4 Fatal (Cooking) Recording Mistakes We Must Avoid!

Music production is very similar to cooking. You start out with a wide selection of ingredients that need to be prepared properly, enhanced with the right combination of spices and herbs and then cooked. In a professional chef’s hands, the dish can be mouthwatering and truly heavenly! But, left to an amateur who is unaware of all the fundamentals and subtleties needed to prepare a great dinner, and you’ll probably end up with something mediocre at best, or at worst, something completely gross and inedible. Try feeding that to a food critic and you won’t get good reviews, I assure you. So why try to feed a bad sounding music demo to a record company executive who hears great music productions all day long?

At SkyeLab Music, we’re constantly asked to rework raw music demos cooked by artists or producers who don’t really know their way around the kitchen! While some singers are extremely talented with fantastic voices, the reality is they’ll never get any serious attention without a tasty music production served up piping hot! Mmmm! So, at SkyeLab, we put together a list of easy cooking instructions and tips that are sure to enhance any music demo or master and leave hungry fans begging for more!

Too much sauce can ruin an otherwise great dish, just like too much reverb (or the wrong reverb) can destroy an otherwise fine demo. This is probably the most common problem we hear on amateur demos. Check to make sure you don’t sound like you’re singing in the Lincoln tunnel, especially if the band sounds like it’s still in Central Park.

A duck needs to be cooked like a duck, not like a piece of fish. Try searing a duck like you would a piece of Ahi Tuna and you’ll end up with raw duck. (and probably food poisoning) Similarly, you have to think like the instrument you’re emulating when you’re playing the various parts into the computer. For example, you can pull up a string patch, but you shouldn’t play it the same way you do a piano. Real strings have a different movement to them, and you need to be concerned with using proper voicings and intervals. Otherwise, instead of sounding heavenly, it will sound like mush. The same goes for programming drums. If you’re trying to make the drums sound real, think like a drummer, and don’t keep the hi-hats going while you’re doing a big intense fill.

While some fat is necessary, nobody likes to eat grizzle. So take out your big knife and trim off the fat before you start cooking. You’ll end up healthier, and the dish will be ready to serve once it’s out of the oven.

Go through your songs the same way, and don’t be afraid to cut out the fat. For most popular music, you want to get to the verse quickly, so trim your intros if they’re too long. Ask yourself if the breaks in the song are useful to the song, or if they’re there just because you heard it on another record and liked it. (very common) Everything in the song has to keep the listeners attention and keep the focus on the vocals. If there seem to be weak points in the song where listeners tend to lose interest, ask yourself if the section is too lengthy, or if it even needs to be there. By eliminating weak points, the song itself will sound stronger and more memorable, making the artist appear more professional.
The same set of principals apply to the instruments as well. Terminate sounds and musical parts that you can’t really hear in the track, or parts that distract attention away from the lead vocals.

A thin crust pizza cooked in a coal oven at 900 degrees will be nicely charred in about 3 minutes. Try cooking a thick crust square pie that same way, and you’ll end up with uncooked dough and a burnt top. Even though it’s still pizza, most people won’t find that too appetizing.

Your oven temperature is like your listening volume. Because of the curvature of our cochlea and our ear canal, our ears are more sensitive to some frequencies than others. The resonant frequency of the human ear is about 3.5 kHz, which also happens to be the frequency of a baby’s cry (nice design) so we’re most sensitive to that area. At lower volumes, we tend to hear more midrange, but as the volume increases, our perceived frequency spectrum seems to expand, and we hear more of the bass range and the higher end. This phenomenon is also known as the Fletcher Munson or Equal Loudness curve.

To take this knowledge and make it work for us, we need to be aware of how our ears react, based on the listening volume. So when mixing, listen at different volume levels to make sure your mix sounds best at a high, a medium, and a low level. Listening too low will cause you to boost your bass, and listening too high will cause you to bring it down. Either way, it’s not accurate and will make your recording sound very unbalanced.

Okay, all this talk about music has made me hungry!

-Arty Skye

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