Thursday, 18 August 2011

To buy or not to buy...

There are always moments of weakness in the life of a record producer where you come to your senses just as you're about to purchase some obscenely expensive mic or pre-amp from and you think, "flip, how did I get here??", before hastily hitting the X and rushing downstairs to make some tea. Usually these things happen when a perfect storm of little work, dismal weather, slight self-doubt and an uninspiring CD collection combine, but thankfully, such an experience hasn't occurred to me for some time now, for which my bank account (and wife) is certainly very grateful.

It's a scenario you don't get taught to protect yourself against at uni, and certainly never on the internet, on producer forums like (lol), 99.9999% of the posts are people ranting on about such and such new tube-stocked it's-so-warm-i'd-heat-my-house-with-it compressor or other meaningless bla and in so doing making you feel totally ill-equipped for the task of making great recordings.

It's just like girls and shoes I guess - we humans all have a weakness for new things and advertisers, shops, manufacturers etc just know how to push those buttons. And in no field is this phenomenon more prevalent than in the world of production.

But I learnt a refreshing lesson recently working on a string recording with a guy called Chris Poulter from this place. He ended up bringing a pro tools rig and various mics with him. One of these mics was a Brauhner something or other. It was worth about a £bejillion, and yes, it was a very nice-looking mic and I was quite jealous.

But once we'd rigged it up and started recording, what did we actually hear through it?

Well, I heard a reasonably accurate version of the slightly dodgy strings that were being played in the room above us. Certainly, it was a good reproduction of the sound that was going on in the room, but did it make the two violins it was trained on sound like a section? No. Did it correct all their tuning errors? No.

The simple truth revealed was this - your gear only sounds as good as your musician.

It seems such an elementary lesson when you put it like this, but it's amazing how well wound the industry's thumb we all are that we forget this stuff so the extent that I'd readily consider spending £1000 on a new mic and pre-amp to record a guitar or snare with, rather than go with the meeks and 57s I already have, and spend the money on a couple of great snares and a new tele. Or just spend some time practising.

We were joined at the studio a few months back by the head A&R guy from a label. This is a guy that I respect greatly, but what was virtually the first thing he asked us - "what mics do you have here?". Perhaps it was just small talk - a way to break the ice, but perhaps also it betrays something deeper - that the reason we all spend so much money on studio gear is because we all secretly think having great gear is the true mark of a great producer.

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