6 Mistakes I Made As A Beginner Engineer
When I was 18 and first getting into recording, I had no idea what I was doing. Sometimes, I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, but I have made enough mistakes along to way to learn what NOT to do, and that has helped me more than any blog/book/seminar ever has. During the process of recording my band Forester's full length album, I did many things incorrectly, things that one often only sees in hindsight. Some of these may seem like rookie mistakes to seasoned recording vets, but with so many elements that make up a great recording, everyone makes mistakes somewhere along the way.
1) UNDERESTIMATING THE AMOUNT OF WORK
This mostly applies to DIY engineers and producers, but almost every project I did starting out took longer than I originally thought. It can be really easy to lose sight of mix and chase a “perfect” snare drum sound or guitar tone, a lot of times just going in circles. New engineers can fall into the habit of indecision, something I still battle to this day. It can be hard to commit to a sound when you aren’t sure it’s going to work in the overall mix. In the end this process just adds time to the project, whereas professional engineers trust their ears and commit to a sound and move on. It’s a great habit to start building.
2) EXPENSIVE INSTRUMENTS CAN STILL SOUND BAD
I rented an $1800 bass to track a bass DI assuming an expensive instrument would sound...expensive. I not only tracked all 11 songs, but re-amped the bass DI TWICE, once clean and once distorted. That’s 22 rounds of re-amping bass alone. During the mix phase I wanted to add some more high end clarity to the bass and reached for an EQ...only to realize there was nothing there to EQ. After doing an A/B comparison with a cheap Squire bass with new strings, I realized the expensive bass I rented had old/dead strings on it. I ended up re-tracking ALL of the bass on our album and re-amping it again.
3) GREAT CONVERTERS MATTER
I recorded guitar in the same manner as I did bass, tracking the DI from home and re-amping at the studio later. This time I made sure to use new strings on every song and spent a couple weeks tracking multiple guitars on 11 songs, considerably more work than the bass. During re-amping I used a very high end signal chain and even blended multiple amps to get the final sound. Months later, when comparing our guitar tone to other recordings, I noticed there was a slightly muddy quality to ours. Even though I had used a superb signal chain during re-amping the fact was that I had captured the DI through a DIGI 003, an entry level preamp with entry level converters. I went back and listened to the raw DI could actually hear the same dullness that I had heard in the re-amped tone, and learned that a great sounding amp with a mediocre DI signal will only ever sound “good” at best.
At the studio, we're currently using the following converters:
4) FINISH THE SONGS FIRST
My own band has been guilty of this. The recording process is so much easier when every member of the band knows exactly what they are playing, and more importantly actually PRACTICED the parts they are recording. I’ve had bands try and finish lyrics in the studio and it rarely works the first time, which again adds unnecessary time to a project. Write in the jam space, record at the studio...unless you’re prepared to pay for the time.
5) PLUG IN PRESETS ARE NOT GOSPEL
Most EQ and compression plug ins come with presets to help give you a starting point when applying them to your mix, but it’s important to treat them as just that: a starting point. I recently opened up an old session from one of my first projects and realized that the compressor preset I chose for my drum overheads was slamming it about 10x harder than necessary. Settings like threshold are totally dependent on the level of the sound going into the compressor, so it would be impossible for a preset to account for that. Presets can work great at getting you started, but I would also take them with a grain of salt and at the end of the day trust your ears.
6) THE REAL WORK BEGINS AFTER THE RECORDING IS DONE
Promotion is important.You can have the best recording in the country but if people don’t hear it, or know who it’s by, or know where to get it then you’re putting yourself at a major disadvantage. Look into blogs, social media, anything you can use to get your songs into people’s ears. There’s a ton of great bands out there that fly under the radar because they don’t put in the work in terms of promotion, try not to be one of them.
Well thats a wrap! I hope that helps you guys avoid some of the key mistakes and thought processes that I had when I was first starting. Thanks for reading, and please share this post, follow us on social, join the Facebook group, and sign up for our email list to get more free tips and updates!