Six Recording Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid These Project Killers In the Studio
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MANY FACTORS contribute to a successful music production, including a great song, inspired playing, honed recording chops, a sterling mix, and skillful mastering. Unfortunately, every step along the way presents potential landmines that can blow up a project. Here are seven big project killers you’ll want to steer clear of.

Choosing Friendship over Music It’s common practice to invite a friend to play on one’s project. If your bud’s playing doesn’t enhance the production (or it’s downright ruining it), you may be reticent to cut him or her loose. You may feel pressure to keep the damaging track in the mix in order to preclude offending your compadre and preserve the friendship.

None of your listeners—including record execs, publishers, and music supervisors— will care whether or not your pal played on your flawed record. But any pimples in the production may cause them to doubt your potential. It may sound harsh, but serve the music and ditch the inferior track. If your friend is a pro, he or she will understand.

Hiring a One-Trick Pony If you’ll be enlisting a singer to perform the lead vocal for your song, make sure you vet at least three of his or her demos sung in your song’s style. Anyone who’s watched American Idol’s early-season auditions has seen tons of singers totally nail one particular song they’ve evidently practiced for years, only to fall flat when asked to belt out a new tune. Using today’s recording technology, anyone can sound great on one song. Make sure your hired pipes can consistently make magic happen before you give them the nod.

Skipping Pre-Production Improvisational recording can sometimes yield incredible results, especially during songwriting and arranging. But if you’ll be hiring a wrecking crew to lay down tracks to your song, you don’t have the luxury to wing it (unless you’re made of money). Make sure you thoroughly work out a battle plan before you bring in the mercenaries. You don’t want to spend a ton of money tracking an arrangement that’s DOA. Make sure the key, tempo, harmony structure, and charts are all bombproof well before your session date arrives.

Needless Highpass Filtering Before you stamp out boomy low frequencies during mixdown, be certain they need it. Your room or monitoring chain might be lying to you, and the boomy sub-bass you’re hearing might not be on your recording at all. Maybe the bottom plate of the rear wall of your control room is fastened too tightly to the floor, thereby acoustically reinforcing very low frequencies. Or perhaps your subwoofer’s gain is set too high. In these situations, rolling off the boomy bottom end will only make your mix sound like it lacks punch on virtually everyone else’s system.

If you’re not sure your room and monitoring chain are accurate in the low end, use low-shelving cut instead of a steep highpass filter to treat boomy bass. Then have your mixes professionally mastered to place the bottom end in perfect balance with mids and highs. Mastering can correct unnecessary shelving cut far more readily than steep highpass filtering, which permanently removes bass frequencies below its cutoff.

Rushing Through Mixdown I’m always amazed and frustrated when clients spend months or years tracking an album, only to insist the entire project be mixed in a single day. Nobody will ever love a crummy mix of a great performance. Standout mixes take time. Allowing insufficient time and budget for mixing is one of the surest ways to kill a project’s potential.

Prematurely Locking in a Release Date The surest way to guarantee rushed, substandard mixes is to schedule an album-release party or concert before tracking is even finished for the project. (I’ve seen this happen too many times to count!) As the replicator’s deadline for receipt of the master approaches, the last tambourine solo is committed to disc. Next task: Mix the 14-song project in two hours, before the replicator’s cutoff time. Oh, and forget about mastering; there’s no time for that!