Right now my inbox is full. Full of wonderful emails from all of you. Whether a quick word of thanks or encouragement, or a series of questions about recording and mixing, the messages fly in daily. Now, I try to help as many people get better at recording and mixing as time (and experience) allows and I’m happy to do it. However, there is one question that I simply cannot stand to hear anymore.
Via Véronique Debord-Lazaro Flickr
The Worst Question Ever – “Should I…?”
Should I use Pro Tools instead of Cubase? Should I record at 96khz instead of 44.1khz? Should I use a small diaphragm condenser instead of a large diaphragm condenser? And the list goes on and on, every day. It seems innocuous enough of a question. These are people who genuinely are new (or newer) to the art and craft and want some guidance on “best practices” so their music can sound its best. But they are setting themselves up for failure.
Ironically in trying to get better, asking “Should I?” questions actually hurts them in the long run. “Should I?” questions start from a faulty premise: that there is a correct answer or a “right” way of doing things. The reality is, this craft has just about everything to do with personal tastes, and hardly anything to do with technical prowess. As Dave Pensado put it recently, “I can teach you how to get a great kick drum sound. But I can’t teach you what a great kick drum sound is.”
“Should I?” Questions Are Born Out Of Fear
The truth of it all is, the reason we ask “Should I?” questions is because of fear. We are afraid of screwing up. We’re afraid of not doing it “right.” Our whole lives we are conditioned to avoid making mistakes. Think about it. Our parents teach us to not make mistakes in life (personal, relational, legal). Our schools (at least in America) reward you for not making mistakes, and penalize you for making them. Our whole existence is a conditioned one that says “Don’t make mistakes. Failure is bad.”
It’s a total bummer, because all that conditioning does is create fear and eventual “analysis paralysis.” People today are so afraid of “making the wrong decision” that they don’t do anything at all. I see this all the time in the home recording world as readers desperately scour the internet for a crystal clear answer for which piece of gear they need and which technique is “best” in order to record and mix great music, expensing massive amounts of time and energy. And in the end they’ve created no music at all. They are frozen, afraid of getting it “wrong.”
Make Your Own Answers
In many things in life, there are clear cut answers. There are truths that are absolute, no matter what you think about them (take gravity for example). But the real beauty of creating music (i.e art) is that you can make up your own answers and truths about what sounds good. It’s a complete playground for creativity and discovery. You need to be confident enough to try things and see what happens instead of being a lemming, waiting for orders from Grammy award winning mixers and producers, or a guy like me.
In fact, all of audio’s best recording techniques and methods were “discovered” or “made up” by someone years ago. Do you think Glyn Johns was searching around internet audio forums looking for a great drum overhead miking technique before he recorded Led Zepplin? No, he just threw some mics up in a weird position and it worked. You can do the same thing.
All I Can Do Is Share My Experience
Let’s be pragmatic for a moment. You’re reading a website that delivers recording and mixing tips and tutorials. I get that. You’re here to learn. And I applaud you. I was doing the same thing 15 years ago: reading articles online, buying every book on Pro Tools and mixing I could find, and hanging out in studios with people smarter and more talented than me. I have learned (and am still learning) things that can help you in your quest for audio greatness. But all I can do is share my experience.
You, on the other hand, have to create your own experiences. You need to create a new worldview that is open to experimentation and possible failure. How else will you grow and discover something great? You won’t by trying to avoid making “mistakes” that’s for sure. Stop looking for validation for your gear purchases, your methods, or your sounds you’re getting. If you like what you’re hearing, keep doing more of it! If you don’t, try something else. Rinse and repeat!