How it sounds in the room doesn't matter
Here’s something wild to think about when you’re making records: how it sounds in the room doesn’t matter. Like literally at all.
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“WHAT??? How it sounds in the room is the only thing that matters, man! We want to capture the sound as closely as possible!”
That sounds like a reasonable thing to say, right? Like, super authentic, man. But if you think about it for more than two seconds, it falls apart. It’s just hippie bullshit. And I say this because of a single clear, incontrovertible, and perhaps uncomfortable truth: the only thing that matters in recording — and I mean the single only thing, to the exclusion of all other things — is what it sounds like coming out of the speakers when you hit play. Period!
So focus on that. Because, great news: it’s extremely freeing. No longer do you have to be beholden to something ephemeral that no one will be able to adjudicate after the fact — you’re only beholden to what you hear when you hit play on what you’ve recorded. Which means that you can do anything you want!
You can stick stuff in between the strings on the piano and then mash a bunch of the keys with your arm and record that with a condenser mic from six feet up in the air. I’ve done that! It sounds like a nightmare in the room — like, really bad — but it sounds amazing when you layer it under an impactful moment.
You can turn the guitar amp up dangerously loud! This is after all a great way to get kickass guitar sounds — overdriving the amp generates extremely good-sounding harmonic series. But you can’t even be in the same room as it; you’ll damage your hearing.
You can tape weird things to the toms to make them super dead, and then you can put shotgun mics on them and ram them through a tape-emulation plugin. It’ll sound like shit in the room — but it’ll sound vibey as hell when you play back the recording you’ve made of it.
Which, again, is the only truth. Which is why we make recordings, after all; to tell people a pretend story about what happened in that mythical room. Which may or may not actually have happened — they weren’t there. So it doesn’t matter. It’s all make-believe. So start treating it like it’s playtime. Because that’s what making records is, and should be.
With childlike wonder — jamie