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Who Wins the Fight For Great Recording: The Rich Kid or the Resourceful Intern?


In the battle for a great recording, who will win: the rich kids with all the nice gear, or the resourceful and educated intern?

In one corner we have George the rich kid. His trust fund allows him to buy Neumann mics, Millenia pre-amps and Focal monitors.

He thinks money will get him great recordings, so he splurges on the things he thinks are most important.

In the other corner we have Johnny, the over-eager beginner. He managed to scrape together enough money to buy an M-Audio Fast Track and an AT202 condenser microphone.

He got a pair of Sennheiser headphones for Christmas from his Grandma, and he uses them for most of his monitoring and mixing.

Johnny’s gear isn’t expensive, but his summer job as an unpaid intern at a commercial studio has nevertheless given him some experience with the tips and tricks of recording.

First challenge – Recording Electric Guitar

George takes his Neumann U87 up to a Marshall cabinet and mikes it right in the middle. Since that’s where the logo’s at, that’s where he thinks it should sound the best.

This gives him a thin and distant sound with no attack or thickness.

He proceeds to blame the guitarist for his terrible guitar playing because it obviously couldn’t have been his microphone placement.

Johnny takes some time to listen to which cone sounds the best and then proceeds to put his AT2020 a couple feet away from the best cone.

Double-checking his sound through his headphones, he listens to the mic in a few different positions until he settles on the sweet spot between the edge of the cone and the dust cap.

He gets a sound that’s tight and balanced, with space and depth. He’s happy, and the guitarist rips out an awesome guitar solo.

Second Challenge – Recording Vocals

George walks up to the vocalist and spits out, “I hope you’re better than that stupid guitar player. I hope you can actually sing!”

George then proceeds to set up his U87  right in front of the singer’s mouth. “Sing here, and stay close!” The singer shakes his head in annoyance and proceeds to give a lackluster performance.

George ends up with an uninspired and booomy sounding vocal performance, filled with plosives due to the lack of a pop filter.

Johnny enters, walks right up the singer and shakes his hand.

“How you doing? Do you need anything?”Johnny says and hands him a glass of water.

“No, I’m good, thanks though.” The singer smiles and takes a sip of the warm water for his vocal cords.

Johnny doesn’t have a pop filter either so he angles the microphone a bit off-axis, moving the microphone above the vocalist’s head and angles it down.

Johnny moves the microphone a foot and a half away from the vocalist and presses record.

“Whenever you’re ready man” Johnny says.

The vocalist gives an amazing performance, and the vocal sound is clean and clear, devoid of any pops or clicks from the singer’s words.

 Third Challenge – Recording Kick Drum

George takes his prized U87 and walks up to the kick drum.

He ignores the drummer and places his microphone by the drummer’s foot. He thinks that since that’s where the sound is made, that’s where the drum should sound the best.

In a last-ditch effort to show off, he needs to get one amazing kick drum to show everyone how good his equipment is. So he cranks up the gain on his Millenia pre-amps because he wants as much juice as possible from his microphone.

Sadly, due to the increased gain, the first kick drum hit overloads and breaks the mic. George is immediately disqualified from the competition for breaking his own equipment.

Johnny – even though his skills have technically won the match at this point – still decides to get a good drum sound.

Since he’s not working with a dynamic mic, he’s careful to keep the gain down as to not blow the diaphragm. He wants an earthy and thick kick drum sound so he positions his microphone outside the sound hole, angling it just a bit towards the beater.

After a few tries he moves the microphone a little further away to get more bass response and the kick drum just comes alive.

Johnny, with his meager equipment but great technical skills is crowned the undisputed champion of great recordings.

The Moral of the Story?

Expensive gear is overrated.

Thinking that expensive gear can get you the sound you want is an insult to audio engineers.

If you don’t have the skills to make a $100 mic sound good, then a $1,000 mic won’t sound any better.

The real importance comes from your skills with recording, NOT the equity of your equipment.

strategiesIf you want to really get the skills needed to make better recordings and mixes, check out Recording & Mixing Strategies. Together they’re jam-packed with invaluable information you can use right away to get better sounding productions.

Check them out here:

www.audio-issues.com/strategies

Image by: marcinlachowicz.com


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About me

About Björgvin Benediktsson

I’m Björgvin Benediktsson. I’m a musician, audio engineer and best-selling author. I help musicians and producers make a greater impact with their music by teaching them how to produce and engineer themselves. I’ve taught thousands of up and coming home studio producers such as yourself how to make an impact with their music through Audio Issues since 2011.

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LEAVE A COMMENT

  • Dirk

    i was not aware that turning up gain on the preamp (which amplifies the signal coming to it from the microphone) affects the sensitivity of the diaphragm on a condensor mic.  ie i was not aware you can blow a condensor mic by cranking up the gain on the mic preamp.  please explain.  thank you.

    • Maybe I didn’t explain it well enough, or was going for too much of a dramatic effect. I just meant that if you crank up the gain on your preamp and then put your mic in front of a really loud sound source, like a drum, that might damage your mic. Maybe not real permanent damage to a condenser, but it can certainly happen with a ribbon.

  • Dirk

    i was not aware that turning up gain on the preamp (which amplifies the signal coming to it from the microphone) affects the sensitivity of the diaphragm on a condensor mic.  ie i was not aware you can blow a condensor mic by cranking up the gain on the mic preamp.  please explain.  thank you.

    • Maybe I didn’t explain it well enough, or was going for too much of a dramatic effect. I just meant that if you crank up the gain on your preamp and then put your mic in front of a really loud sound source, like a drum, that might damage your mic. Maybe not real permanent damage to a condenser, but it can certainly happen with a ribbon.

  • Wow, what a great post!  I can definitely relate to this.  I use similar gear: AT2020s and 2021s, FastTrack Ultra 8R, and AKG K702 headphones, and I try to go as far as I can with what little I have.  It’s reassuring to hear that, if you have the skills, you don’t necessarily need expensive equipment to make good recordings.  The trick is getting the skills…

  • Wow, what a great post!  I can definitely relate to this.  I use similar gear: AT2020s and 2021s, FastTrack Ultra 8R, and AKG K702 headphones, and I try to go as far as I can with what little I have.  It’s reassuring to hear that, if you have the skills, you don’t necessarily need expensive equipment to make good recordings.  The trick is getting the skills…

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  • My studio gear:
    – Line6 POD Studio GX
    – Shure SM58
    – Fostex PM0.3 studio monitors
    – REAPER
    – a light version of Ableton Live that came with my interface (I use it for some MIDI that I export as audio sometimes.)

    My interface didn’t come with a built in preamp so I need to amplify my line level digital in PODFarm,
    I know that I made a mistake by buying the interface that I own but the reason why I write this is to show everybody here that gear matters but you need to know how to work with it. (It’s true that the better the gear the better the sound, but the engineer needs to know how to use it properly to get the desired sound.)

  • My studio gear:
    – Line6 POD Studio GX
    – Shure SM58
    – Fostex PM0.3 studio monitors
    – REAPER
    – a light version of Ableton Live that came with my interface (I use it for some MIDI that I export as audio sometimes.)

    My interface didn’t come with a built in preamp so I need to amplify my line level digital in PODFarm,
    I know that I made a mistake by buying the interface that I own but the reason why I write this is to show everybody here that gear matters but you need to know how to work with it. (It’s true that the better the gear the better the sound, but the engineer needs to know how to use it properly to get the desired sound.)