How Far I’ve Come… Part One

Recently, I’ve been thinking back to first year and realising what a massive n00b I was with recording and mixing.

I’ve dug up some old projects that I have previously mixed (if you can call it that) in first year, from my first ever recording experience, to ambitious 172-track project! The following blogs will tear them to pieces, analysing what I did wrong when mixing these tracks. I could write an essay on what was wrong with each from plugging in the first microphone, but I wouldn’t want to bore my faithful readers…

So let’s get started!

MOUNTAINS

This was my first ever recording experience, ever! Rebecca Shearing, Cara Nelson, Jo Paterson, Neil Mackenzie, Graham Coe, Sam Thorne, and myself were put in a group and we decided to record ‘Mountains’ by Biffy Clyro. Dave Hook let us bright-eyed first years loose in the studio with only basic knowledge on how to record in pro tools and this happened:

Where to start…

Starting with the drums, which were mic’ed up pretty terribly (I’m pretty sure Greg Smart came in after we were done and said “Time to mic this kit properly!”), It is pretty obvious we hadn’t discovered compression and hadn’t a clue about EQ! The drums lack punch and space, they almost sound like one room mic was used to record (which it might as well have!) They get lost in the louder parts, and only the hi-hat really cuts through during the verses.

N00b error #1 – The drums were pretty much dry, no compression, no reverb, and very little knowledge of EQ’ing resulted in a weak, empty sounding drum sound.

Next, if I remember right, we tracked guitars. To say they sound a bit weak in the mix is an understatement. I have no memory of what mic was used, but the guitars sound distant and lack power so the mic/mics must have been a bit far away from the amp! Again, with only EQ used (and not very effectively) the guitars lacked presence and power. They are meant to drive a rock track but instead sound empty and un-fulfilling. Mix-wise, they are lower than, and occupy a similar frequency to the piano and vocals. This means they struggle to be heard and the track sounds pretty feeble as a result! The solo also lacks presence and is pretty disappointing. (The mixing, not the playing!)

N00b error #2 – Not carving out spaces for the instruments that are meant to be the ‘focus’ of the track can resulted in the track sounding imbalanced and messy.

Bass guitar was recorded primitively by shoving the kick drum mic in front of the bass amp and hoped for the best. The pre-amp level mustn’t have been touched, because the signal is very low and as a result really struggles to be heard in the mix. No compression meant the bass track was very un-even and messy, see n00b error #1!

Piano was recorded by dragging the electric piano in the studio across the room and jacking it straight into the behringer pre-amp. The signal was pretty noisy, and since it was mono lacks any sense of space and sounds dull and thin. We didn’t know about instrument tracks on pro tools, so didn’t know how to use the MIDI keyboard provided! The piano ‘solo’ is way back in the mix, and again is really quite disappointing. (The mxing! Not the playing!)

N00b error #3 – Lack of research into methods of recordings narrowed our options and resulted in a poorly recorded audio track.

Finally, vocals were recorded last. Again (this seems to be a theme here…), with poorly used EQ, no compression, and no time-based effects added, the vocals were dull, weak, and got lost at louder sections. The harmony vocal is barely audible for most of the track, you could be forgiven for not noticing it at all!

A positive (I know!! Something good!!!) to note about the vocals is the double-tracked harmony at the end. This was my first ever producer-like idea, and although executed quite poorly (there are some phase problems and the could have been wider and reverb added), is probably the thing I like most/dislike least about the mixing!

So, Overall: 

  • The track is messy, weak, and dull due to little or no EQ or compression. 
  • The levels are not fitting for the genre. Drums are far too quiet and get lost. The piano is more prominent than the guitar, whereas the guitars should be driving the track. Vocals get lost in louder sections as a result of no compression being used.
  • No automation in levels meant the track has very little dynamic movement.
  • The track has little width to it, with only guitars being panned to give any sense of space at all.

But you couldn’t really expect a lot better from what was (most of our) first recording experiences! Everyone has to start somewhere, little 17-year-old David really didn’t know what he was doing, and it shows!

Next time I will tear apart the other two uni projects I completed in first year, ‘Stockholm Syndrome‘ and ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes‘.

David

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