How do You get the "perfect recording"

How do You get the “perfect recording” ?

Do You mix several takes together ?
What is your procedure whithin nTrack ?


Version 5.0 is scheduled to have a Perfect plugin button in the upper left of the mixer panel near the master volume. If you use that combined with a Lexicon Talent 1.4 DXI/VSTI, which is also available as an outboard hardware module you’ll be able to save decades of practicing, experimenting and listening! :D

More seriously, it’s hard to give you a difinitive procedure for this. I’m an old guy and a copuple of decades ago I took a short class in analog 24-track recording at a local (Boston) studio. Even though some of the technology has changed, that kind of hands on with an industry professional helped a lot. If you have an opportunity for a Pro Tools class something like that in your area I’d recommend it.

Truthfully, I don’t have the patience to make my recordings perfect. I do have a few principles I apply towards getting mixes I am satisfied with:

Start with good tracks. Don’t accept a poor take or sound with the intention of "fixing it in the mix."
Apply EQ and effects sparingly, and again, don’t plan on using these to fix a track. Use them to make a good track stand out.
Learn about mic positioning.
The beat is king and playing tight is his castle. Alright that was alame metaphor, but if your musician can’t paly in time or play together your recordings will
not sound right. Maybe not in-your-face sloppy, it may just sound like it’s lacking something you can’t put your finger on. This does not mean that everyone
has to follow a click (though I do recommend it).
Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Make several mixes with certain specific variations (you can save multiple n-Track files so you can go back to these) and take them out to your car with a
notepad and write down what you like, don’t like, want to change a bout each mix. You need to listen on different speakers and in a different acousitc
Grant youself - and your friends - only limited trust. I don’t like playing things for people before I’m done for two reasons. First, I’m likely to change anything
up to the last minute before I’m finished. There are many times I’ve stayed up late to get the perfect track, only to decide the next morning that the track was
unnecessary. Second, your friends and family, even if - actually especially if - they are experienced recordists themselves, can not understand your thought
process or hear the sound in your head that you’re trying to acheive. They will always focus on some detail that you consider beyond question. E.g., if you
ask someone if like the sound of the kick drum they are likely to tell you that they don’t like the lyrics. On the other hand if you play them your finished mix they
will accept it, like it or hate it, as complete.

I hope these help. Oh, I almost forgot one of the most important pieces of advice: LISTEN!

what he said…^^^


I’ve never tried to make perfect records because the records I seem to like the most are far from perfect.

I try to make good enough songs or be a part of recording good enough songs with decent performance and the best possible feel.

For a difficult or crucial part, record several takes, one right after the other with just a breather to relax in between. I generally do 4. Later, listen to each phrase and select the best track for that phrase.

For vocals or other parts where there’s silence between the phrases, it’s very easy to mute the unwanted tracks. I recommend you drag to select the unwanted part and then hit “Cut”, which makes it disappear – making the display very easy to read. (The data isn’t gone and you can easily get it back at any time – but I rarely have any need to once I decide a part isn’t the best take anyway.)

In continuous parts, each splice point needs to be scrutinized and adjusted carefully to get a good splice. There are a number of techniqes for this, and the important thing to get is when zoomed way in, the waveform where the parts join can’t have a discontinuity or a sharp angle. In other words, the two parts need to meet at the same value and with roughly the same slope. And of course, it has to sound natural; usually the best place is immediately before the beginning of a note or chord.

For some parts like rhythm guitar (electric or acoustic, fingerpicked or strummed), it’s nice to record two takes that are either identical or similar and complementary, and pan them apart.

The list goes on, there’s no end to the things to learn to make good recordings. However, be sure you understand the general order of importance. From most important to least, assuming that the gear is at least “decent”, like a soundblaster soundcard, mixer preamps, and SM57/SM58 mikes:

* composition
* arrangement
* performance
* instruments
* engineering
* mics
* preamps
* soundcard
* software

Of course, if any of the lower items is really bad, it can really detract from superb items above. But a flawless recording of a bad performance is rarely of mich value. Instruments don’t have to be expensive, but they do need to be in good shape and decent – in which case, engineering skill can really make a big difference.

Of course, engineering is the big wild card here, but it’s possible to do things simply and get great results without incredible technical skill. Like a friend of mine who was both musician and cook said: “Recipe for success: start with good ingredients; don’t wreck 'em.”


Recipe for success: start with good ingredients; don’t wreck 'em.

That’s classic. I’m gonna remember that one.

Something I’ve seen George Massenburg say: if you want to improve your mixes, learn how to listen critically.

Listen to everything (in a piece), and listen to how it’s done. Pick out parts (or practices) that you can recognize, and think about how it’s done.

I’ve had much fun listening to jingles on commecials. They offer a huge range of production styles, and are very easily accesible. Listen to what they do, reverb here, or there, delays, EQ issues, etc. Just listening for these types of things, can tweak your own hearing, to improve. Then your mixes will improve as well.

EDIT oh yeah, then expirement. . . a lot!

Hey, Jeff:

THanks for the excellent synopsis.

On a related note, over the past year, I’ve found many of your “How It Works” answers to basic recording questions hugely illuminating, easy to read, and well written. Have you thought about turning your collected posts into a book? I know you have a bunch on your website, but it would be great to have all your accumulated wisdom in one place.

In any case, thanks for being so generous with your advice.

I have yet to make what I consider a ‘perfect’ recording… - I have come closer, recently, thanks mainly to experience, perseverence, equipment upgrades and attention to detail.

Having fought inferior gear for as long as I have been making music - nearly 25 years by now - I have learnt to get the most from what I have at the time. It’s actually somewhat more fun to make do with what you’ve got than to be given every opportunity right from the start. I’ve found it a great help whenever I moved on to more sophisticated equipment to have used similar equipment of poorer quality earlier on. It leaves me with the impression that the better gear may be more complicated to use, but eventually more forgiving towards minor mistakes by me.

When I started out doing sound-on-sound recordings on an old open reel-to-reel Tandberg two-track machine (1981 or thereabouts), I had to be very careful with the relative levels and the quality of my performance in order for the finished production to be worth listening to. Today, with n-Track, I am able to record eight tracks simultaneously and overdub as many times as I need to get a complete performance. I routinely mix performances of multiple takes spanning beyond thirty-two tracks, and the n-Track automation (volume envelopes) actually does the mixes for me! (I once needed three pairs of hands to do a certain four-track mix on my old Fostex 480 Multitracker)

Does it mean my recordings are ‘better’ today? Maybe. My experience has helped me to concentrate on the performance instead of the equipment. Recording in 24 bit helpps me keep my levels up without the risk of clipping. Better instruments and microphones makes it easier(!) to get the sounds I want.

Recently, I pulled out an old cassette tape from my vault because I wanted to play one of my old recordings to someone. Yes, there were tape hiss. Yes, there was hum, rumble and audible edits. But… - the music of that recording was still present, right there, on that some 23 years old tape.

I remember I was hot on my heels when I made that recording back then. I wanted it to sound good. I tried different things in order to get the performance fit the limitations (48-52 dB S/N ratio, wow, flutter, poor bass response, hum, hiss, inadequate tuning accuracy, etc, etc.) of the four-track format. Eventually, after many, many retakes, I pulled it off.

I guess it is the mood, coupled with some inevitable technical knowledge, that helps make great recordings. Every little thing affecting what is recorded has an audible influence on the finished product. My advice is: Hone your skills, listen, identify and eliminate whatever stands in the way of a better recording, one thing at a time, and eventually you will get there.

You may make better recordings with a Neumann U87 than with a stick mic, but at least having tried to make a good recording with a stick mic may help you in handling the U87…

regards, Nils

I agree with all these guys. I’d like to add that the perfect recording is like the perfect tone, the perfect guitar, the perfect wine, the perfect photo, whatever, you name it, we’re all looking for it. And in recording, that’s the essence, that’s why were all still looking. Enjoy the journey. :D

Quote (PapaRomeo @ Aug. 25 2006,11:31)
Hey, Jeff:

THanks for the excellent synopsis.

On a related note, over the past year, I've found many of your "How It Works" answers to basic recording questions hugely illuminating, easy to read, and well written. Have you thought about turning your collected posts into a book? I know you have a bunch on your website, but it would be great to have all your accumulated wisdom in one place.

In any case, thanks for being so generous with your advice.

Um ... feel free to stash 'em away and email 'em to me! :cool:

I don’t mean to scare you off…but be prepared for a lot of “twiddlin”. Many many people here have devoted countless hours learning how to work the software in their arsinal. Even a bad demo will take time to achieve. But we keep going…and with the help of this forum, if you keep it up, you might get some fantastic results. It’s up to you.

The single thing that made the biggest difference to me was learning to get the hottest signal possible to disk without clipping when recording the individual tracks. After that everything was MUCH easier.
Personally I achieved this with a Samson compression unit that had presets built in for Guitar, Bass, Voice, Percussion, etc, etc.