I look at my collection of plug ins as an arsenal. It’s like an F1 mechanic’s tool box. I have every tool in order to make my Ferrari make 300 mile per hour turns without hitting the wall. But it takes the operator and the mechanic working together as a team to win first place. If you tweak the wrong screw or adjust the shocks in a weird way, off the rails you go.
The same holds true of plug ins. They are POWERFUL tools that allow us to do amazing things. In the wrong hands…… blammo! Crashed million-dollar sound systems in pieces on the ground. Not literally, but boy have I heard some non-dynamic mixes recently. EPIC FAIL, can only be the term used for these operators.
Here is a statement that I made recently and I stick by it – “There is NO excuse for a bad sounding show these days.” The technology has overcome the environmental issues, and the tools at our fingertips allow for every show to sound stellar. Speaker technology and electronics have merged to create a perfect storm. If a show sounds bad, it’s the operators fault. Period. I take it personally if I have a bad show. I spend hours prior to a show advancing with a promoter, or sound vendor, to make sure that I have the tools necessary, and never settle for less.
So why do people fail? The most common is dynamics. I recently got an opportunity to have lunch with one of the top producers of today, Jack Joseph Puig, and we got into a discussion about how dynamics have been destroyed in the art of record making, in favor of the loudness wars. He agreed that dynamics have been an issue, but conceded that “this is the sound of today.” I agree with him, but this is the greatest single thing about being a LIVE sound engineer in this day and age – we still get to make dynamic mixes. I believe people come to shows to have impact. They want the mix to sound like the record, but they want to feel the music as well. I am not handcuffed by loudness wars to squashing a mix to oblivion, in order to get rid of peaks, and give the overall appearance of being louder than everything else.
So maybe the problem is that young engineers don’t know what dynamics are? How could they? Every album released in the last 15 years has been thru the L2 plug in washing machine, and dynamics are out the window. I encourage young engineers to listen to records made in the 60’s and 70’s. Not because I think that the music of my youth is better, but simply because it was prior to loudness wars. Even if you don’t like the music, listen to the dynamics. Part of what makes the Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, so great, is the use of dynamics. Duke Ellington has a record called Duke’s Big 4 that is a masterful recording. There are also some amazing examples of dynamic records made in the ’80s where engineers were using the 60dB of dynamic range given to us by compact discs. Talking Heads, Tears for Fears, etc. Late in the ’80s something went wrong. The loudness wars began and we went off the rails.
Study, study, study. What makes these records, prior to the loudness wars, amazing? How can I make my mixes sound like these? The answer is often NOT in more, but less. With the advent of technology, we are kids in a candy store. OH boy?!? I can have 14 instances of a Fairchild $20,000 compressor now? FAIL. The reason that we only had two Fairchild comps in the studio that I worked at in the early 90’s, was because we only NEEDED two. The most common mistake I see young engineers make is to put the kitchen sink on every input in the hopes of “creating” something that isn’t there.
How do we fix it? Learn the fundamentals. Mic placement, gain structure, bussing, EQ, and THEN put the flux capacitor on the DeLorean, Marty. Don’t fill up your plug-in rack with the latest and greatest, and put them on every input. The result will NOT be as good as getting the basics right first, before you even think about inserting one plug in. So learn how to swim with the water wings, and then later on you can take the floaties off, and swim some laps.
Don’t forget to make your mixes have dynamics. The audience will love you for it. Take that threshold knob up a bit and let your stuff breathe.
Originally posted 2013-09-20 06:51:47.