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3 Misconceptions About Modern Recording Techniques

June 22, 2017


There are a lot of fears and anxieties regarding modern recording techniques. Most musicians want a very pure, authentic recording experience, and a lot of bands are terrified of "cheating" with digital recording tools. The best part is this: If you work with a good producer, you can have BOTH an authentic recording experience and all the benefits of digital recording.



1. "Are you just going to replace my drums with samples?"

This is a big one, so I figured I'd start here. Replacing drums with samples has become somewhat commonplace in genres like metal and pop punk, especially when working with producers who don't have a proper setup to record live drums. This can make a drummer feel worthless; like they didn't even need to be there. They want to have their performance on a recording just as much as every other member of the band!


But for a lot of musicians, their mindset is all about the end result. Even if their performance isn't on the recording, as long as they get the sound they want then they're happy. I respect this mentality, but there's no need to settle for programmed drums. Fully-programmed drums can have a 2-dimensional, lifeless quality to them that can sound aggressive and appropriate for certain genres (Metalcore, Pop Punk, etc.), but even in those genres, you still can't top the authentic sound of a live drum recording. So how can we meet in the middle? Simply by blending the two!


Blending a small amount of samples into the live drum recording is a great way to get the consistency and punchiness of programmed drums, while still having the core of the drums be a true live performance. This not only sounds better, but makes your band sound unique and genuine having your own drumming style in the song.



2. "Don't use Autotune! I don't want to sound like T-Pain!" 

The fear of pitch-correction in recording, especially younger bands, is alarming. There seems to be very little education out there as to the difference of "Auto-Tune" and "Pitch Correction". 


Auto-Tune is how you get that Top 40, glitchy sounding effect that T-Pain and every metalcore band in 2008 used. Think of it more as an effect than a legitimate editing technique. Pitch correction is a completely different subject. It is not an effect; it is a form of editing. Just like if a drummer played a snare slightly off beat and we wanted to nudge it into place, if a vocalist hits  a note that's slightly flat, we'll want to bring that up to pitch so it's not clashing with the other melodic instruments in the mix. It's very subtle and transparent, and it's a technique used on almost every modern album you listen to. 


Is this cheating? No, because a recording is not a "live performance", it is a representation of a song that you only get one chance to do. The goal of a recording is to get everything sound flawless, otherwise why not just record your live show instead? There is a form of editing on every instrument (drums get time-aligned to the grid, hits get replaced with better ones, guitar notes get copy/pasted, etc.). This is not in an effort to "fake" your performance, it's simply a method of giving the listener the best representation of your music. 



3. "I don't want to record anything that we can't play live."

This is a fair argument, but a lot of the time it's difficult to accomplish this goal while still getting that "larger than life" sound. The truth is that most listeners won't care (or even notice) that there are layers of strings, synths, backup vocals, and other elements that won't exist live. That's because these are all supporting elements, not focal elements. 


Elements of focus would be drums, bass, guitars, and lead vocals in Rock music. That's generally what your audience is listening for. But in a lot of great records you listen to, there are tons of layers of supporting elements like string pads, stacks of background vocals, auxiliary lead guitars, and more. The general mentality behind this is "You don't hear it when it's there, but you'll miss it when it's gone". All this means is that these tracks are tucked under those elements of focus, giving your mix depth and keeping the listener interested (whether they consciously hear it or not.) 


I'll repeat what I said before that a recording is not a live performance, it is a representation of your song. It's a product in itself. Therefore viewing it as "cheating" is only holding you back from what could be an amazing recording full of depth and attention grabbing elements. 


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