As a result of the many long arduous hours spent in conversations with the musicians I’ve worked with, I’ve compiled this list to help answer some of the most frequently asked questions that I have come across in regard to why finding the ‘right sound’ isn’t quite as simple as it seems.
- You are unique- To put it plainly, no matter how much you want to sound like your favorite musician or singer, you never will. I can’t stress this enough. Even if it was possible to replicate everything from using the same setups to recording in the same studios using the same Engineers, its just never going to happen because you aren’t them. In the world of music this is a GOOD THING. Just like you can’t sound like someone else, no one else can sound like you. Its the same for bands. No two bands sound the same. Changing out one band member changes the whole dynamic of the band. Learning to embrace your uniqueness and what you sound like is the best way to become the best musician that you can be and pretty soon people will be wondering how to get your sound instead of the other way around.
- Your gear is unique- Just like you, your gear is unique too. Electronics and instruments may start in the same factory but over time the small imperfections in the materials as well as where your gear has been can change the sound of a piece of gear over time. This is especially true of anything made out of wood as over time there are physical changes that take place. It may not seem that obvious but most guitars and amps out there have also have controls and setting that contribute to that uniqueness. I can record the same guitar through the same amp with ten different guitar players and they are all going to have different settings which in turn will change the sound of the recording. But we can get close. If there is a particular sound that you are going for, sit down with your Engineer before you come into the studio. They can make suggestions to help you get closer to the result that you are looking for.
- Get the right gear- This may sound a bit harsh but no matter how much I want a Fender guitar to sound like a Gibson or a Gretsch its just never going to happen. The same goes for b brand gear. An Epiphone Les Paul played through a solid state amp is going to sound entirely different that a Gibson Les Paul played through a tube amp. If there is a certain sound you’re trying to emulate the best way I know how to do that is to start with the exact same gear because nothing I can do as an Engineer can make one instrument sound like another.
- Know what you sound like- Have you ever heard your voice played back on something and thought to yourself, “Is that what I really sound like?” This happens all the time when people come into the studio. It happens the most with singers but it still happens with every instrument I’ve ever recorded. To make things worse people often have very specific ways that they want to sound at the end of the day. What most people don’t realize is that as a Recording Engineer my job is to accurately record what something sounds like, not to record something and make it sound like something completely different in the mixing stage. People often times have a hard time coming to grips with the reality of what things actually sound like and they often get frustrated with the Mix Engineer in the mixing stage because things don’t sound like the ideal that they have in their head. Part of the reason that I suggest doing demos of songs is to address this phenomena before coming into the studio to record. It lets people adjust to what they really sound like as opposed to what they think they sound like. It also gives them time to adjust their sound if they need to before wasting time and money getting results that they aren’t going to be satisfied with.
-S. F. Shields
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