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Recording Experiments That Didn’t Quite Go As Planned

Lessons learned along the creative path...

By j. hall June 24, 2019

Image courtesy of Free-Photos

Reading stories about all the recording “heroes” of yesterday and today gets old. These guys and gals never seem to do anything wrong.

Every single thing they try always works? Yeah, right.

Let’s focus instead on something I like to call Failure 101. A studio colleague and I have always agreed that it’s more interesting to look at experiments that totally failed. We’re not recording heroes – just a couple of guys not scared to turn knobs, push buttons, move mics, and clip the 2 mix.

First – a failure not really of the audio kind, but possibly the biggest failure we’ve had. In the early days we came across a project to record a “garage” rock band. We hung out with the band a few times to iron out the details. Along comes the session date and we begin recording.

Cutting to the chase: After spending two weekends slaving away on five songs we still have a major mess to polish.

We never once gave the band the justice they deserved, and instead, were more concerned with making some sort of “hi-fi” recording, completely overlooking the band’s vision and what was sonically best for them.

The performances were stale, the sounds didn’t fit the songs, and most importantly, we lost our communication lines with the band and killed their spirit.

We learned the biggest lesson on that session: The song is boss.

Low these many years since; we’ve never stopped trying things with mics, compressors, speakers, synths, etc. Along the way we’ve collected some pretty good stories of the “crash and burn.”

We had a pair of Earthworks TC30k microphones that went with us everywhere. One particular session, we thought we’d try some “more interesting” ways to mic a snare drum.

After an hour and many mics, I had the great idea of placing one TC-30k inside the sound hole of the snare drum. Now this was not easy to do – sure the mic is very small, and yes, it can take enormous amounts of SPL.

But think of the other factors involved. When you hit a snare drum, it moves. It doesn’t matter how secure it’s attached to the stand, it will move. And when we’re talking about a condenser placed to the millimeter or smaller, movement at all is very bad.

Our anxiety level increased a bit when we had a vision of the drummer accidentally hitting the mic. In this scenario the mic would actually bend if hit hard enough (remember, only a small portion of the mic is actually inside the drum).

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