Home Recording Academy: Getting it Right at the Source

Playing GuitarWe’ve mentioned previously on the Sage Audio mastering blog that one of our favorite recording studio stories is when George Harrison was recording with Jeff Lynne (and some others you may know) and they noticed some mistakes in the recordings. Harrison allegedly told Lynne not to worry, and that “We’ll bury ‘em in the mix.”

Well, that statement ended up providing the name for the Traveling Wilburys (so the story goes). You probably know the other people in the room at the time included Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. And while the band is one of the most notable supergroups in rock history, Harrison may not have had the best recording mindset.

Do You Really Have to Get it Right at the Source?

The phrase “get it right at the source” is often thrown around these days, meaning that you should always take the time to get a proper recording sound (and performance) rather than relying on the “fix it in the mix” mindset.

But the idea of correcting recording wrongs in the mixing process grows more popular each day as the ability to add digital “corrections” grows along with it. Got a bass drum that hits just a bit too early on the first chorus? Zoom in and shift it to the correct point. Have a singer who gave a perfect take other than that one note in the bridge? Time for autotune. Your acoustic guitar have a booming low end distracting from the rest of the song? Use a high pass filter to cut the lows.

Where’s the Line in the Digital Sand?

Should you get the best recording you can? Absolutely. But don’t get so caught up in achieving the perfect source track that you never actually finish recording any tracks. Using some “tricks” to clean up your song in the mixing stage is part of what mixing is all about. After all, it can be said that EQ has been used as a way to “fix it in the mix” essentially since recording began, so is Auto Tune all that different (that’s a different debate for a different time)?

Sure, some in the music industry — and the audio mastering industry specifically — take the stance that you should absolutely have the perfect source track recorded before going to the mixing stage (and we certainly admit this makes our online mastering jobs easier). And if you are recording in a professional studio with great equipment along with an experienced engineer, then you should expect the sound of your source track to be great (of course the performance is up to you).

But what many preaching “get it right at the source” are ignoring is how many are using home recording studios these days. Perhaps the phrase should be changed to “Get it the best you can at the source,” though that doesn’t have the same ring to it.

The majority of home studios aren’t going to have ideal acoustic treatment or a great selection of the best microphones in the world, so it’s all about making the best of what you have. In these cases, that often means using your knowledge of your room and equipment to get the best sound you possibly can, and then not being afraid to use those digital “tricks” while mixing to sound.

Like most aspects of home studio recording, this often requires experimentation and finding what will best serve the final product.