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Ensuring You’re Recording At The Proper Levels

You're probably tracking too hot. Here's why...

Editor’s note: Be sure to check out this article for an alternative viewpoint on this topic.

Provided by Massive Mastering

I’m going to try to keep this very “foolproof”. This article was born out of the rantings of hundreds and hundreds of posts on a dozen or more audio forums exploding like a volcano recorded with lots of headroom.

I hope to instill a basic understanding of why certain trends and common beliefs are just plain bad.

And by the time you’re done reading, and perhaps doing a little experimentation based on this, you won’t need me to prove it. You’ll know it yourself.

Is this a “miracle cure” for bad recordings?

Normally, I’d say no.

But with the dozens and dozens — easily now into hundreds of e-mails, phone calls, letters, forum posts and other forms of communication I’ve received about how this advice has completely changed a persons view of recording recording, I figured this information is worth sharing with a wider audience.

The sad part is this should be common sense. To anyone that grew up “on tape” it probably is. To those brought up in 1’s and 0’s, it might not be so obvious.

So, if you’ve been struggling with recordings that sound “weak” or “small” or too dense or “just not ‘pro’ enough” then please, read on. If this is about you, you might think differently soon.

As a mastering engineer, I work on recordings from pretty much every level of experience. A few years ago, I noticed something unusual.

“Ultra rookie” recordings, that is those made by people with little or no experience, sounded fine. They didn’t know any better, so they didn’t have enough rope to hang themselves with.

Then, at the other end of the spectrum, “pro” recordings sounded fine. They know what they’re doing and/or are using gear with obscene amounts of usable headroom (explained later).

The “middle of the road” engineers with a year or two  — or much, much more experience —  are the recordings that sounded “small” and spectrally challenged. So after quizzing these people over months and months, I came up with the following conclusion…

You’re probably recording too hot.

And it’s absolutely ruining recording after recording after recording. And it’s the simplest thing in the universe to correct.

I know, I know – “It says in the manual to record as hot as you can without clipping.” Well, I’m going to flat-out call that B.S. and I’m going to back it up with a simple (if not somewhat time-consuming) experiment.

Also as a mastering engineer, let’s get something straight — I don’t like the “loudness war” going on.

However, I’m as guilty as the next in contributing to it. I can’t fight it, as much as I try. Hopefully it’ll be over some day. Unfortunately, with the quest for loud, there are a lot of engineers out there shooting themselves in the foot before they even know how to aim.

They think that tracking loud and mixing loud contributes to a louder recording after the mastering phase. This is absolutely untrue and it’s generally the best way to make sure that your recording will not have the “loudness potential” of the average commercial release.

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Clean recordings, or those made with low distortion and good spectral balance, are the ones that handle the “abuse” of the mastering phase with flying colors.

This article isn’t intended to give you some secret way of making louder recordings. But it will almost undoubtedly give you the ammo needed to make better recordings. And those better and cleaner recordings are the ones that can be louder recordings in the end.

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