Sadly, like everything else in life, everything doesn’t always goes as planned when making a record. Throughout my years as a record producer, mixer and mastering engineer I have been the person who is called to save the day when things go wrong with a recording. Unfortunately, many times when I get this call, the solution the management and act has determined is the cause of the problem isn’t always the one that will save this record from being an unlistenable mess.
In order to know what to do when a record goes wrong often takes years of experience and an acute understanding of the process of making records. Thankfully, there are a few common mishaps that can easily point you in the direction to go, to make sure you properly rescue your record.
When You Need To Retrack Your Record
The worst-case scenario you can have when making a record is it being recorded poorly and you need to start all over again or re-track some elements of the record in order to get the result you would want. These are some calling cards for needing to re-track your record.
- Sloppy – If you feel your record as a whole is sloppy and offtime, it was probably tracked with little scrutiny. If it wasn’t recorded to a click track and you feel the rhythm tracks and the feel is off, you will need to start from scratch. If the record was recorded to a click, it’s possible that a good editor can reign in the performances and get the recording to work again.
- Something Is Off – Maybe the vocals or bass is out of tune or a couple instruments lack the proper voicings in power. If this is the case, for relatively little money you should be able to find a competent producer to help you get back on track, by only re-recording an instrument or two in a song and leaving the majority of what was recorded intact. If you feel there’s a few elements off, it can often be great to just get your songs to another producer and get a new set of ears on it.
- The Feel Is Off – Sometimes, you cannot deny that the emotion of a song wasn’t captured properly. The demo may have had a better feel or the songs just sound a million times beter in the practice space. This is usually in the performances, but many uneducated ears will blame the mix. While the mix can occasionally be the culprit; often times the feel, tempo or emotion was sucked out in the recording. There is no way to mix this back in. It’s often best to take it to a competent producer/mixer and see what they recommend to revive the tracks.
When You Need To Remix A Record
A great mix on a great song can really take it to a new level. Often times, the mix is blamed when the recording is off and performances need to be retracked. Before I outlined when to blame the retracking, but the mix can be a problem. Here is how to know when it is.
- Rough Was Better – When you feel like the rough mix was better, it often means the mixer sucked the life out of the track. Have the mixer give it another approach and perhaps give them some songs you feel they could aim for. If this doesn’t work try having some other mixers do “test mixes.” This is an affordable way to try out a new mixer or 3 and find out whether the potential of your song is being reached. By hearing what a few other people can do with your song can be an affordable way (often only $200-$400 per test mix or even less, if the mixer really wants the job and there are many more songs to be mixed on the project) to get a perspective on whether you have the best mix possible for your record.
- Something Just Isn’t Gelling – Sometimes the mixer just can’t find the sound you want. It’s very easy to lose perspective on a mix after hearing it in so many rough forms beforehand. This doesn’t mean who you worked with is incompetent, many top producers hire outside mixers to bring a fresh perspective to a song. If you feel like there’s something wrong and the mix isn’t 90% of the way there it may be time to get a fresh perspective.
When It’s Time To Get A New Master
Many people will hope a master can save a bad mix, but sadly if you feel your mix is a C on the letter scale, it will usually only make it a C+ or at best a B. If you have bad feeling about your mix, remember great mastering only slightly improves it. With that said, things can go wrong in the mastering process.
- The Life Is Gone – There are far too many mastering engineers with big credits out there who have bad taste. While their taste may have worked for someone elses record, it may not be on par with what you want. Trust your ears, if you don’t feel the mastering job you got back sounds better than your mixes, have the mastering engineer re-think it or get a test master from someone else. Far too many mastering engineers push the volume too far or just clip in an unmusical way. Give it to someone else or provide your engineer with examples of what you would like, but trust yourself if you don’t like what you get.
- It Sounds Worse – Sadly, many times I get back masters from mastering engineers I don’t trust, my mix sounds worse. While they may have expensive toys, what they came up with isn’t the band’s vision or my own. Don’t be afraid to say it sounds worse. Figure out what you don’t like and do not let this crucial last part of the recording ruin what you wanted by trusting that cause their title says “master” that they know what they are doing.