Twice a month we revisit some of our reader favorite posts from throughout the history of Audiotuts+. This tutorial was first published in August 2008.
For the neophyte, the studio can be a place of myth and legend. It’s complicated and takes many years of learning and hands-on experience to become a talented studio engineer or producer. It’s not at all helped by the amount of misinformation that has been distributed about studio recording, unfortunately; let’s clear up a few of these myths.
1. There’s a “right way” to do things
You can record your vocals through an SM58 or let clipping go unchecked if you want; there’s really no hard and fast right way to do things in the studio. There are guidelines and best practices, but at the end of the day you have to go with what your ear says sounds good, and more importantly, sounds right for the track.
2. Studio magic can fix a bad performance
Studio magic can make a good performance great, or a great performance stunning. But the only way to get something that sounds good is to make sure the instrument sounds good in the room and the performer is nailing it. The proverb in the studio is you can’t polish a turd. If it sucks, it sucks.
3. Record on tape, it sounds better
There is a marked difference in the sound you get from a track recorded on tape and all analogue gear and a track that was recorded using Pro Tools. There’s a myth that tape sounds better, but it’s not true; digital recording means higher fidelity (or accurate representation) to the original sound source, which means cleaner, better quality recordings.
There’s a certain warmth to analogue recordings because of a mild level of distortion. So, that quality people look for in tape is actually caused by a lack of quality. I don’t mean to say the tape sound isn’t desirable and appropriate for some recordings, but don’t be suckered for your money by one of the tape fan boys.
The next myth is related…
4. Every time you copy an audio file, it loses quality
True enough for tape: every time you make a copy onto another reel, a miniscule level of quality is lost. But when you’re copying digital files, you don’t lose anything. Binary digit for binary digit, every last detail remains perfectly intact even if you copy the same file a hundred times over.
This myth is perpetuated by people who don’t really understand digital technology, and by the same crowd who insists that tape is inherently “better.”
5. Digital technology means any musician can make a hit recording
Just because you’ve paid a whopper of a price to rent the studio out doesn’t mean you can make a hit recording. Sure, digital technology makes recording easier in so many ways, but you need to know how everything in the studio works to pull a great sound and make an excellent, radio-ready record. If you're dishing out for the studio, make sure you dish out that bit extra for a decent engineer—you won't regret it.
6. You must use a click track
Granted, it’s almost impossible to edit your drums up or do any shuffling around later on if you don’t use a click track, but it’s not a necessity. If you and your band can’t or don’t want to work with one, there’s no reason why you have to. If it kills your vibe, ditch the click—some things are, of course, more important than others.
7. You need outboard processors to get a good sound
Some people say you have to use an outboard compressor or reverb unit to get a decent sound. Not true: you can get sounds that sound smashing using good plug-ins. It’s hard to tell the difference between the BombFactory BF76 and the outboard it was modeled after unless you’ve been listening to both for years.
That said, outboard is almost always better; that’s no myth at all. The myth is that you need them to get a good sound.
8. The best vocal tracks are a mash-up of a million takes
The best tracks sound great because they sounded great in the room. This doesn’t just apply to the room itself and the instrument, but the performance of the instrument in the room. If you get a vocalist to do one good take, it’s going to sound better than having the vocalist do twenty average takes and mashing up the greatest moments from each.
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