Whoa, 6am comes awfully early when I spend all night in the studio. I can’t help it though–I’m stuck in the moment like a deer in the headlights. The studio is virtual reality and was so long before it migrated into the realm of microprocessors. In that environment anything and everything is possible–and it happens on a second by second basis. And you know what? No matter how well you conceive the final product to be, and how diligently you plan, practice, and prepare, the end is always greater than sum of your anticipation. You can’t foresee how your internal rhythms will respond to the bright snap of a snare, your imagination will perceive the wail of a blues harp rippling through consciousness carried on by a spacious echo, or the sweetness of an acoustic guitar joyfully ringing a chorus. These things first happen in the playback. There always is your faith that the world will love and wholeheartedly accept what you hear too. That is what it is all about.
The studio is a blank canvas. There are four points of reference on this canvas, but you should not look at it (or think of it) as a white sheet of paper before your eyes. If you take that sheet of paper, look at the EDGE of it, and tilt the back upward a bit, that will give you a physical picture of the canvas dimensions. Can you picture it? The four dimensions of recorded music are Left and Right (of course) imaged by the pan control, and “painted” by the left and right speakers. Obvious reference points–it is the way we experience live sound.
What are the two other dimensions? Top and bottom? No, in order to simulate that we would need top and bottom fade controls and speakers to deliver those dimensions. When you hear a band do you hear music down low or up high? No. The other two canvass reference points are front and rear. How then, do you sonically move something from the front to the rear you might wonder? Volume. Our brains are wired to perceive that which is loud as closer than that which is quiet. It’s natures way. This is why we must look at our sheet of paper canvas on edge, to get left, right, front and rear.
With those four dimensions in mind you can begin putting down sonic paint on your canvas. It is not important at this point to know where everything will be placed, but these reference points will help you think about your sound, and plan your work. When it is time to mix down, you will place all your colors on that virtual canvas–which is of course, the air itself.
There always is a drive for ultimate perfection in the studio, but take if from a guy that has lived in a studio for years, perfection is relative–relative to the moment and your state of mind. The first hour in is ultimate perfection, and twelve hours later the definition of perfection warps. Consider this, most of us will not have the opportunity or funding to spend in a commercial studio, with top gun players, distinguished producers, or leading-edge engineers.
Think back at the songs that you have loved over the years, especially vintage songs of the sixty’s and seventy’s. Imperfection is part of their characteristic charm. You probably will not be able to match the perfection of today’s commercial music–so decide what is important. I have always been a huge advocate of a great performance and lively presentation over a flawless output. People will respond to the music–not necessarily the complexity of the song. Remember that, it will help you think about your sound. I’ll have more professional studio tips next article–until then stay on track.