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Author Topic: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy  (Read 10997 times)

copperx

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One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« on: February 28, 2006, 01:00:06 am »


Most of the questions I had were answered on the "documentary recording vs. band self-skewed image" thread, I just have one more question:

Where does the band judgement of "good" stops and becomes the engineer judgment?

For example, if I'm recording and feel like the bass guitar fluctuates a bit, I may apply compression. Do you ask the band, "hey, does it sound better now"?

How about a reverb level on the vocal? Should the band be "allowed" say in such matters? not because of artistic considerations, but because you may have a better ear for that.

I once worked with a band and they wanted a LOT of reverb on a vocal, effectively swamping it in mud. I just said, "I think it's a LOT for your style, but what do you think?" They said it was OK. Some days later they came (after they had their CD) and said that the reverb was way way too much. Probably they didn't know my monitors?

What I'm trying to say is that the band doesn't know how your room sounds. How your monitoring system sounds. So Steve, where do the band decisions stop counting?

You know, I once played back a drum recording to a band with overheads obviously and severely out of phase, and asked their opinion. What did they say? "It sounds great!".

Ok, I understand that as an engineer I should take care 100% of the technical details, such as mic phase.
But what about something that is on the technical/artistic border, such as compression and effect levels? is it the band's call or my call?
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maxim

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2006, 02:38:43 am »

too many cooks...
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copperx

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2006, 03:51:16 am »

maxim wrote on Tue, 28 February 2006 07:38

too many cooks...


Are you saying it's 100% the band's call?

I really like Steve's philosophy, and I would want to put it in practice. But where do you draw a line? it's easier to see it when tracking, but when mixing it gets a little hairier I think.
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electrical

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2006, 05:21:12 am »

copperx wrote on Tue, 28 February 2006 01:00


For example, if I'm recording and feel like the bass guitar fluctuates a bit, I may apply compression. Do you ask the band, "hey, does it sound better now"?

First, I would explain my concern to the band, and if necessary, show them the difference between the compressed sound and the straight sound. If they preferred one or the other, we would do what they preferred.

Quote:

How about a reverb level on the vocal? Should the band be "allowed" say in such matters? not because of artistic considerations, but because you may have a better ear for that.

There wouldn't be reverb on the vocal unless the band wanted it. Given that, if they want more, they get more. If they decide against it later, then they get to have less. It's their record.

Quote:

I once worked with a band and they wanted a LOT of reverb on a vocal, effectively swamping it in mud. I just said, "I think it's a LOT for your style, but what do you think?" They said it was OK. Some days later they came (after they had their CD) and said that the reverb was way way too much. Probably they didn't know my monitors?

They just made a mistake. If they had heard it later and loved it, it wouldn't have been a mistake. I don't have the predictive wisdom to tell what someone will think in the future, and I think the best course of action is to let someone make the record he wants while it's being made. Nobody will know if the decisions are all long-term durable until a long time passes. Don't pretend to be able to see into the future.

Quote:

What I'm trying to say is that the band doesn't know how your room sounds. How your monitoring system sounds. So Steve, where do the band decisions stop counting?

The band's decisions always count. Always. Your uncertainty comes from the presumption that there is something the band shouldn't be allowed to decide, and you're trying to find out where to draw that line. I say don't draw it. Let them have exactly what they want, to the best of your ability.

Quote:

You know, I once played back a drum recording to a band with overheads obviously and severely out of phase, and asked their opinion. What did they say? "It sounds great!".

You're not supposed to try to trick the band with esoterica. Don't do things you think are fundamentally wrong just to see if they'll notice.

Quote:

But what about something that is on the technical/artistic border, such as compression and effect levels? is it the band's call or my call?


If there is a choice to be made, let the band make the choice. I can't make it any more simple. Much of the time you can proceed normally, but when you come to a fork in the road, you have to let the band make the call. If the band wants something, give it to them. If they don't like something, don't do it. If they prefer one thing over another, give them the thing they prefer.
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copperx

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2006, 07:14:23 am »


Thank you Steve, much appreciated.

You know, I had been thinking a lot about what's what the artist wants vs what's what I want, as an engineer before I read/heard about your approach to engineering. I loved the idea of audiophile recording, where you just set a couple of mikes and let the orchestra do its thing. But then there was this question of making records sound like "records", like the stuff on the radio. Made my head hurt trying to take a stance on the matter. Your approach really seals the mental fissure that I had ... the craving for that "documental", a snapshot of a band's evolution.

Thinking about it, much of what most engineers do is to impart a sonic imprint of their preconceived notions of "what is right" to the artist's work. Slipperman says recording engineers are "secondary sound transduction ARTISTS". Artists? I don't know ... behaving like an "artist" when engineering someone else's work is, I think, the sign of a failed musician converted into an engineer. Of course, I've done it, and it feels GREAT to twist someone's else work to fit your notion of "good sound" or "good engineering". But then you begin to doubt: "hmm that record I did two years ago sounds dated, that distorted vocal sound was my choice, not the band's, perhaps I should leave it clean the next time ..." I would feel better saying "hmm that distorted vocal sounds dated, but that's what the band thought was good for them at the time." It becomes a piece of history. I get it. I would feel much better.

One last question, and perhaps you don't face this frequently at your shop, but what would you do if a band comes, brings a CD of of a a hypercompressed record and tells you: "we want to sound like that". I'm guessing that you'll do it? We're not trying to force "documental"-style records to everybody anyways, are we?

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CRonan

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2006, 11:55:01 am »

I have loved all the posts on this topic.  Thanks so much for continuing to be so specific and helpful Steve.  I have come face to face with this problem often and as copperx said it just helps to keep my head straight to know that it is not my philosophy, with my limited history in recording, but one with a proven track record.  I find that this approach also forces me to do my job with a focus on quality I may let slip if I knew I had the final word on how I could "manipulate" things latter.  It also surprises me how often something a band hears "works" later in the process that I may have killed if I had the final word.  Some bands don't know how to handle having the final word, but as Steve says, you can always express concerns or offer help.  
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electrical

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2006, 02:34:18 pm »

copperx wrote on Tue, 28 February 2006 07:14

what would you do if a band comes, brings a CD of of a a hypercompressed record and tells you: "we want to sound like that".

That simple sentence, "we want to sound like that," is actually the beginning of a conversation you should have with the band. What do they like about it, specifically? Is it the balance of the band, is it certain instrument sounds, what? I have had this conversation many times, and nobody ever says "I like the way it sounds hypercompressed."

Find out what they really like about it, and try to get those elements to meet their approval. Don't get hung-up on the engineering aspect of it: "This record sounds compressed, so they must like compression." Get to the root of their appreciation of a certain recording rather than trying to mimic it.
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Slipperman

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2006, 04:56:11 pm »

copperx wrote on Tue, 28 February 2006 07:14


Thinking about it, much of what most engineers do is to impart a sonic imprint of their preconceived notions of "what is right" to the artist's work. Slipperman says recording engineers are "secondary sound transduction ARTISTS". Artists? I don't know ... behaving like an "artist" when engineering someone else's work is, I think, the sign of a failed musician converted into an engineer. Of course, I've done it, and it feels GREAT to twist someone's else work to fit your notion of "good sound" or "good engineering". But then you begin to doubt: "hmm that record I did two years ago sounds dated, that distorted vocal sound was my choice, not the band's, perhaps I should leave it clean the next time ..." I would feel better saying "hmm that distorted vocal sounds dated, but that's what the band thought was good for them at the time." It becomes a piece of history. I get it. I would feel much better.



Well.... As long as I'm getting quoted for my cockamamie theories... I'll say this...

Do what ya think is conscionable.

If you are not comfortable putting your idea of how things should sound on a clients mixes.

Don't do it.

Steve's viewpoint represents the exact polar opposite of mine on this subject.

And I understand and respect it wholeheartedly.

It works for him and his clients.

End of story.

Me.... on the other hand...

I feel I'm every bit as much as an "artist" as any of the loomers who bash and bang away on their shit and expect me to make it come out of little boxes with cones in 'em with some degree of uniformity and lucidity.

And just as a side note: Not fer nuthing...  I sure as fuck ain't a "failed musician". Last gig I played was in front of 5,000 or so kids in North Germany who knew Every fucking word of the songs we were playing.

It was 2000. I was 38. A quarter century of conjuring the devil behind the skins. HOHOHO. Ignorance is indeed bliss.


Anyhoo.

Nope. I was the kid who stole the 1/4" Wollensak(still got it) from the school AV room in 5th grade to record anything and everything that moved or made a noise. In my late 20's I decided it was time to let my 'career' as a musician STOP INTERFERING with my first love.

Twisting knobs.

And twist I fucking will.

Twist until they love it.
And refuse to use anybody else...



Twist until they hate it.
And would rather endure a hot lead enema than listen to another of my mix abominations.




Twist until they go.... "meh"... and go find somebody more exciting...


Whatever.

Eventually we all choose our clientelle thru the way we hear.

Even Steve Albini.

It's unavoidable.





In the end:

I CAME TO MAKE A JOYOUS NOISE.

Not to sit on my fucking hands while somebody else does...

And just because I sit behind an audio desk and not a drumkit these days.... I gotta be a fucking "RECORDIST"?

My balls.

That works for Steve...... but it SUCKS for me.

I'll be fucking shit up until they kill me or run me outta the business.

Anybody who doesn't dig it is encouraged to go elsewhere with the absolute best of both my regards, and wishes.

There's room for all of us out here.

Best to all,

SM.
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Harry Mooseknuckle

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2006, 05:23:24 pm »

Being flexible and being able to get your mind around different perspectives doesn't mean sacrificing the art. Our job as an engineer is to be an artist- and it is to recognize that your job is to enhance and help the art that the band/artist/producer are in the process of creating. You work with them, you are inspired by them, you help them- that is your art. In the process, you confirm  that what you are doing to help the art is also in alignment with the band/artist/producer. Harmonic alignment of artistic vision. That should not keep one from being creative- if it does, he is in the wrong session.

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Slipperman

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2006, 05:56:47 pm »

Harry Mooseknuckle wrote on Tue, 28 February 2006 17:23

Being flexible and being able to get your mind around different perspectives doesn't mean sacrificing the art. Our job as an engineer is to be an artist- and it is to recognize that your job is to enhance and help the art that the band/artist/producer are in the process of creating. You work with them, you are inspired by them, you help them- that is your art. In the process, you confirm  that what you are doing to help the art is also in alignment with the band/artist/producer. Harmonic alignment of artistic vision. That should not keep one from being creative- if it does, he is in the wrong session.




This is a wonderful series of observations.

Just a great way of looking at it.

Every once in a while.... ya make something you feel is great... But... the bands not hearing it... Ya back off and give them something they can live with.

Happens. Can't get freaky about it.

Only time THAT scenario sucks, is when most of the people involved with the record call ya up over the course of the next year to tell you they've been listening to the original "rejected" mixes and they are genius.

Much better than the version in the stores with your name plastered on the back.

HOHOHO.

Ouch.

Ironically. It never feels like vindication.... It just feels like mortality.

Ahh me.

Bedlam.

SM.
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maxim

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2006, 07:26:50 pm »

copperx wrote:

"Are you saying it's 100% the band's call?"

no, that's what you're saying (wishing for/wondering about)

i'm saying that if you're going to have more than one cook (whomsoever it may be, "the band", the "engineer", the producer or the president's wife), you better make sure the combination will be a synergistic combination, or else you're gonna end up with swill

"But where do you draw a line?"

in the shifting sand

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Ron Steele

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2006, 08:45:27 pm »

I've found that every time you ask a band what they think, you'll get 5 different answers.

You could ask the same question 3 days later and get 5 new answers.

Make them sound how you want, if they don't like it, they will tell you.

One way to tell when they do like it, is by the lack of response, or by their smiling faces on playback.






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bblackwood

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #12 on: February 28, 2006, 10:40:58 pm »

I think Tim Gilles said it best here:
Quote:

"People expect the music we work with to sound real", says Tim Gilles, sound-mixer and president of Big Blue Meenie. Producing that 'real' sound, however, can entail some almost unreal technological wizardry. "My confederates and I throw an absolutely bewildering amount of tomfoolery and utter fakeness into the process to make it feel like a docudrama. It's an amazing, exciting, and fun process to be part of."

Taken from here...
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Brad Blackwood
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electrical

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #13 on: March 01, 2006, 02:26:46 am »

Ron Steele wrote on Tue, 28 February 2006 20:45

I've found that every time you ask a band what they think, you'll get 5 different answers.

I've found that this happens virtually never. Okay, actually never. I've never, ever had this happen.
Quote:

You could ask the same question 3 days later and get 5 new answers.

Having never had this happen even once, I have a hard time believing it would happen twice in a week.
Quote:

 Make them sound how you want, if they don't like it, they will tell you.

Better yet, ask them what they want, then do it and and let them hear it.
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Bobro

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Re: One more question about the "documentary recording" philosophy
« Reply #14 on: March 01, 2006, 06:35:51 am »

electrical wrote on Tue, 28 February 2006 10:21



You're not supposed to try to trick the band with esoterica. Don't do things you think are fundamentally wrong just to see if they'll notice.





This reminds me of something irksome- the classic
fake-knob-turning/bypass thing. All it does is prove that people have imaginations- haha, what losers!

-Bobro
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