Friday, 26 October 2012

If it sounds right…

One of the first things people say to us is “You’ve put something on my voice, I don’t sound that good do I?” – and generally the answer is no we haven’t and yes you do. This is because of the extension of one of the famous old rules of recording – if you get the sound right at source, it’ll sound right in the mix. Ok, that’s a generalization, but the point is it’s often true. If you get the sound of your guitar right when you’re tracking, you’re not going to have too much to do in the mix. Likewise, if we get the very best out of you when you’re shooting your vocals, then we’ll have less to do with cutting takes together, let alone using trickery like autotune.
One of the guitarists in one of my old bands said that he couldn’t read or write music, he played purely by ear. He reckoned if it sounded right, then it probably was right. One thing to say about this guy, he had an exceptional ear, and his pitching and timing was superb. He’s a very good guitarist too! There’s that element where you might think it sounds “right” but you’ve kind of glossed over a part, or perhaps changed a melody slightly here or there. But if it’s got to be right, then you have to make sure it’s right preferably at source.

In a different field, the Alexander technique talks about how we end gain. Specifically this is how we make a movement without actually thinking about what we’re doing to do that movement. So we go to stand up, but all we focus on is the actual goal of being stood up rather than the process of transferring the weight from one base to another. Doing this end gain can lead us to all sorts of pain and bad usage of our bodies. What has this got to do with recording and getting the sound right at source? Well, very often people just chuck microphones at instruments on a fire-and-forget principle. They automatically close mic instruments on a drum kit, automatically close mic the speaker on a guitar cabinet. But is that really giving you the best sound? Sure, if it gets you the sound that you’re looking for, then fantastic! But how much is being missed out if you don’t listen and find the truly optimum place, rather than just close miking because that’s what Mr X producer said on such and such a forum.

The principle is the same for when people come in to record with us.  Very often, the recording session is the end gain if you’ll forgive my borrowing from Alexander. They don’t think about the process of getting to that place, they don’t fully practise the song, they may not be too clear on what happens in the bridge. There is perhaps an expectation that they can just come in and record and we’ll press a big red “MAKE IT GOOD” button and all will be well. Well, of course we can (ahem) improve some elements, but we can’t polish the proverbial.

This leads us to another of those studio truisms – if you have a good performer with a good instrument going through good (well placed) mics and good preamps, then you should get something good at the end.
So if you’re thinking about heading into the studio, and wondering how you can help your friendly engineer or producer to get you a good sound, then make sure you give them a good sound at the source!

Christian Thomas is Production Director at Space Studios. He can often be found hiding under desks gently weeping.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Why do we bother making music?

As I sit in front of my Mac with a brand spanking new, unsullied-by-any-form-of-music-empty-Pro Tools session patiently waiting for me to do something, I am struck by a fundamental question…

What on Earth am I doing?

In this day and age, why would anybody want to make music? We have never seen such an explosion in the creative arts. The democratising process brought about by incredibly cheap and powerful digital recording media (audio, video, photography etc.), awesomely powerful software and computers has made it possible for anyone and their dog to give their Muse some airtime. Now I’m not saying that’s bad. It’s not, it is fantastic, and perhaps one day it will bring about World peace, and align the planets. Well it might.
But the point is why do those of us mug enough to do it as a profession actually do it? Unless you’ve been living under an insane rock, you must know that hardly anyone actually wants to buy music these days. As I write this in early Autumn sun (you should get out from under that rock, it’s beautiful at the moment!) all sorts of IP things are happening, and apparently certain pirate site users are being targeted. Does this mean the end of pirating? No, I don’t think it does, but it might mean that there are some ways that we can attempt to earn a crust without having some divot upload our tracks to P2P sites. Incidentally a friend of mine always seems to suggest that it can’t be theft if he illegally downloads something as it as it still exists for the person he stole it from.

The process of recording an album to the same quality of a commercially available release involves some cost. Of course, you can pick up some amazingly good gear for not much money – but do you have the understanding of the software to make it work properly? Can you afford the very best mics to get the right sound? Can you afford the instruments? Have you got the right sounding rooms? I’ll talk about this in another blog (lucky you), but the point is, all of the above cost money, and if the end results are stolen, how will people be able to produce the same quality in the future?

The same goes for people who download films illegally. That is crucifying the film industry, and it means that studios are not taking punts on films, because obviously people are going to nick it rather than go to see it at the cinema, or hire it on DVD (or get it through Netflix or Lovefilm or AppleTV or whatever)
The same friend suggests that he wants to make a living from his music rather than his day job, but he’s happy to have his day job fund his music…

There’s a certain amount of truth and beauty in that – he’s doing his music for the right reasons, he has some damned fine riffs that he needs to get out there.
Surely that’s where we all started with making music? We discovered that somewhere deep within us (somewhere very very deep in my case) our Muse was suggesting we put that little melody together as we walked to B&Q to get some wallpaper paste.

So where do we go next? Is there a way of making music available in streaming form, so we never actually own the content? Is that actually desirable? Is there a better way than Spotify? Is the Netflix model the way forward for music?
Or should we all just give it up and sing songs to each round the campfire?

Christian Thomas is Production Director at Space Studios. He encounters blank Pro Tools screens  too often.