. But when it comes to the science of sound and the psychology of a studio situation, there are a few.

LEARN YOUR SONGS INSIDE OUT – This one has always baffled us but we see it a lot. Musicians come in, sit down, turn the amps on and then proceed to not know where the hell to start. There’s no point booking a recording session if you don’t know what you’re doing beforehand. It makes life stressful for the engineer/producer, it can be embarrassing for you and ultimately, it’s your time and your money that you will be throwing away. If you’re willing to pay for the time it takes to get everything together from step one then great, no problem. But if you have a limited amount of time that you have paid for in order to get a set of songs done then you really need to know them before you get there. Arrangement, tones, lyrics – They should all be planned before you enter.

The producer’s job is to take what you have and make it sound better, not to do it all for you *insert sly comment about pop music*. At PYAR, we always do our best to guide musicians toward their goals and sometimes all that’s needed is a swift kick in the fundamentals. Pardon our French but this issue is a bigger one than you’d probably expect. We all want to leave the session with a great recording under our belts and it starts with knowing the songs. You shouldn’t be learning as you go along. That’s what band practice is for. The only real secret to capturing a great sounding performance is actually giving a great sounding performance. ‘Fix it in the mix’ is not a card that should ever be played and the reason that a lot of your favourite records sound so great is because they sounded mostly that way in the first place. Think of production as icing. But you are the one baking the cake.

SORT YOUR GEAR OUT – That guitar you didn’t restring for 1 year, that drum kit that has had the same heads on since you bought it. No! No! No! This is all part of the detail that we mentioned earlier. You aren’t going to get a full and round tone out of your instrument if you haven’t taken care of it and trust us, it matters. Part of our job as engineers/producers is to make sure that the tonal quality of everything that goes into the recording software is stellar. It all stacks up and we can’t stress this enough. If your amplifier is humming and rumbling obnoxiously all the way through the record because you have faulty tubes then guess what? It isn’t going to go away. Sure we can mask it but it’s still going to be there. It’d be much better to have a nice, clean, friendly tone that isn’t going to send our noise floor through the roof.

You see; a recording is like a big jigsaw. Everything has to go in a certain place in the frequency spectrum and shine through where it needs to shine through and you have to build that in the same way as you’d build a house. First you lay the foundations and make them solid and neat and then stack on layers to add more and more structure, quality and detail. This mind-set helps a lot with arranging music and production and if your foundations are rubbish then, typically, so is the rest. Many a recording has been ruined by a terrible drum sound, for example, when the rest sounds great. This can be subjective but generally applies.

Obviously some music sounds better trashy and raw but the point we’re trying to make here is this; Whatever you are trying to achieve, plan for it and tune for it (I’m looking at you, drummers). And if it’s high quality and clean sound that you want then don’t expect the studio to make up for the slack if you’ve recorded with terrible quality instruments and amps. Old bass guitar strings are another major quality killer. Want huge, tight low end with old bass strings? Tough! It won’t happen. Chef’s don’t make high quality food with bad ingredients and it doesn’t matter how well you cook it; a bad steak is always a bad steak. All we can do is put some sauce on and hope it tastes slightly better if that’s what we’re handed. The same goes for the performance when it comes down to it. Brutal but true.

WORK WITH YOUR PRODUCER, NOT AGAINST THEM – When you pay for a studio to record your stuff, you are making a divide in responsibility. You handle the performance and your instrument and the producer and/or engineer records it, glues it all together and then mixes it. It’s fine to have a vision of what you want to achieve but there is a reason that picking the right studio and producer is important. You need someone who is going to take your vision and make it happen and maybe add a few sprinkles on top. On our side of things, it’s important for us to be versatile with regards to genres and the approaches that people take with their music. But you can leave that to us. You should have a direction for your music but when it comes to the recording process, keep your ears open and listen to what the studio staff tell you because if you have to come back another day and fix that part you insisted was better your way at first then it’s going to cost you money which you wouldn’t have had to spend otherwise. And after all, if you can do better yourself then why on earth are you in somebody else’s studio?

Quite simply for us (and you, let us explain), there’s nothing worse than someone coming into our studio and trying to tell us how to do our jobs (thankfully it doesn’t happen very often but we know a lot of producers have this issue with their clients). It’s not good for workflow, it’s not good for relations and believe us when we say that it’s usually not good for your record. If Chris Lord Alge walks in and tells us where we’re going wrong then sure, we’ll listen. But when you make the choice to record with a certain producer you need to trust them to do their job. That might sound like a really egotistical thing to pinpoint but it’s not about that. It’s about the fact that when you’re in a team situation, everyone has their role to play. And there lies the real message. When you enter a studio, you and the engineers/producer are a team. And that’s the best way to get things done well.

I’m pretty sure most musicians would be annoyed If the engineer was insisting to lay their part down because they ‘can do better’. Perhaps they can… But the musicians should play their role and the producer should play his/hers. It might seem like a forceful way to say it but think about it; If you annoy your producer, it doesn’t matter how professional they are, it’s going to kill the mojo if they realise that you don’t trust them to work with your music. From the moment they understand your performance and how it’s arranged, they will almost certainly have some kind of plan in mind from mic choice and tracking right through to mixing and mastering. Constant questions and doubt aren’t going to help and if anything it’s more likely to invoke bad decisions from everybody. Focus on your performance. If you don’t like the finished product, then that’s when you should say something. I can tell you that at our studio, we are always happy to accomodate people’s musical wishes and mix tweaks as long as they are professionally viable.

And to producers who face this situation all too often; it’s not always that a band has an ego problem or an attitude problem, in fact, sometimes it’s just that you haven’t given them a clear enough idea of how things work in your world and they have seen a window to try and lead the way because you didn’t establish certain things at the start of the session. Make sure you’re confident and in control of the situation and you are much more likely to have a better time all around. The artist is relying on you. Be the person that they can rely on to fill in all of the blanks. This whole thing goes both ways and if you don’t find a nice balance of workflow, compromise and respect then, let’s just say you need to work on that pretty swiftly. The atmosphere and vibe of your studio session is just as important as the rest. Happy customers with a great recording in their hand is your endgame. So be friendly, be chilled, be nice but make sure that things get done properly and effectively for the sake of your clients and down the line, your own reputation.

There you have it, a few things from both sides of the scenario. Let us know your thoughts.

To be continued…

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Posted by dan@pyar