Make it Translate!!

Kenny’s Tip of the Day - Make it Translate!!

One of the biggest challenges we face as engineers and producers is making what we hear in our heads AND what we hear in the live room (whether it be drums, guitars or vocals) “translate” thru our speakers.

Now I’m NOT talking about the emotion or even how mixes translate from speaker to speaker. I’m talking about what you record.

There’s a big misconception that you can capture a live sound or performance thru a small or even large speaker using a microphone. While the emotion of the performance can be achieved, the actual sound is very limited compared to what actually exists or is happening in nature.

Have you ever heard a small live jazz act performing in a small cafe? Did you ever get fooled into thinking that it was the radio? Probably not. Our ears and our brains can tell the difference very easily.

This is both a good and bad thing and can used to your advantage. But you first need to know that it exists. So you can make the necessary adjustments at the time.

Think of it like a film or movie. Do you really see the whole scene or event that’s taking place? Of course not. You get one limited shot. A framed shot that just shows us what the director wants us to see. And when you use that limited frame to your advantage, you can create a cinematic masterpiece. Something you rarely see in the real world.

So we can apply this same idea to music. Or the audio world.

But how? Well… it’s a bit harder to describe because it’s not a visual medium. You have to hear the differences for yourself. But you can train yourself to hear these things by listening to other records and of course, listening back to what you just recorded.

For example, I have an uncle who happens to be a very talented and successful drummer. Actually played on an incredible number of hits. What he told me he did (back in the day) was to go into the control room after each take and listen to the performance.

What he noticed was that certain things jump out at you with the limitations of the recording medium and a limited playback device like a speaker. For instance, some fills just get lost. The snare has more impact as a fill than messing around on the toms.

Certain tom fills do work, but not all of them. They don’t cut thru the mix. The kick drum needs to be more steady or it also gets lost. The dynamics that work in a live setting tend to work against you on a recording where consistency is much more important.

I can go thru a list of these things for every single instrument but I think you get the point. What the source sounds like is important but what is even more important is how it sounds on a pair of monitors. Large or small. What translates in the live room or even in at a live concert event may not translate in a recording.

We need to adjust for it. That’s the essence of our job. Not to just “capture” the sound, but to have it translate through the limited medium that the listener will be using.

On the positive side, we have drums that now sound like cannons. Something you can’t easily achieve in the live room. This is the process or evolution of recording being used to it’s advantage. We can now make drums sound bigger than life. More live than live. Huge.

But if you compare that to what drums really sound like in their natural habitat, it’s quite a departure. But that’s OK. That’s using the medium of recording to our advantage. Making the best of what recording and mixing really can do while limiting what it can’t.

You can learn more by watching my videos at www.groove3.com

I hope this message finds you well. Kenny Gioia