HOW DO I MAKE MY RECORDINGS SOUND UNIQUE?
By Michael Laskow
As many of you know, I'm a retired engineer/producer. I used to get so many questions from members about engineering and production stuff that another TAXI staffer and I created "Studio Buddy -- The Home Recording Helper." It's a self-contained, easy to use database of recording tips designed specifically for people with home studios. If you find this article helpful, you should download the FREE program at:
The answer is to break the rules every now and then. Of course, before you can break the rules, you need to learn the rules. By picking up the tricks of the trade, you can get to the point where your recordings sound as big and compelling as the platinum records on the radio. But those engineers didn't get there by simply copying everyone else.They pushed the envelope and came up with a new approach, often by breaking the rules.
One of the most exciting things about the digital revolution is the availability of affordable software that gives you great sounding tracks with minimal effort. But with the proliferation of programs like Sonic Foundry's ACID, keep in mind that thousands of people are using the same sounds as you. In order to make your songs stand out, occasionally do the opposite of what your supposed to do. Some examples:
1. The next time you need to dial up a killer vocal reverb, don't twist the knob until your processor reads "Killer Vocal Reverb." Look further -- why not use the preset called "Electric Bass" or "String Quartet"? The trick is to know when such a move enhances the track, as opposed to weakening it or just sounding gimmicky.
2. Usually the least appealing frequency in a kick drum sound is 500Hz or so. Most of the time you'll want to get rid of it completely. But maybe you've got a song (or a section in a song) that needs some new colors. Why not boost the very frequency that's so unappealing? And boost it a lot. Your kick drum may not sound like any other in memory, but maybe that's the point.
3. It's common to hear a tambourine enter a song on the downbeat of a chorus. It provides a nice lift. But why not let the tambourine start a few bars before the chorus? It's unexpected, and it can heighten the excitement of the groove going on before the chorus hits. (And you still get a lift in the chorus.)
This approach can work for you if you use it selectively. When every element of a recording sounds wrong (the vocal is buried, there's no bottom end, the hi-hat is louder than everything else combined -- you get the picture) the sound comes off as amateurish. But if most of the elements are about right and one thing is off (like a well-balanced mix that has a trumpet blasting out of the right speaker for eight bars), you've got something that's memorable and unique.
A final thought: e.e. cummings didn't begin his career by writing without punctuation. He started by learning the rules of great poetry. By the time he ditched the periods and commas, he'd mastered all the rest -- imagery, character development, strength in an idea, etc. How does this apply to making records? Just that it's easier to rise above the others once you've learned the tricks of the trade.
This series of recording studio and sound engineering articles are being made available courtesy of our friends at Taxi. The articles aim to help you make better sounding recordings in your home or project studio and will be available here or online at Taxi, complete with pictures using the link at the end of the article or better still - sign up to receive Taxi's Newsletters FREE and get them delivered straight to your inbox!
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