Why Do My Band’s Recordings Sound Like Ass? – Part 1

Hi, I am Ruan. Most of you know me as that sweaty bearded dude in Megalodon or as the The Wolf King, Lord of Doom (not to be confused with our LordDoom – Ed), God of Sound (Okay, probably not by all my names, because there are so many.) I run a humble little bedroom studio in my flat in Stellenbosch where I try and get as much mixing and recording done as possible, when I’ve got the time.
I am going to try and write a few articles for Metal4Africa and in doing so hopefully raise the bar in South African studio metal production. The first one will detail pre-production. The second one will be more focused on mixing your demo or album to achieve “that” sound. As I am writing this, I am currently working with SuiderbeeS and Reflections of Falling Satellites. Look out for there releases in the future!

WHY DOES MY RECORDING / ALBUM SOUND LIKE ASS?!

I’ve heard this question a lot over my decade of recording experience and have asked it myself over the years. Even though I am still young in terms of producing, recording and mixing, I have picked up on a few fundamentals that have drastically improved my recordings, each time slaying a new frost giant of sound in my way to becoming like my idols Andy Sneap, Daniel Bergstrand, Collin Richardson, Jason Suecof and yes, even Bob Rock.
By following not only the bands these people produce, but the producers themselves, I have learned and accepted a standard of quality which sounds different for each producer, but at the same time they are all on the same level. They all have “that” sound. So let us look at some mistakes bands make when they enter the studio that cost them a lot of time and money.

1. Setup your old ass grandpa’s guitar for the correct tuning and put on some shiny new strings

I don’t care how big your band is and who you’ve played with. If you rock up with a guitar with dirty old strings, I’ll charge you for the day and send you the fuck home. Don’t waste yours and my time. Old strings sound bad on recordings. They are dull and lifeless, and unless that’s the sound you’re going for, I would refuse to record that. Also ask the producer or recording engineer if you could leave your gear (especially drums and guitars) overnight so they can acclimatise to the recording environment which will reduce tuning issues when you actually start tracking the songs.
To be honest, in recording terms, your strings could be dull after a week of recording (depending on how many thousand takes you had to repeatedly play something,) they will probably still be good for live performance, but unfortunately you are recording and when the strings start sounding bad, you have to take them off. The next tip will help you preserve your strings as well as save you some studio time.

2. Use a metronome when practicing alone

Ruan Jordaan performing with Megalodon Many bands think that because they have been together for more than a year or have played more than 150+ shows that they can walk into a studio and rip out a riff in 2 takes; it’s something closer to 300 takes that you’ll be doing. Once that red light goes on, even the best guitarist or drummer in the word gets recording syndrome. (Rooi liggie sindroom vir die manne wat nie engelski verstaan nie.)
The problem is that even though you guys can play a song together with a lot feel and vibe and pull it off live, that does not mean that you are playing it correctly. Unfortunately, music theory teaches us about time signatures and tempo. Especially those death guys that like to grind their axes, like they are trying to power a whole city with their awesome death tunes of evil! If you’ve got a metronome, use it! If you have access to a program like Guitar Pro or some tablature reading program that can play back in MIDI, put the metronome button on and jam with the track. You will notice that your picking consistency will improve which will boost your confidence when playing guitar. That confidence is the difference between a good album and a great one.

My tip would be to practice your songs with a metronome everyday for at least a month before you go into the studio. That way you will spend less time recording, which in turn means you pay less on a daily studio rate and save your strings from going dull after each song. Unless you’re Lars Ulrich and have the cash to moer through a snare drum on each take.

3. Schedule a pre-production session

This is so easy and saves tons of time. Contact the studio or engineer and schedule pre-production time. Usually they don’t charge as much, because you’re only recording to hear what it sounds like and not the final product. Just because your monster tone setting sounds super spiff in your garage does not mean it translates well over a microphone which then gets thrown over studio monitors.
I personally prefer to use digital gear like the Axe FX Ultra, Pod XT Pro and the Pod HD300 to get my tones. The reason for this is:

1) The humidity of the studio can have an effect on your strings (read above) as well as how your amp sounds from one day to the next. The sound that is coming out your cab pushes the air which is being recorded with the diaphragm of the microphone, (when the humidity rises there are more water particles in the air and that affects the sound on a tiny level, as a result, having your whole band there in the live room sweating and breathing can in theory change your tone from song to song.)

2) Because I work in my flat, I don’t want to piss off my tasteless neighbours with your awesomeness! With the digital gear, I can just save a band’s settings and recall them on the fly with no worry that the tones will change because of erratic weather conditions. (Damn global warming, why don’t you like the brutals!)

My tip for recording guitars / bass would be to create a tone that responds the way you want it to. It has to feel right even thought it isn’t sounding completely right. In the mixing stage, you are going to place the guitars in the mix, depending on your style of music, by using frequencies and dynamic processing. You also want your tone to have slightly less gain than you would normally use live, because this helps bring out mistakes and improves the clarity and note definition.

Conclusion

If you just apply these few tips, you will already be saving butt-loads of cash as well as producing professional, better sounding recordings.

Stay tuned to hear me rant about mixing, soon!