Though credit for great music often goes to the singers or the instrumentalists, audio production is just as important. Audio engineering can make or break a song, which is why it is important to beware of the following production myths:
Myth #1: Sound Quality is Closely Tied to Cable Quality
All things being equal, better cables do result in better recordings, but it is easy to overstate the role that cables play due to biased perception. How humans perceive sound quality depends heavily on what quality we expect to hear. A person who hears two identical recordings may conclude that one is better than the other based solely on his or her preconceptions. If you buy higher quality cables, you will expect them to improve sound quality, and may thus perceive your music to be better even if it does not change at all.
Myth #2: Pop Filters Improve Vocals
Some singers swear by pop filters to reduce “popping” noises and protect their mics from saliva. Many audio engineers, however, find that they create more problems than they solve. Pop filters cause comb filtering, exacerbate issues with sibilance, and dampen otherwise good sounds. Moreover, artists can often reduce popping noises and saliva exposure by simply positioning their mics differently and improving their singing techniques.
Myth #3: Small Rooms Are the Best Places to Record
Although there are exceptions, medium-sized rooms tend to be better for recording, as they tend to contain a region with neutral standing waves. Small rooms produce comb filtering, making the sound thinner and less consistent. When small rooms are appropriate, it is usually because of some other feature that affects sound quality. Small rooms without parallel walls, for example, produce better sounds. Treatment also plays an important role, with small rooms that have fiberglass insulation being more effective than those without it.
Myth #4: Mastering Covers All Sins
Although mastering plays an important role in the final audio quality, it cannot make up for mistakes made during recording. It is more appropriate to think of it as one tool out of many in a producer’s arsenal. Poor mastering can take away from an otherwise good song, while good mastering can make a good song great. But if you don’t have much to work with once you start mastering, don’t be surprised if even the best mastering engineer can’t make the song good.
Myth #5: Follow the 3-to-1 Rule for Close Mics
The 3-to-1 rule states that a close mic should be at least three times farther away from other instruments than it is from its target instrument. This fails to consider the effects of sound reflecting off other parts of the room, the different volumes of particular instruments, or the specific directions in which instruments send their frequencies. There is no one-size-fits-all rule for close mic placement; you have to play it by ear each time.
The Institute of Production and Recording’s Audio Production and Engineering program provides training in music theory, recording, signal flow, and other production skills, helping you to avoid audio mistakes like these. For more information, visit our website today.