How to make it in the music business (part 2)

30 04 2013

In the first part of this tutorial I mainly talked about the foundations. It is absolutely vital to have a good basis from Korg_OT_120_Tunerwhich to operate. I cannot stress this enough. I have met a lot of people who don’t take this rule seriously and think they know better. Oftentimes their enthusiasm leads to a quick minor success. They then think they know it all. They think they made the right decision and that all the the other guys, who take their time and follow the advice of the real pros out there, are wasting their time. These people burn like the proverbial moth in the fire of reality!

First of all: by all means, tune your guitar. This sounds basic, but you would be surprised at the number of guitarists who show up with their guitars out of tune. If you are in hurry and don’t have a tuner at hand, you can find a guitar tuner online, which you should put to use to tune your guitar. That is the first thing at every job. No matter if you’re playing a live gig or if you’re booked for a recording session. Professional players always have their guitar tuned spot on. They don’t mess around.


What they know is that even the slightest detuning can mess up a whole recording. With singers it is pretty much standard procedure these days to correct their pitch with Autotune or a similar product. The use of autotune is so widespread that you would probably have a hard time finding a pop recording from the last 10 years, where it isn’t used. Application of a pitch correction software or hardware is rampant. Sometimes Autotune is even used as an effect on its own. You can hear it on many recordings by a whole variety of famous artists. I myself used it a couple of times when mixing an album by an absolute top artist (Cher).

However, Autotune does not work for guitar! You have to play spot on or you will get creamed. Any deviation from standard pitch, however slight, is going to wreak havoc on the final mix. It is a surefire way to Valhalla. The thing is: you often don’t even realize that a guitar is out of tune, until it’s too late. Oftentimes a detuned guitar, when played on its own, sounds perfectly fine if it is tuned to the lowest string.

Also slight detuning of single strings might be inaudible on its own. It sounds ‘good enough’ and so neither the tu_2_mainband members nor the recording engineer notice the ticking time bomb. And then in the final stages, the guitarist might already be on the plane home, it goes Ba-Boom in their faces. The work of days might be in danger and there nothing you can do about it. The guitarist played his riffs and solos…little did he know that he was heading down a steep hill. And Valhalla awaits in the valley. A tuner is the number one tool in the arsenal of every serious pro-player.

Nowadays with the internet being at an all-time-high, many guitarists prefer to use an online guitar tuner for convenience sake, but it doesn’t matter what you use, as long as you use it! Most pros use a good old Boss tuner for example, but there are a huge number of brands to choose from. See what fits you. It is no use to buy a certain tuner just because player X or Y uses it too. Choose the tuner that YOU want and you will be off to a good start.


Case study: recording an electric guitar

4 06 2012

I recently went to Nashville for a high profile studio job. I already knew the studio because I had worked there countless times. Your typical big Nashville studio…
No need to familiarize with the gear they have. As a recording pro with years of experience under my belt I can tell you: I know my LA-2A, believe me.

I had the studio techs put the mics where I wanted them and ordered the guitarist to play some riffs so I could make my basic settings and simply get in the mood. It soon turned out that this guy was not exactly a session cat, I can tell you that much. His playing was sub par to say the least.
His clumsy and unoriginal riffing was of the sort that makes you want to become a guitar player yourself. Just because he makes it sound so easy. Because it is. At least the stuff he was playing.

To top that off, the guitarist did not care to have his guitar tuned when he showed up for the session. The reason he gave me: ‘my guitar tuner is broken.’ Now, back in the day this might have been a superb excuse, but nowadays, in the age of this certainly does not cut it.

There is a website for everything. There is a website solely devoted to Eb tuning and how it affects the sound and the feel of the guitar. And finally there even is an ‘online tuner Eb (E flat)‘ giving reference note that you can tune up against.

As a musician, and even more as a recording engineer, you have to utilize the power of the internet. There are so many great sources of knowledge, like this very site, where you can learn in hours what would normally take a lifetime.

If all the knowledge I give away for free here, would have been given to me when I started out…boy, I don’t know where that would have led me! It is beyond all imagination.

So, the guitarist played his riffs and the first thing I did was to engage the high-pass-filter of the SSL console. This way less of the guitar signal is coming through, which is exactly what I wanted.
But this only affected the lower frequencies, of course. To target his signal from the high frequencies as well, I used a low-pass-filter in an old tube EQ they had lying around there. Now he was cut from both sides. No escape here.

I then engaged the Massenburg EQ and cut some 18dB at the 7kz range. This put a serious dent in his sound.

To get the sound I was going for I dialed in at 2kHz with a Q of .5 and lowered that by 9dB.

I then grabbed the fader and started to lower it until the guitar signal was barely discernible. I was looking for the point where you couldn’t tell the guitar is there, but when you mute the track, you can tell something is missing.

Needless to say the guitarist did not like the result, because he thought he should be clearly audible. As a pro recording engineer it is you has to make the decision. And you have to be ready for it. No messing around. If you have envisioned the sound, you have to go after it.