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Author Topic: The power of limits.  (Read 265 times)

Nick

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The power of limits.
« on: April 21, 2017, 02:12:13 PM »

In the 1940s a band was recorded with a couple of mics, direct to wire or maybe wax. Mixing was accomplished by positioning the musicians  around the mic(s). Editing didn't exist. Plugins didn't exist. Fast forward to 1966 and Brian Wilson and co are working on a modern masterpiece, Pet Sounds. Once again, a lot of live recordings, skilled musicians and not much post production. There was mixing, but it was done in pre 24 track style.
In the mid 1960s, mixing was pre planned and pre production was everything. This was due to limitations. Having a four track tape machine meant that you could either keep things very simple and mostly live, or plan out a bounce down process. Planning was required because a bounce to another four track machine meant track balances and relative EQ settings were frozen. Once a bounce had been carried out to another tape machine, more recorded tracks could be added to the production. Another reason for careful planning of this type of production was due to quality loss on each bounce due to any unwanted signal noise being sent to the next generation recording. The problem would be compounded with each bounce, so the most important elements would be recorded last for maximum quality.
Today, none of these issues exist! There is no need to plan a session due to lack of technical resources. There is no need to decide in advance in which order elements will be tracked. There is no need to even decide on which piano sound you want. There's no need to nail the timing of your drum or bass or guitar part. There's no need to record a chorus part more than once! There are no limits.

Back in the old days, how did producers like George Martin, Eddie Kramer and Phil Spector (to name only a few) achieve such brilliant results? They were wrought with limitations! When they were working though, they probably weren't lamenting a lack of technical prowess. They probably thought they had it pretty darn good! Their thought process was different from one we might adopt in the modern realm. One huge difference was the need for a strength of vision. Productions would be soon dead in the water if the vision was lost, because the means of recovery didn't exist. That vision of the final product needed to be firm and CLEAR. The work was towards that vision and it had to survive as the production traversed the limitations of the day.

So, what's the point? What am I getting at? As an exercise, I suggest imposing artificial limits on your next production. Below I'll list a couple of ideas that might get you started:
  • Use one mic for the entire project
  • Use one bussed delay or reverb for the entire project
  • Produce something entirely in mono
  • Do not use EQ at all! Track items to sound how you want them to in the final mix
  • No edits! Every track must be performed in a single pass
  • Record no more than three tracks before bouncing them for use in the final mix

There are many more ideas that you can try. How about trying to simulate life in 1965? What limitations would there have been with regards to signal routing, compression, EQ? Did they even have delays back then??

There is another useful side effect of limiting your options. You will be forced to make the most of the gear you actually use. In the case of only using one mic, you're going to need to milk it for all it's worth so that in different situations, you can still record something usable. You might learn more about that mic. The same for using just one compressor, or EQ. You'll need to put them through their paces and wring all that you can from them. In the process, you might discover something about your gear that you'd previously missed.

Here's one final example of a limitation that you might find really useful for expanding your production thought process. Give yourself a severe time constraint! In four hours, starting from scratch, write, record and mix EIGHT songs. You can have as many or few recorded tracks for each song as you like, but make sure they are proper songs, not just sounds. Gibberish lyrics are fine. Be brutal, give yourself no breaks! The idea is to avoid all the second guessing and selection of samples that we often find ourselves doing these days. You have no time for that. Get the idea out, and get the idea recorded.

See how you go and please post the results in this thread so we can all share thoughts.
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