Posted on 20-03-2012
Filed Under (contemplations) by Jon Stinson

Invisible white space

It’s a very common line of thinking that the producer and engineer are not supposed to really influence the sound of the music; that they should mostly be invisible to the process of recording, so that the true identity of the band can really show.

But isn’t that why a particular producer gets hired? In order to provide guidance to the recording process, which in effect influences the sound?

Perhaps the line of thinking that producers should step out of the way comes from a certain era in music where things my have gotten out of hand, and the essence of an artist’s music was hi-jacked by the production and A&R team.

However, I can’t help but notice how often producers get hired because of a certain band they worked with or album they produced, myself included.

When a producer and/or engineer is hired to be a part of a project, to a considerable extent they are being invited into a collaborative process with the artist. There’s going to be a degree of influence on the sound that just comes with the territory.

I’m definitely not advocating that a producer, engineer, or anyone else should step in and change the fundamental musical identity of an artist… quite the opposite, really…

But it is an interesting question worth asking ourselves. Even if for no other reason but to keep ourselves in check, so as to not inadvertently eviscerate the very thing that makes an artist’s music special.

//Jon
Website: jonstinson.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/stnsn
Twitter: @stsn

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Posted on 26-10-2011
Filed Under (producing and engineering) by Jon Stinson

When I was an intern at a recording studio in Nashville, there was an assistant engineer on staff that was a huge jerk. He was constantly and loudly running his mouth off about this and that, and trying to spitefully put people in their place.

The thing was, however, that he was legitimately a smart guy. When it came to the technical subject matter of making a record, he was an encyclopedia. And when it came to the topic of the business of recording, he had a lot of valuable experiential knowledge to share as well.

I remember at a particular staff meeting when he was furiously yelling at everyone in the room (as he often did). To paraphrase, is rant went something like this: “It’s never going to be how you want it to be. It’s not even going to be how you want when you become an engineer or producer.” And although he was ranting in order to bully people around… in essence he was right.

The key word I would interject, though, is exactly. Recording music is a collaboration with many people, all of whom bring their own opinions, biases, and life experiences. Each one of these things have played a part in shaping who they are.

So the key takeaway, and the point that my former co-worker would have probably been a little more effective in getting across, had he not been so condescending (note the mild irony here) was…

Don’t let yourself get caught up in the mindset of thinking that everything is always going to go exactly your way, when you’re a big shot who’s got a list of accolades a mile long. Because not only will it be a rude awakening when you get there, this type of mentality is a handicap that will impede your career and your success. The truth is that your ideas will always be edited in some way or another, no matter what status you have attained.

It’s an elusive matter, continually working to humble yourself to the place you need to be to best pay service to the ideas. The most successful record producers and audio engineers understand this, and have taught me through their example.

It’s not about tallying up who’s got the best ideas, and how often they are used. It’s about creating meaning and art that is worth people’s attention – worth remarking on and sharing.

//Jon
Website: jonstinson.com
Twitter: @stsn

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Posted on 12-10-2011
Filed Under (producing and engineering) by Jon Stinson

If you’re like me, then you probably find yourself wrapped up in this mentality all too often…

You read an article about how someone mixed a record, or you talked with someone about a particular way to record an instrument, and the next time you’re working you begin reflecting on what you read or heard. Then you end up constantly second guessing yourself.

Now you begin to scrutinize every little thing you do in the studio – where you place a mic on an acoustic guitar, how you select gear, or your workflow for making a record in general. I do this all the time, and not with just making records, I catch myself doing this as it relates to all kinds of different daily routines.

The latest is with my mixing workflow. Lately, I’ve been catching a few discussions on blogs about the best way to approach building a mix. I recently found myself trying a couple of these techniques for starting and building a mix. And boy, did I make it hard for myself – this specific advise was not working!

That’s when the lightbulb went off. I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” There was nothing wrong with the workflow I had been using before. It actually served me quite well. But for some strange reason, I too often get in my head that I need to try something else, just because I happened to read about it a couple days prior.

Making records is a daily learning experience. But there are also a lot of instances when you need to recognize that you already know something, and move on. If you have a technique for accomplishing something that works really well, don’t abandon that approach just because someone else came up with another method.

Record like you record, not someone else. It’s easy to get sucked into the notion that the way someone else does it is better than the way you do it, just because.

If you build great mixes by starting with the drums, then stick with that.

If an EQ inserted before a compressor typically sounds best to you, then it is best.

When trying out new methods, if the new technique does not seem to improve your workflow fairly quickly, then that’s probably your indication that you should stick with your current way of doing things.

Yeah, there’s times when you can learn a better way to do it. But there’s also times when you need to be confident that the technique you already use is sufficient. To do it any other way is not necessarily an improvement (and it could make things worse).

Ever heard the expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

//Jon
Webiste: jonstinson.com
Twitter: @stsn

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Posted on 28-09-2011
Filed Under (producing and engineering) by Jon Stinson

It will be easier when you graduate college and get an internship at a recording studio.

It will be easier when you complete your internship, and get a job at the recording studio.

It will be easier when you have a lot of label connections, and can get consistent work through them.

It will be easier when you’re able to work with a world-famous artist, who sells a million records.

It will be easier when you’ve won a Grammy, and people will trust you and listen to what you say because you now have authority.

It will be easier when someone gives you a ton of money to capitalize a recording studio that you not only work out of full time, but also own.

Except none of these things are true. It does not simply get easier. In some ways it will, yes. But in many ways, greater success and growth brings more pressure, and higher stakes.

The complexities and challenges of professionally producing, recording, and mixing records will always be a factor in your career-no matter what your status is.

The responsibility of your success is yours, and yours alone. Don’t trick yourself into believing that one day someone is going to come along and hand you success on a silver platter. And Don’t trick yourself into thinking that once you attain a key achievement that the rest is just coasting on Easy Street.

Because then you will cease to continually challenge yourself, you will cease grow, and most importantly, you will cease to truly have fun in a life of making records [because instead of enjoying the fruits of your career now, you will be constantly chasing future contentment]

//Jon
Website: jonstinson.com
Twitter: @stsn

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Posted on 25-08-2011
Filed Under (producing and engineering) by Jon Stinson

People skills.

Making records is more about interacting with people than it is about anything else. Great people skills can take you the distance in a career in recording, even when you may not be the most knowledgeable or the definitively most talented person to ever step into the studio. On top of that, it’s very likely that if you have great people skills, clients will choose you over someone else who may know more, or be more “talented” than you.

When I got my first studio job as an intern, there was an assistant engineer who was a huge jerk. He knew everything there was to ever know about being an audio engineer – all the nuances and ultra technical particulars of how every piece of gear worked, the science behind capturing great sounds, how to repair broken gear – everything. But he was a jerk, and a loudmouth with poor work ethic. Clients constantly asked for him to be replaced with someone – anyone! – else.

If you’re cold and stale, do the bare minimum to get the job done, and run you mouth off every minute of the day, you’re going to be asked to leave.

If you treat people kindly, if you’re authentic, honest, and genuine, people will enjoy the work they do with you, and feel good about what you’ve created together.

Technical knowledge and production skills are important. But not nearly as important as treating people right. Of all the skills it’s important to have in the studio, none of them will provide a secure, long-term path to success like having good people skills will.

//Jon
Twitter: @stsn

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Posted on 15-07-2011
Filed Under (recording) by Jon Stinson

So are you starting to see a pattern form here? The last handful of posts I’ve published about recording kick and snare, have been based on two main ideas: A) keep it super simple, and B) do what’s proven to work-don’t waste time attempting to “fix” a technique that is not broken.

So continuing in that line of thinking, there’s a few mics that are ubiquitous to the application of recording a snare drum. They are ubiquitous because they do the job extremely well.

Here’s what I’ve seen work well for people (myself included):

  • Shure SM 57: Ultra ubiquitous!. Chances are pretty good that the awesome snare sound on your favorite album was recorded with a 57
  • AKG 451
  • Shure Beta 56
  • Shure SM7
  • Shure SM58 Jack White said he used this for everything when recording De Stijl

Again, most the mics on this list are extremely common (I’ll refrain from using the word “ubiquitous” yet again). And while a few of them are not what I would consider necessarily cheap, there’s definitely a couple-the 57, and 58-that are cheap. So what that means is that either you already own one or two of them, or you know someone who does.

In reality, when aiming to capture a great snare sound, you’re simply not going to need something besides a 57. And considering how popular and inexpensive that mic is, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ve got access to one of those right now.

But as I said before when making suggestions for kick drum mics, don’t read this and then rush out to buy these mics (unless it’s the cheap 57). There’s no point in doing that when they’re so easy to gain access to otherwise. Borrow one, rent one, or book some studio time (where you will get access to all their mics). Once you find yourself going back to a particular mic again and again (I bet it will be the 57), then consider buying it.

Have a great weekend!

//Jon
Twitter: @stsn

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Posted on 12-07-2011
Filed Under (recording) by Jon Stinson

Just like choosing a mic placement when recording a kick drum, there’s really no point in reinventing the wheel when selecting a mic either. Just use what everyone else uses. Those mics are popular for a reason.

Here’s what I’ve seen work well for people (myself included):

  • Shure Beta 52
  • Sennheiser 421
  • AKG D12
  • AKG D112
  • Shure SM57

The thing about the mics on this list is A) most of them aren’t too expensive, and B) they’re easy to find and gain access to. This means that either you already own one of them, or you know someone who does. Either way, I guarantee that the studios in or near your town own a couple of these mics.

Regardless, do not rush out to go buy these mics. Ask around amongst your friends to see who owns what, and if you can borrow a mic or two. If you can’t get access to a mic that way, consider renting one, or booking some studio time at your local studio (this way you get access to all their mics).

Once you find the mic you like best for recording kick drum, and you find yourself continually going back to it, then would be the time to consider buying it (I recommend checking eBay).

//Jon
Twitter: @stsn

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Posted on 11-07-2011
Filed Under (recording) by Jon Stinson

I recommend going with the most simple, quickest, phase-friendly, and easiest to mix approach. That means using only one mic, and placing it halfway inside the hole of a ported head.

There’s really no reason to reinvent the wheel, as countless, great-sounding recordings have been made with this mic placement.

However, if the kick drum you’re recording does not have a ported head, you can try these options:

  • Find and mic the sweet spot on the front head
  • Take the front head off entirely, mic the sweet spot of the beater head
  • Place the mic on the beater side of the drum, under the snare, and focused on where the beater makes contact with the head

//Jon
Twitter: @stsn

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Posted on 08-07-2011
Filed Under (recording) by Jon Stinson

The one that is the most minimalist, basic, and straightforward… the one that you have seen work well for someone more experienced than you.

You don’t need a ton of mics to properly record a drum kit and make it sound huge. Glyn Johns didn’t when he recorded John Bonham’s kit.

You would be surprised how much you can do with even just two or three 57′s, no matter what genre of music you’re working in. I’ve recorded folk-rock/americana records, post-punk records, and even prog-rock records, all only using four or five mics to record the drums.

To be honest, I’d even go so far to say that the less mics you have on the drums, the bigger they will sound. When you place a lot of mics on an instrument, you introduce a more complex phase relationship. And when microphones are out of phase, that’s the number one reason for a recording sounding small. So the less mics, the less phase discrepancy, the bigger the sound.

Two take-away’s here:

  • The notion that you need a ton of mics to get a good drum sound is unfounded
  • The notion that you need expensive mics to get a good drum sound is also unfounded

Next time you record drums, start with just three or four mics at first, and only introduce more mics into the equation if you feel like something is truly lacking. But make sure every time you add a mic, you reevaluate the phase relationship of everything.

//Jon
Twitter: @stsn

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Posted on 07-07-2011
Filed Under (recording) by Jon Stinson

Hit the record button.

Do you realize that you already know how to do it? Stop reading yet another blog post about how to record, looking for someone else to give you the magical answer. I’m willing to bet you’ve invested ten times the amount of time reading about recording than you have actually in the studio recording.

You can’t do it unless you do it, and a recording of something sounds 100% better than a recording of nothing.

//Jon
Twitter: @stsn

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