As some of you may or not know (depending on how much you stalk me), I’m in a band. A long time ago, we were looking to record our first, serious EP. While I was already doing audio production to an extent, we decided to “let the professionals handle it,” thinking that they’d do a better job. We tried recording with several local producers, but the results were… less than splendid. So we ended up recording ourselves, with me handling production. Over time, I continued to notice mistakes that local producers kept making. Read on to see what they are.
h5. Not Double-tracking Guitars
Come on, this one should be obvious; we live in the age of stereo. It’s simple enough, record two guitar tracks, pan one to the left, pan one to the right. Sounds easy right? Well some of these guys actually get it wrong. I’m not sure whether it’s out of ignorance or just pure laziness.
h5. Way Too Trebly/Loud Cymbals
When it comes to mixing and mastering, EQ is your best friend. Hear those nasty sharp high frequencies coming from the cymbals? Cut them a bit. Same goes for their volume. Unless you’re an amateur, each drum mic outputs to a separate track. You can make the cymbals a bit quieter than the rest, so that they’re not the main focus of the mix. Having the cymbals in the background and not overwhelming the mix is part of what makes a mix sound professional.
h5. Not Replacing The Kicks/Using A Bad Kick Sample
Unless you’re trying to go for an old-school lo-fi vibe, a modern metal mix should have audible, consistent kicks (that’s what the double bass drum sounds are called in the industry). Use a plugin like Drumagog to get a nice clean kick sound that will cut through the mix properly. Kicks usually go with the guitar parts and help keep the tempo of the song, so they should be heard well in the mix, they shouldn’t be muddy or lacking in treble. On the other side of the “doing it wrong” spectrum are extremely clicky kick samples that sound like a playing card stuck in a bicycle spoke. Avoid those, because they’re more annoying than anything. You want something that’s not excessively fake sounding or clicky, so take your time in picking a kick sample.
h5. Dry Vocals
Vocals with no effects usually sound bad. I’m not talking about autotune, I’m talking about basics such as reverb, delay, and compression. It’s not cheating to use those, every professional does. Reverb helps with the acoustics of the vocals, and can often make up for recording in a less-than-ideal environment. Compression smooths out the peaks and brings all the vocals up to a more or less similar volume, so that there are no big jumps in loudness depending on how close the singer/screamer got to the mic. On the flip side, overusing effects can be just as bad, so use reverb in moderation. Also, chill with the overlays. Yes they sound cool every once in a while, but you’ll never sound like that live unless you have 2-3 full time vocalists.
h5. Improper Cab Mic’ing
Mic’ing up a guitar/bass cab _can_ sound really good… if done right. Trouble is, most people don’t do it right. I’m no mic’ing expert, so I use digital guitar amps and cabs. I suggest that to up-and-coming producers who don’t have the resources and/or experience to successfully mic up a cab. Because even a bad digital tone will still sound better than a horrible mic’d real guitar amp.
h5. Bass Mixed Too Loudly/Too Quietly
Some local producers mix the bass way too loudly in the mix, to the point of where it’s competing with the guitars and making the mix sound muddy. Others mix it so quietly that it’s barely heard, negating the whole point of having a bass. Mixing bass tracks is something that should be handled delicately.
h5. Awful Bass Tone
I’ve heard bass tracks that sound like floppy rubber bands, and others that sound like fat blobs of bass. For most metal mixes, a distorted bass sound fits in quite well with the mix. Not too distorted, but just enough to blend with the crunch of the guitars, while simultaneously standing out every so slightly. The fact that I’ve dedicated two separate points to bass is testament to the fact that a lot of local producers completely skimp out on the bass tracks. Just because it’s not front and center doesn’t mean it should be ignored. When done right, the bass can add a lot of punch and character to the mix.
h5. Poor Mixing In General
I’ve heard local bands with terrible mixes. Every factor could be perfect, but a bad mix can ruin everything. A lot of people half-ass the mixing process, even though it is *vital* to a good sound. Mixing is not something that should be done in 10 minutes. You have to tinker with it, see what’s too loud, what’s too quiet, etc. Then you have to come back a couple hours later and then listen to it again, to see if anything stands out too much. Vocals are usually mixed too loud these days, which is fine for pop, but not for rock/metal where the instrumentals are just as important. Also, a lot of producers don’t listen to their mixes on various systems. I’ve seen producers *only* use expensive studio monitors, or only headphones. Great monitors or great headphones make any mix sound better, but the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of music listeners are not audiophiles with perfect studio headphones. No, the vast majority of listeners listen through crappy iPod headphones, or through terrible cheap computer speakers, or in mediocre stock car sound systems. Therefore, you have to test on these systems and make sure your mix sounds good on everything.
In conclusion, this is by no means an exhaustive list of everything that can be done wrong; it’s simply the most common mistakes I hear with a lot of demos. As much as you might think it’s all about the music itself, a good recording is crucial to getting people to listen to your band more than once. Plus, unless you’re extremely talented/unique, a good quality demo will attract a potential label’s attention so much more than a half-assed mediocre one.
A demo is everything for a local band, why half-ass it?