This is the first in a series of posts by member James Coffey, B.M.Ed., M.Ed. of Blue Vision Music.
So many things go into creating a great recording, from the initial song idea to the final replication. These days artists are more involved in every level of the recording process, sometimes even recording and mixing their own tracks. Whether you are recording your own tracks or working with a studio, it is helpful to have some insight into what exactly is going on and how you, as an artist, can help or hinder the process.
Like many artists I used to think that having a good set of ears was all you needed. But there are times you should not trust your ears and rely more on the science of audio recording and an experienced engineer. The arrangement and choice of instruments can profoundly affect the final mix. Quick and easy “fixes” with EQ and compression can actually ruin a good performance. There are also those who will claim to knowing the secrets to making an award-winning recording, but the truth is no song or recording has a “one size fits all” solution. Every artist is unique in talent and budget, and every recording has a specific set of challenges.
With this series, you’ll learn a basic understanding of how it all comes together in a final mix, and some common approaches that can help you create a stronger record. There is more to it than meets the eye and ear!
Part One: “The Lost Art Of Arranging”
I have found a common thread in many of the articles I have read about successful recording engineers; a lot of them have extensive experience in musical arranging. Several, such as the “5th Beatle” George Martin, developed their early skills through arranging and recording classical music. Now you may be thinking, “How can modern music benefit from a bunch of dead composers?” The fact is those dead composers were some of the best audio engineers of all time. They may not have worked in a studio but they mixed music just the same. They made very specific choices about instruments, notes, dynamics and even the placement of performers on stage to form the optimal audio experience.
Classical composers had help with the evolution of the orchestra. Each instrument was designed and reinvented over the years to be the perfect ensemble tool. Instruments were grouped together to cover the spectrum of sound in a perfect marriage of tonality, something that we’ve strayed from in our modern combo of drums, guitar and keyboards!
The number one challenge in modern recording is finding a unique place for every instrument and voice to be heard. Because of their design and function, when a flute and bassoon perform together there is little chance you won’t be able to clearly hear each note. An acoustic guitar and piano, however, are both designed to be solo and ensemble instruments. This can create an audio tug-of-war as to who will be heard. There is a good chance that if the arrangement and the mix isn’t just right, you’ll end up with a muddy mess.
Why is an arrangement so essential to a great recording? Think of it this way: What happens before the mix is organic. It’s a holistic, healthy way to approach a recording. It’s problem prevention. Much of what happens after the recording in the mix turns into problem solving, you are trying to get sounds that are fighting each other to fit harmoniously together.
In the next installment we will examine what is happening when an instrument or voice is recorded and how to make the best out of every note.
James Coffey is a recording artist & music producer who’s been featured on over 800 children’s products sold worldwide under such brand names as Disney, Nickelodeon, Scholastic & Sesame Street. Through his own production studio, Blue Vision Music, James has also produced music for many family artists earning over 30 national awards including Parents’ Choice, iParenting, Kids First & a Gold NAPPA.