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I've experienced this over and over with multiple performers: experienced and novices, instrumentalists and vocalists, groups and individuals, it doesn't seem specific to any group. They all think their performance is "good enough" while we're tracking, and then want to spend a lot of time in the mix trying to fix and improve things that really should have fixed in the original performance.

I have a small hobby studio and work with a lot of amateur/hobbyist performers, so often I end up fulfilling both the producer and engineer roles.

How do you as an engineer or producer convince your performers that it's better to spend the time to "get it right" while tracking as opposed to fixing everything in the mix?

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I've mostly had the opposite reaction with (inexperienced) amateur/hobbyist performers; they feel extremely self-conscient and often embarrassed at their performance, regardless of whether it was actually a stellar take. So while you can't expect a keeper on the first take, after 5 to ten attempts, the energy is usually gone. In my case I was purely working for fun, so I had the luxury of time and simply told them to come again another day. Once they got familiar with the process, things tended to go a lot easier. –  Kim Burgaard Dec 8 '10 at 3:43
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3 Answers

The performers have their own vision on "time" and on "getting it right".

These are the two points where you have to talk about, he sure wants to "get it right". So when you both have the thought that you're doing it perfect, you might not just want to record it once but record it multiple times. This allows you to easily replace the bad parts instead of trying to fix them...

Your performer will have a better vision on "time" when you tell him that you will work with him toward "getting it right", and once you are at that point you will record it multiple times. It's easy to convince him that performing it more than once will result in something that is "good enough" in case of mistakes, who knows you both might be lucky that one of the performances is near perfect...

Bottom line of story, a single raw session will rarely result in a perfect recording.

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I've encountered this a lot, and here's my advice on what to tell them

  • It may not be possible to fix it later
  • The "fix" might not sound natural, and may be noticeable to the average person
  • It may take significant time to "fix" later
  • Going from mixing back to tracking is time consuming
  • The more you listen to something, the more you hear things you don't like
  • Vocals tend to be what listeners connect with, so they should be at the highest standard (this one can be tough to straight up say, but it could convince a vocalist to try it again)

Given all that, and assuming you're charging by the hour or have timeboxed your work, let them decide. You given them the facts and they can do what they want with them.

I think you can always get at least another take out of someone and explain it's "for safety" or "just in case", especially if they are happy with their first take. Just remind them it's all digital and nothing is ever lost (and, of course, don't lose it :)

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The real problem here is that there is a difference in understanding between you (the producer) and the band. The real answer is: If your performers think their play is good enough, and you disagree, don't let your musicians get away with it. Now the way to do this is a bit more difficult, but for me it took quite some time to learn to tell a performer that his performance just wasn't good enough.

If you agree on the fact that the recorded material doesn't sound good enough, and the musicians want to 'fix it in the mix', tell them that basically the only things you can fix in the mix are related to your job: registering their performance on disc (or tape, or whatever).

In Holland we have a saying, that literally translates to "You cuold give a monkey a golden ring, it will always remain a horrible thing." I don't know an English alternative for this one, but what it means is that if you record a bad take, you can do whatever you like with it, but it will never turn into a good take.

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In English we say "Garbage in, garbage out"! –  BenV Dec 8 '10 at 13:02
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Or an adaptation of the original English saying, "you can't polish a turd" -- in our case, "I can polish this turd to a shine... But it's still shit" –  Christopher Woods Sep 15 '11 at 12:08
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