I remember it clearly…
The first day I walked into my first big studio job after graduating from a prestigious music production school.
At this point in my life, I had spent a bunch of money for tuition and over two years of my life studying all I could about the correct way to use all sorts of gear. I had graduated at the top of my class but certainly didn’t feel like I knew it all.
I expected that I’d learn some new tricks of the trade by watching other engineers in action; but I had to at least know the basics of what to do – right???
When I first walked into my new job, the head engineer asked me who I was and what my background in engineering was. I told him my story – that I started learning on my own through the internet, recorded bands in my basement for years and eventually went to school for music production. I was excited to work in a big fancy studio and have the opportunity to play with all the high-end gear.
He looked at me and said “That’s cool. But now you work in the real world and we do things differently. Forget everything you know and were taught in school. You’re going to learn how to use gear in ways you were told you’re not supposed to”
At first I didn’t know how to respond.
Forget everything?!?? Was school a waste of time?!? Have I been doing it all wrong?
That day, I learned some of the biggest lessons of my engineering career.
In the first session I did as an assistant engineer, we were tracking guitars. I was dialing in preamp settings on a Neve 1073, focusing on getting a good clean signal without driving the gain into the red (the way I was taught).
That’s when the head engineer said “Turn the gain knob up all the way!”
I said “Won’t it distort?”
“Just do it!”
As soon as I did that, the guitar tone took on a whole new life. It was super dirty, had so much fuzz and sounded so wrong – but at the same time, it sounded so perfect. It was exactly the sound the song needed.
It was one of those big “ah-ha” moments.
There is no one-size-fits-all method to recording or mixing.
You need to trust your ears and sometimes step outside of your comfort zone in order to get the results you need.
It’s one thing to know how to use your gear the way it is instructed. It’s another thing to know how to push the limits of your equipment to get results that you may not use all the time – but that came in handy at the right moments.
I strongly recommend you experiment with all of your equipment. Get creative. Try different EQ techniques, gain staging or compression settings.
Your experiments could very well sound like garbage – but you will quickly learn to identify what your equipment is capable of doing and what it can’t.
Some of those happy accidents just may end up leading to the missing ingredient in your next mix
Just some food for thought…
Looking for more tips on how to create pro-sounding mixes from your home studio?
Check out The Ultimate Mixing Blueprint: A free guide on how to use EQ and compression across a variety of instruments so that you can create great mixes quickly.