One Thing Plugins Can't Fix

2012 Dec 03, 2012

When it comes to recording and mixing with computers, there’s a lot of “magic” that can happen with the use of some helpful plugins. Vocals can be tuned, drums can be tightened (and replaced), and even guitar amp settings can be switched. I’m all for using all of the tools available to us in the studio. But regardless of how great technology is these days, there’s still one thing that no plugin can fix after the fact: a lack of passion.


The “Magic” Of Recording

I don’t care how expensive your microphone is or what converters you have, if you don’t capture a great performance brimming with passion and energy, you’re doomed. All you’ll be left with is a sonically well captured boring performance. You can clean and polish up the recording all you want, but at the end of the day it will still be flat.
If you’re looking for a great recording, you need to have a song worth recording. And if your song IS worth recording, you have to make sure you capture a passionate performance. That’s where the magic of recording comes in, capturing that once in a lifetime performance. Listeners want to hear vibe and passion from the singer and musicians more than they do technical perfection.

Know What You CAN Fix

One thing that helps me in tracking sessions is to know what I actually CAN fix later on. This gives me liberty to focus on what I can’t fix. For example, when recording drums I know that it’s totally easy to fix timing later on. So when I listen to the recording, I’m only slightly concerned with the drummer’s timing. I’m mostly interested in his drum fills, his vibe, and what kind of tone he’s getting from each drum.

The same is true with vocalists. Because I know that I can easily tune a vocal later on, I’ll let a few bad notes slip through if it means I can get a killer vocal performance. I’ll listen primarily to the singer’s tone, vibe, passion, and believability. If the vocal is in tune but not affecting me in any way emotionally, I’ll re-take.

It’s All About The Performance

One reader emailed me recently regarding his band’s vocalist on a new recording project. He said that he was trying every mixing tip in the world to get the vocals to sit right in the mix, but to with no luck. The problem, he said, was that the singer has this incredible passion and raw energy when he sings live, but the recording was just lacking in vibe. He didn’t know how to bring that out in the mix.

My only suggestion to him was to re-track the vocal. If there’s no passion in the track, you can’t bring that out with a plugin or technique. It’s just not happening. This guy’s time would be better spent bringing his singer back in and working on the vibe of the studio environment to help set a mood that is conducive to a better performance. At the end of the day, great mixes are made by great recordings, which are simply well captured great performances. It’s all about what happens on the way into the microphone, for better or worse.

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