Dispatches from opposite land

Here’s a potentially terrible idea for a thread.

There is a thing some people call “internet wisdom”. On forums and facebook groups across the planet, you can learn little nuggets of wisdom that help guide you on your quest to better music making. You’ve all come across them.

“High pass anything that doesn’t need LF energy to clean up your mix”. “Carve out the lower mids to make room for things”. “Glue your mixes with compression”. “EQ cuts are better than boosts”.

Well, I think I might be perverse because sometimes I get a kick out of the times deliberately and obtusely NOT doing what common wisdom would think right.

So, what mad thing have you done in the past that you imagine people would wrinkle their noses at but really worked for you?

Just to get the ball rolling;

  • “When recording guitar, use less gain, less bass and more mids than you think you need.” I have lost count of the number of times the answer to my problems has involved cranking the gain, scooping the mids, and doing a war dance while the entire building shudders under my colossal maelstrom of noise.

Fixed that for you. :wink:

One thing that I have always appreciated a lot about this community is the willingness to challenge conventional wisdom if the material demands it. (There was also some contrariness for the sake of being contrary on the part of a few, but that just added spice to the gumbo for me!) I don’t have anything to offer right off the top of my head here (being still in the thick of trying to develop good instincts in recording myself) but I’ll bet a lot of folks here do! Looking forward to reading what comes up. :helicopter:

Here’s a backward-forwards-inside-out for you…
When discussing conventional wisdom and common knowledge it is only a matter of time before someone states that you should never do thing out of rote or “just because you always do it” or think you “have to”.
But in the real world, we all come up with workflows that work for us and I’m sure folks that actually make a living at this almost “need” to rely on common workflow solutions to stay ahead of the curve.
I believe that experience and knowing “why” you are doing what you do is key. You can still achieve “new and fresh” using your “bag of tricks” you just have to pay attention…
Think about “the good old days” with consoles and tape. You had a bunch of normaled connections and a patch bay. Once you got the hang of it, you’d make less and less patches and knew which strip had the best eq for the snare and which one was the quietest for vocals…
So sure… don’t do anything without having some understanding “why” and don’t do it just because you might thing that you’re “supposed to”. But by the same token, don’t NOT do something because “it’s been done before” or because you “always do that”… :slight_smile:
Have fun

I think the old “EQ cuts are better than EQ boosts” is no longer as true as it could have been back in the analog days. Because gain staging is less important in a DAW with 32bits and lots of headroom, I don’t think this applies as strongly nowadays. So that’s a rule I will easily break without thinking too much about it, as long as the end results sounds good, then it’s all good…

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[quote=“rjwillow, post:3, topic:667”]
I believe that experience and knowing “why” you are doing what you do is key.
[/quote]This is the bottom line. Try whatever you want to, break whatever ‘rules’ you want to, as long as you have a clear ‘vision’ of what you are trying to achieve, because if you stick doggedly to the task, you will get there eventually. In the words of Stephen Covey: “Begin with the end in mind”.

If you’re just blindly twiddling knobs hoping to come up with something that sounds good it’s all going to end up in tears.

As for the ‘conventional wisdom’ described in the OP, here’s one of my perennial faourites:

You can’t use an SM57 on an acoustic guitar.
Just fucking watch me pal.


This!! Every word of this! This is also true in a live situation. But you nailed it!

I haven’t heard that one, but I would say that every single guitarist in the entire world records with too much gain. Me included.

Do what you like with bass and mids, that can be corrected after the fact, but gain? Not a chance.

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It wasn’t until I really started listening closely to some classic “hard rock” albums when I realized just how little gain they were using. When I started doing this, it was nearly instantly that I started getting a lot of compliments on my tone etc. it was an extremely valuable lesson

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It wasn’t until I joined this community back at RR that I learned to listen critically enough to have these kinds of realizations. @AJ113 Adrian was one who opened my eyes to the fact that my favorite rock recordings had waaaaay less bass than I thought they did, for example, and @ptalbot Patrick got me listening critically to ambience and “room” sound. There are many more examples. Things like that were real revelations to me.

Edit: That article Andrew @ColdRoomStudio has, on “cloth ears”, also reinforced some of these realizations, but I didn’t read that for the first time til later in the game. Just for clarification… :smile:

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Split ur Lead Vox into 3 Copies: 1 Natural, 1 Bright and Compressed, 1 Grainy…automate the 3 throughout the mix to make it POP #protips

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 24, 2012

Chris Lord Alge: I always do an automation pass w my drum faders to keep them dynamic in the mix #protips

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 25, 2012

The best mastering engineers know when to tweak a mix, & when to leave it alone. Listen before you dive in with the EQ or Comp #protips

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 25, 2012

Compressing your reverb returns a bit can thicken them up in a cool way, try it #protips

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 25, 2012

Following your delay with a small reverb at 40% wet can mellow it out, and create even more depth #protips

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 26, 2012

Digital Peak Limiters are effective for transparently taming overly dynamic acoustic guitars. Try it #protips

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 29, 2012

Want a brighter snare? EQ some top into the overheads… you’ll get there quicker than just eqing the close mic alone #protips

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) May 2, 2012

Dull Vocal Recording? Gently pull out the mud frequencies, compress hard, then add some upper mid eq 4 clarity & air, then De-Ess #protip

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) May 4, 2012

Don’t be afraid to extend the bandwidth of the eq to it’s maximum width… wider smaller boosts tend to sound more musical #protips

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 28, 2012

Carving off some top and bottom of background vox helps them blend in with the lead vox without sounding too defined. Try it #protips

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) May 9, 2012

Wide Bass? Copy Bass to stereo track, hi pass till about 300Hz, distort a bit, send to wide chorus, mix in SUBTLY with dry Bass #protip

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) May 17, 2012

I’ll say it again. Don’t eq your close mic drums until you’ve checked their phase coherency with the overhead mics #protip

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) May 23, 2012

Before you touch the eq or compressor knob, make sure ur brain knows what you intend to do with it, & how it may enhance the mix #protip

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) May 25, 2012

Mellow out ur vocal delays: attenuate using a hi shelf eq at 8k by about 3db, then follow it into a medium room verb at 20% wet #protip

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) May 27, 2012

I always recommend eqing drum overheads and room mics WITHOUT soloing them since they really impact the entire drum sound #protip

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) May 29, 2012

Airy Pop Vox: Hi Pass till 100Hz, boost 12khz 5db, then compress hard @12db, then soak up the sibilance with a strong de-esser #protip

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) June 15, 2012

People like a dynamic song… automate the master fader a db or so to enhance sections, especially the hooks! #protip

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) May 31, 2012

Over-sibilant vocals make music very harsh when played loud. De-essing properly ensures clarity without being ear piercing! #protip

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) June 18, 2012

Simple kick drum and bass guitar balancing act: cut a small notch of 80Hz in bass, boost a little 80Hz in kick. It WORKS #protip

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) June 25, 2012

I almost always automate my master fader up 1.5db on the chorus of the song to help it really pop out #protip

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) July 3, 2012

Rock Kick Trick: Copy kick, filter out deep lows and highs, crank wide bell at 2khz, compress 10db, mix in subtly!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) July 21, 2012

Rock Snare Attitude: load a ringy snare sample, compress and distort mildly, send to stereo verb, add lows, mix it in subtly to the kit!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) July 21, 2012

Vintage Vox: Attenuate top w/ 12k shelf, boost mids @ 3.5k, mix in parallel distorted vox subtly, use long predelay’d compressed verb

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) July 24, 2012

Ultimate AIRY Vox w/o being harsh: Copy vox, crank 10khz shelf, then follow with heavy de-essing, heavy compression, mix in to get AIR!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) July 23, 2012

Vox Delay Tip: If you time out your delay to the tempo of the song, it can add depth without being audible. Start with a quarter note!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) July 26, 2012

Dry Vox with “life”: Use a stereo pitch shifter, left side 9cents down 20ms, right side 9cents up 40ms, mix in very subtly!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) July 25, 2012

No matter how much eq or compression you put on your snare… if it’s not in phase with the overheads, it won’t get punchy!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) August 22, 2012

Vocal not POPPING out of the mix? Copy it, compress it hard, add some distortion, add some upper mids, mix in SUBTLY with original vox!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) August 27, 2012

Fat Chorus Guitars: Send guitars to buss. Put compressor on it. During chorus, automate up 2db so that compressor kicks in & fattens em!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) August 31, 2012

Explosive Poppy Snare: Copy snare, compress heavy with fast attack and release to bring up sustain, gate the tail off, mix in subtly

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) October 22, 2012

Thick Vox: Use stereo pitch shifter 10ms delay and 10 cents up and down on each side, filter off top end, mix in subtly!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) November 9, 2012

Bigger Chorus Vox: Copy vocal and compress and distort… mix it in SUBTLY as the hook of the song comes in!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) December 13, 2012

EZ Parallel Vox Compression: Copy vox, compress one heavy, and during mix, automate the dry vs compressed faders so vox breathes!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) March 11, 2013

The Big THUMP Snare? Medium tuned Snare w/ big hitter…during mix copy it and crank Lo Shelf at 100Hz 10db! Now compress 5db & mix in!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) March 5, 2013

Make your vox pop out of the mix: Copy vox, push wide 4khz bell, compress extremely hard w/ fast release, mix in subtly for extra POP!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 24, 2013

Drums need punch & sustain to be BIG in a mix. For punch, little bits of slow attack and medium release compression & upper mid EQ…

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) June 3, 2013

Use a compressor with your ears, not your eyes. I’ll pin the meters on my DRAGON on vox to make them really slam through the mix.

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) June 12, 2013

Super Bright Airy but not harsh POP VOCAL? Crank 10khz hi shelf, follow into compressor with high gain reduction, into heavy de-esser!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) June 20, 2013

Dynamic & Deep VOX: Try a subtle 1/4 note delay on verse & then bring in a 1/2 note delay w/ feedback on hook. Mellow the delay w/ EQ!

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) June 6, 2013

The faster the song, the less sub lows you’ll want on the kick. Speed Metal? I’ll hi pass up to 80Hz if needed.

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 23, 2012

Sizzly Snare Verb: Copy bottom snare trk, filter out lows to 600Hz, crank high shelf at 10Khz, send to nice verb. Nice on ballads.

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 19, 2012

Putting a rolled up tape at the VERY edge of the snare drum can dampen the ring slightly without choking the hell out of it.

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 19, 2012

If you close your eyes & listen to the mix your brain forces your sense of hearing to heighten. Try it every once and a while.

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) April 17, 2012

Sometimes it’s not about adding more eq or compression or trickery… it’s just getting the right instrument balance #simple&effective

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) March 28, 2012

Nothing wakes up a kick drum better than making sure its in phase with the overhead mics #there‘smylowend

— Steven Slate (@Slateproaudio) March 7, 2012

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Yeah, but they used exactly the right amount of gain for their music. What if they’d set their amps like that, then went on the internet and read “use less gain than you think you need”, turned the gain down and not had enough, resulting in Back in Black sounding like Nick Drake?

Yes, I’m being facetious. :guardsman: :nerd: I did have a similar realization myself!

But, I think it’s important to claim ownership of your choices - I feel like a strong, independent woman (quite a feat, let me tell you, given that I’m a feeble man) when put the gain exactly where I want it to be. I guess it’s just about trusting your instincts and ears rather than a rule of thumb.

It’s probably also an interesting aside that the amps a lot of these classic rock artists were using didn’t have lots of gain - take a JTM45 and crank it, it’s not going to be a buzzsaw. A lot of the old guard used signal boosters of varying kinds to get more gain than the amps would give them alone.


To a degree, but we don’t really hear what it actually sounds like until it’s played back. The brain naturally cuts out all the stuff it doesn’t want to hear, like high gain fizz for example, its only when we hear it coming back off playback that all the unwanted stuff suddenly becomes audible.

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Confession time:

  • I EQ in solo. A LOT. CIW (conventional internet wisdom) says no, but usually, I know the tones that will work in the context of the mix, but crafting those tones means actually being able to hear them in detail.

  • I often use presets. Hey, if it works, it works! Sure, I’ll often tweak and customise them to get where I want to go, but I feel absolutely no shame.

As I understand it, a lot of old-style analogue processors with one or two controls were practically a box of presets, so I’m just continuing an age old tradition! :blush:

Yay! I do both of these things a LOT. Of course, I switch back and forth between solo and context when doing any adjustment, but I have no shame about adjusting EQ (or anything else) in solo.

Makes my musical day, this does :wink: /Yoda

I’ve never seen anyone say not to do that…who’s telling people they shouldn’t? lol

Just about everyone: :slight_smile: For example:



[quote=“ColdRoomStudio, post:13, topic:667”]
I EQ in solo. A LOT.
[/quote]I EQ pretty much exclusively in solo.

[quote=“ColdRoomStudio, post:13, topic:667”]
I often use presets. Hey, if it works, it works!
[/quote]Me too. Why piss about with all the settings when someone has already gone to the time and trouble to do it for you?

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Ok. I’m with you guys. I EQ in solo too. @Cirrus, @Chordwainer, @AJ113, @holster and everyone else who ‘confessed to this’ surely understands the importance of listening within context. I don’t think anyone here abuses their solo button. In other words, its perfectly normal to do your surgery such as gating, de-essing, and filtering in solo, then defeat solos. Then activate solos again to build a drum mix and fine tune bass. Then defeat solos. Then group the backup vocals, fine tune, then defeat solos.

haha…funny. Joe Guilder. The guy who wrote that first article. He used to be my ‘sales engineer/weasel’ at Sweetwater. Not saying he’s a bad guy or anything…just funny how small the ‘indie’ recording scene can be at times lol.

I differ from most of you on the presets though. But I think has more to do with the way I work and what specifically I’m working on. But I feel strongly that there’s nothing superior or macho about ‘not using your presets because you’re so cool you just don’t need lowly presets’. Some guys tout this around as if ‘real engineers’ don’t use presets. I think real engineers use whatever the hell works!


This right here! I’m in violent agreement. I pretty much always start with a preset on everything I use, but then I also pretty much always tweak it at least a little. Best of both worlds IMO!

[quote=“Jonathan, post:18, topic:667”]
In other words, its perfectly normal to do your surgery such as gating, de-essing, and filtering in solo, then defeat solos. Then activate solos again to build a drum mix and fine tune bass. Then defeat solos. Then group the backup vocals, fine tune, then defeat solos.
[/quote]I don’t think anybody’s said they do all that stuff mate. That sounds like part of your own worklflow.