Selecting audio gear should be about achieving the result for the song and artist. For newer audio engineers who want to ultimately successfully produce or record music, there are a few guidelines that are imperative to consistency and success. In this read, we will discuss one of those that is very important, one that can set an individual 10, even up to 20 years ahead of where they are right now simply by using this guide. Read on..
Choosing a piece of gear is often an easy, quick process. However, while gear is often chosen quickly and easily, it is often chosen as such for the wrong reasons. Consider this scenario: An engineer (or aspiring producer) determines the vocal would benefit from a little compression. He or she may quickly conclude: “Well, that’s easy .. I’ll use the Manley Variable MU Limiter-Compressor.” The Manley Variable MU is a $4,000.00 piece of gear, and it’s very often the go-to component for compressing vocals (among other things). In being fortunate enough to have access to a fine Manley Compressor, which, at the moment, seems to be staring the engineer in the face, it is a no-brainer at that point?… Right? Not Always.
The Manley brand is surely synonymous with quality and reliability. It is often the prime choice of audio engineers when available. However, a Manley Compressor is not always the most beneficial component to what is trying to be achieved.
Choosing a piece of gear, be it a microphone, delay, reverb unit, guitar cabinet, etc. should never be relative by what’s the most expensive or what is used the most but should be carefully selected by how it:
Most benefits the sound of the instrument or vocal in the song you’re recording, keeping in mind the song’s intent or objective.
Most benefits that artist in particular (no two artists are the same).
The word ‘benefit’ in this read simply means: sounds the most fitting for what is aurally desired. In short, what simply “sounds right” or sounds the best for what is trying to be achieved in the recording situation at hand.
Different pieces of gear color (change the way an instrument or vocal is perceived when processed or ran through it) audio in their own sort of unique way. Just as no two artists sound alike, no two pieces of gear re-produce sound (by altering audio) exactly alike. Simply because a piece of audio equipment is well regarded or has a hefty price tag should never be used in determining a selection for the task at hand. Gear and all equipment should be chosen in relation to how it benefits the song and how it helps the artist or instrument sound for the particular piece of music being recorded.
To make clear, referring to the example scenario used above, Manley Compressors are indeed excellent compressors. I’ve used them on various artists and instruments many times over. They are of the very best compressors I have put to use. However, they are not always what is most optimal for the desired objective.
The objective in this read simply means what type of sound the engineer (or producer) desires: Which sound traits should be exuded on the track and what traits? What aspects are not the most important or need to be tamed? The sound characteristics or how the audio should come across to the listener. A certain gist or unique aural vibe that is sought after.
At times, a vocal might sound more appropriate as something direct with more focus on the punch. In order to really hit the mark, perhaps the track could use a vocal that’s blunt and fairly basic sounding; something that emphasizes a forceful simplicity with much less emphasis on intimacy or detail. As soon as that is determined, consider using a Shure SM 57 if one is within reach. It shouldn’t matter to the engineer or producer that the U67 is a $10,000.00 microphone. It should not be a factor that the Shure is of the easiest pieces of gear to come across. What matters is the objective and what microphone most benefits the instrument, artist, and song for that particular recording. It is more than simply “possible” to create excellent sounding recordings using inexpensive gear. In fact, at times, using cheaper gear can actually produce more optimal results. Different variables determine all of this. Different pieces of gear can produce different sounding results.
Both the Manley compressor and the Neumann U67 are superb for conveying certain aspects. They are both extremely renowned for use in professional audio environments. However, the characteristics those components exude are not always what is best for the track, be it a musician or vocal in a multi-track recording environment or the overall song at hand, you see. The same applies to all and any gear which includes the recording console and rooms themselves. In being realistic, there’s a realization the board being used and rooms available are not always so easily changeable. What is important to take away from this read is that no audio recording electronic device benefits anything and everything more than all others in every single situation. Keep in mind the musical objective over all other facets. Consider the available options to achieve that objective before automatically jumping to or finalizing a piece of gear. Use what actually sounds right and/or compliments the recording situation most. Never choose gear simply by popularity, price, prestige, or simply because you can. All those aspects should never be considered even when choosing a software plug-in.
A sound understanding (pun intended) of what pieces of gear suits an objective or what is best for the song or instrument that is being recorded without regard to a component’s price tag or scarcity is key to optimizing recordings. As was noted and contrary to certain perception, choosing the most expensive equipment and recording electronics does not always produce the most optimal results. Getting the most optimal results are garnered by selecting gear that most compliments what you’re trying to accomplish, nothing more.
Determining the song’s objective should be well in place before recording anything. Once the song’s objective is determined, open up and consider all the options available. Eliminate price, prestige, and to a degree, the device’s reputation entirely. Clear that train of thought in choosing components to use. From starting to record the tracks to mixing the song, select by objective and sound only.
In the mastering of a product, the most expensive equipment generally produces better results. This notion is much more prevalent in mastering music as opposed to recording or even mixing it. Having the most expensive equipment in a mastering situation much more often produces the most satisfactory results, but even in this regard, it is not a rule.
Becoming a better than average audio recording engineer or a solid producer strongly entails having an ear for what would suit the song being recorded or artist in particular. Listen closely and ascertain what seems to aurally fit in constructing the song’s objective. Many times you’ll have to try a few different pieces of gear. This can range from accessing the most expensive items, if you have the luxury, to using the most basic inexpensive components in fitting the objective or desired outcome.
Ian Billen –