It's Better To Sound New Than To Sound Good

2017 Sep 29, 2017

When I got into recording, all I wanted was my songs to sound good. Scratch that – I wanted them to sound friggin’ amazing!

Maybe you can relate.

That is still my goal to this day – to create amazing sounding recordings and mixes for me and my clients. Because let’s be honest, who wants to listen to a crappy recording?

This desire for sonic excellence also partly led me to create a resource to help a generation of audio engineers do the same. It’s called The Recording Revolution 

But years ago, Dave Pensado – one of my mixing heroes – said something that I’ll never forget:

It’s better to sound “new” than to sound “good” – Dave Pensado (Grammy winning mix engineer)

What does he mean by that statement? And is he right?

Let’s unpack it a bit as I think there’s a massively game changing insight underneath those words.

Photo by Lambda_X

Is Sounding “Good” Really The Goal?

When I first heard Dave say this I laughed.

I thought he was joking. But then he seemed serious about it. Maybe it wasn’t a joke.

It got me thinking – what really is the goal of recording and mixing?

I always would have answered that question: “To get your music to sound as good as possible.”

And I still believe that is ONE goal of recording and mixing. These days however I’ve come to see there’s an even bigger goal than simply sounding “good”.


Because there are plenty of “good” sounding recordings and mixes out there that simply don’t interest me.

At best, they are polished and pretty but non-engaging.

At worst they are boring.

Even if they are really well written songs, they might fall into the “great sounding, but boring” category – if it’s something I’ve heard a million times before.

A Better Goal For Recording And Mixing

A better goal for my music making (be it recording or mixing) is to create something that listeners will love!

Whether it’s my music, or my client’s, I want to deliver a final mix that grabs the audience’s attention and keeps it. And not with gags and gimmicks, but with sonic and musical intrigue.

And I think that’s where Dave is getting with his quote about sounding “new” rather than “good”.

As human beings we are drawn to what is new. The latest gadget. The latest news. The latest celebrity. The latest update on Facebook.

We feed off of new and so new is what grabs our attention.

The same holds true in music. We are drawn to some new sound, new style, new voice. We like new.

Think about when “boy bands” became all the rage in the 1990s. (Picture the Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, etc)

This video was on Total Request Live during all 4 years of high school!

The stacked vocal harmonies and catchy pop hooks took over the airwaves – and also spawned dozens of copycat groups with that same sound and vibe.

For a few years it seemed that sound would be popular forever.

Eventually, however, we all got tired of the “boy bands” and moved on

Why? Was it because the recordings and mixes didn’t sound good anymore?

No – they didn’t sound new anymore.


You Don’t Have To Sell Your Musical Soul

What I’m not suggesting here is that you sell out and try some sonic gimmick to grab someone’s attention.

Instead where I think Dave is doing (and where I landed) was to go above and beyond just creating a good sounding recording or mix.

That’s actually not too hard to accomplish if we’re being honest.

My entire site is littered with countless free resources that will help you achieve that goal.

To create truly remarkable music, however, we need to think and try a little harder.

We need to create some musical moment or sound that feels fresh, or new. Something that will cause a listener’s ears to perk up and say “Oh, what is that?!”

This could be as simple as a unique layered virtual instrument sound.

Or it could be a fresh arrangement that breaks out of the classic Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, pattern.

Or it could be weird panning decisions. You’d be in great company with artists like The Beatles and Jimmy Hendrix 

The point here is to not simply stop at crafting a radio-ready recording and mix – but to pepper in something new and special that will be a tasty treat to those who take the time to listen.

What Can You Learn From This?

Dave Pensado is a smart guy and a talented mixer. And you can (and should) learn a TON from him.

But he and I don’t agree on everything.

One example is how he mixes slow and I prefer to mix as fast as possible – something he brought up when I was on his show, Pensado’s Place.

He’s big into using lots of plugins (and lots of different plugins), while I prefer to use as few plugins as possible and stick to a core collection of the same tools over and over.

He also has Grammy awards and I don’t 

But no matter what we differ on, I always learn from him.

In fact, I learn from MANY engineers who have wildly different methods and opinions than me.

And that might be my challenge for you today.

Learn from many resources. Keep an open mind to different methods, techniques, and opinions.

Oh – and make sure your music not only sounds good, but sounds new 

What can you take away from Dave’s quote: “It’s better to sound new than to sound good.” Do you agree? Disagree? Is he on to something?

Share your thoughts below!

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