The Greatest Music Myths Facing Up And Coming Producers, Home Musicians And Mixing Engineers

There is so much misinformation going around the music industry. It’s sad when hopeful singers/songwriters and musicians fall into these traps: they believe the hype they have been told and end up spending valuable money on equipment they probably don’t need. 

You Don’t Need High End Studio Equipment

Your end product (whether you are a singer, songwriter, producer or rapper) should be a polished, radio-ready recording.  This is what you should be striving for. So what do you need when you are producing, recording and mixing your own material?

DAW

At the most basic level, you will need a DAW (you do not need to spend $699 on Pro Tools. Any DAW that you can afford and are comfortable with, will do. Even Reaper that retails for $60. See what works for you. If you need something with many virtual instruments included, look into Cubase, Logic, Reason, Sonar or Presonus Studio One. Anyone will be great. If you take 10 tracks of audio, put them in any daw, set the faders to the same levels, and export your mix, guess what? They will all sound exactly the same. This is why you don’t need to use Pro Tools, regardless of what Digidesign has been telling you for years.

Plugins

You don’t need to spend $2500 on a Waves bundle. Seriously, who’s got that kind of money to blow on plugins nowadays? In most cases, the stock plugins that come included in your DAW (eq’s, compressors, reverbs, etc) are more than adequate to get a punchy, professional mix. If you don’t have extra money, stick with the stock plugins. If you do have extra money to spend, yes, you can get some pretty cool plugins. (Ik Multimedia Amplitube is great for guitars, Waves does have nice modelled compressors and their L2 Limiter is very popular among many studios). The bottom line is just get what you need and more importantly what you can afford.

 

Microphone

You don’t need a super expensive microphone like an $8000 Sony C800. You don’t need a Neuman mic like a U87 or a Vintage U47. Go to your local music store and AB a few nice microphones, side by side. You can get great results on many vocalists with an inexpensive Shure SM57, SM58, SM7B like a Rode NT1a if you want a large condenser microphone. Michael Jackson used an inexpensive Shure SM7b microphone  on the Thriller album. He could have used a mic made out of moon rock if he wanted, but he chose this particular mic, that in many cases, sounds great on a variety of vocalists.

(I highly recommend the Shure Sm7b)

Shure sm7b microphone

Preamp

You do not need to purchase a vintage Neve 1073 pre, an Api or a new Avalon VT-737. Actually, you don’t need an external preamp at all. Just get a decent sound card and you’ll be fine. If you do want an external preamp for a little bit more character on instruments and vocals, you can look into the Golden Age Pre-73. It’s a fantastic, compact preamp with a lot of gain and character.

Sound Interface

You do not need to spend upwards of $2000 on a sound card. Most new sound cards today have really well designed,  built in AD and DA converters and very useable preamps. Find out how many inputs you need, and get what you can afford. I would recommend anything from the new Presonus Audiobox series (they have different models with various inputs). If you are looking for a super high quality compact interface, the RME Babyface is an outstanding unit. If you are on a Mac, you probably cannot get any better than an Apogee Duet 2.

Analog Mixer

Now why would you want an analog mixer? Don’t get me wrong. If you take 24 channels out of your computer and feed it into an SSL 9000k console, it will sound nice. You’ll hear more definition and clarity without having to do as much to your tracks as you probably would mixing inside the box. Many up and coming producers want that analog sound so they may opt for a small mixer such as a Mackie or an Allen and Heath board thinking that running their tracks through the board will help their mix. Don’t bother going this route. You won’t get any noticeable improvement going that route unless you had high end, AD and DA converters. And in that case, why would you be running it through a cheap mixer? See my point. Stick with mixing “Inside The Box”. Get a clean signal into your DAW software and really learn all the techniques you can to optimize your mix. Trust me. Once you become an expert mixing engineer, no one would be able to tell if it was mixed on an analog console or inside your computer.

Ssl 9000 console

Recording Resolution

You want to record all your tracks at 24 bit, 96k? Or even 192k. I guess you really like to waste disk space and spend extra time backing up your projects. Just stick with 24 bit, 44.1k. Unless you are recording stacks of live violins, you probably can’t tell the difference. Also, your system would be more stable, you can get more tracks and virtual instruments to run at the same time with less headaches and stability issues.

Studio Monitors

Many high end studios are outfitted with various sets of expensive monitors (they can easily be over $10,000 for a pair and much more). I would say, get what you can afford. More important than any studio monitor setup, is the actual room treatment. As I’ve mentioned before, you really should treat your room if you are serious about your mixes. If you don’t, you are better using mixing headphones (refer to this article for more information). As for monitors, you can get great results with a set of Yamaha HS-50m or HS80m. If you got a higher budget to work with, look into practically anything from Adams (F5, A3X, A7X) or Focal Professional (CMS40, CMS50). Get what you can afford. If you are working with bass-heavy music such as Hip Hop or Dance, you may want a studio monitor with an 8 inch woofer. But really, you can get a great mix on a small set of monitors, just practice your craft.

Mac Vs. Pc

PC or Mac is fine. It’s what every you are happy with. Get what you can afford. I myself, am partial towards the Mac. Having run software on both (both with a fast processor, SSD drives), the Mac is just more stable and you don’t have to worry about optimizing anything for audio performance. You just turn it on and it works. Yes, it does cost a lot more, but chances are it will give you a better user experience. I had an HP, i7 core laptop with an SSD drive and 16 gigs of ram. I spent so much time optimizing it, and it seemed like every few weeks, I had to do something to it to get back the performance. Now I have been using a Macbook Pro retina for months, and it has never crashed and it is just as fast as the day I bought it (on a few rare occasions, software froze, but you can force quit the application and get back to work).

8 Comments

  • Rogie says:

    If you’re running a PC,…..Reaper is a great DAW to use.
    It is easily the most stable of all the DAWs,….and it handles plug ins flawlessly too.
    And it’s $60

    You just can’t make a better choice for a DAW

    • admin says:

      Yes Rogie, I totally agree. A couple of years back I did use Reaper on quite a few projects. I was on a pc, and it was very stable and great to work with (I particularly liked the unlimited routing possibilites).

  • Jordan says:

    I have a couple gripes with this article.

    First of all, the DAW is by far the most important part of the puzzle. You said yourself, practice your craft, and when it comes down to mixing in a computer that is almost universally decided upon the process the DAW allows.

    You are partial to mac, however that is by far one of the biggest price increases when it comes to actual use vs comparative performance. A PC will be much cheaper, and takes little to no more support than a MAC.

    You also don’t even mention one of the biggest name DAWs today, Ableton Live, which offers free trials, student pricing, and many other optimized price points.

    The plugin section strikes me as odd because you don’t mind namedropping 2500 dollar plugin software, but they are 100% less useful than actually learning a DAW in and out, nor do you mention any good freeware plugins, of which there are many.

    When it comes to plugins, you shouldn’t get what you can afford, you should get what has immediate use to you, which often can be plugins found for free. Camel Audio, Audio Damage’s RoughRider, KVR, TAL, uk-Music.de, all offer quality plugins at no price which are not only great for learning what kind of plugins to potentially purchase, but also equip entry level producers which high level technical standards.

    I fail to see any myth shattering in this article.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comments Jordan. A DAW is a personal choice, as I stated, you can make a great record with practically any Daw out there (and there are many which I didn’t mention in the article such as Ableton Live, Digital Performer, etc). It comes down to a personal choice. I am partial to Mac myself, but as I stated, you can make a great recording with either a PC or a Mac. It comes down to preference and budget. When I stated the Waves plugin package, I mentioned that no one really has that kind of money to drop on plugins. I’m all for using the stock plugins that come with your DAW (most DAW’s come with a great selection). And yes, you can find great plugins for free, there are many out there.

  • Aj says:

    I’ve been kicking around the studio side of the music biz since the 90s and my opinion is this article does a great service to young musicians who are thinking of becoming engineer/producers for their own music. Unfortunately making it big in music (for lack of a better term) does not happen anymore statistically speaking. Therefore 99% of those who spend lots of money on that dream are wasting it.
    It reminds me of the hunt for gold in the 1849s – the only ones who actually found gold were people like levy Strauss who sold products to dreamers w gold fever.

    At least his article tries to reduce the carnage.

  • Ryan says:

    I think this is a great article, though I do have some disputes with it!

    I have been doing audio work since 1991 and there is some MAJOR THINGS that you don’t mention at all, for 1 the biggest problem we find with some of todays engineers is they think they know what there doing! But have NO IDEA what there really doing!! For example allot of todays engineers have went to school for it and still have no idea that there is different types of eq’s, why things are eq’d, and eq’d differently! You can’t just go watch a bunch of videos on youtube and think you know what your doing, its a great start in the right direction, but you need to get real hands on skills to understand how the equipment really works and how it changes from one environment to the next!

    There are allot more things wrong with this article!

    Though I will say if your looking to record, mix or master your own music, don’t listen to articles like this and don’t go to school for it! Its just a waste of time and money!! If you want to have your music sound amazing and do it yourself, go and intern at a local studio and learn how to operate the equipment and learn why they do it the way they do! They will train you and either you got it or you don’t! If you don’t atleast you didn’t waste 20,000 on it! Or try to record yourself and it turns out horrible! An if you are great, you’ll come out ontop and probably (if you would like) become an Audio Freelancer

    • Stefon says:

      Great Response. See a lot of that here too hands on skills are a big component of audio production that seems to be underdeveloped and underappreciated.

  • Stefon says:

    I completely agree. I think as a producer I also take into consideration my audience. Although it shouldn’t really matter whos listening my producer friends will find flaws in audio productions I am working on while other friends who arnt in the audio world find perfectly fine. If you are a producer, or audio engineer you have to remember we listen to music differently than the general public. Many of us have opposing preferences on types of SFX, mixing, recording styles and equipment (as it should be) you cant really say this or that is the best or worst of anything without first taking into consideration the desired effect or presentation. There are colleagues of mine that prefer “cheap” software or Hardware units over the “High End” equipment that we have in the studio. As the author stated its about taking what you want and what you have and analysing the cost benefit ratio. If your just starting out and have a low budget I would listen to the Authors advice if your like me and have some spending power like I did, look at what you want as the finished product and purchase your hardware as needed even if can afford to spend 50k on a studio setup.