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What makes a recording sound professional
Old 26th March 2015
  #1
What makes a recording sound professional

Just looking for some advice on what key elements separate a commercial recording from a amateur recording.

I have found that even when something is recorded well, lets say vocal and acoustic guitar, that in itself doesn't mean it will sound professional. Do all recordings need to be processed in one way or another to achieve a produced sound ?

In terms of processing, what do users here consider imperative for the job ?
Old 26th March 2015
  #2
Gear Maniac
 
telegramsam's Avatar
 

There are no hard and fast rules, except to say experience is really what separates your typical amateur and pro.

As an amateur you can acquire that experience, it just takes a lot longer.

Do your best to make music that YOU think sounds good, with the gear that you can afford. The only rule is that it should sound good.
Old 26th March 2015
  #3
Here for the gear
Balance in terms of level, Eq (frequency), and compression. Finding the main element(s) and emphasing them. Possibly loudness, depending on your style of music. Reduction of noise, pitch correction and timing. Masking edits.. There's a lot of variables that can contribute to an amateur or 'pro' mix.
Old 26th March 2015
  #4
A great room...
Old 26th March 2015
  #5
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Spede's Avatar
 

Regarding a professional sounding mix, it's often midrange that sounds consistent and clear that makes a professional sound. With bottom and top end you more shape the genre of the music; rock music has a certain kind of top and bottom end while hip-hop has another kind of. But both genres have clear mids which make you able to hear all the instruments regardless the speaker and environment you're listening in.
Old 26th March 2015
  #6
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kennybro's Avatar
There's no short road.

Do a lot of recording, and keep trying to imitate the overall sound of your favorite recordings. Sometimes, without specific gear, you won't ape it right on, but you can always get close with reasonable gear and a good head on your shoulders. Practice, experience and clear thinking is the key to becoming good at anything. Mixing is not an exception to that rule.
Old 26th March 2015
  #7
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takka360's Avatar
 

Top notch tracking,with that in place you are half way there.
Old 26th March 2015
  #8
Quote:
In terms of processing, what do users here consider imperative for the job ?
Good Compression.
Good room.
Good monitoring .
They are all important.

And a good Pool Table.
Old 26th March 2015
  #9
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electricity
Old 26th March 2015
  #10
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narcoman's Avatar
 

experience. lots of it.

Everything else is a facet of it. Good rooms? Yeah - but experience will get you round a BAD room.
Old 26th March 2015
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by takka360 View Post
Top notch tracking,with that in place you are half way there.
And the other half ? That's what i'm trying to get at I suppose
Old 26th March 2015
  #12
Quote:
experience. lots of it.

Everything else is a facet of it. Good rooms? Yeah - but experience will get you round a BAD room.
Very true. Knowing a bad room and how to deal with it is a skill.
As far as gear goes though you always have to have a good front end if you want to get any decent sounding professional recordings.
That means microphones and preamps.
Old 26th March 2015
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scouser View Post
And the other half ? That's what i'm trying to get at I suppose
The other half is a great mix and master
Old 27th March 2015
  #14
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scouser View Post
Just looking for some advice on what key elements separate a commercial recording from a amateur recording.

I have found that even when something is recorded well, lets say vocal and acoustic guitar, that in itself doesn't mean it will sound professional. Do all recordings need to be processed in one way or another to achieve a produced sound ?

In terms of processing, what do users here consider imperative for the job ?
Great question. I am curious too.
Old 27th March 2015
  #15
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In this sort of scenario a great performance makes all the difference in the world. A brilliantly recorded crappy player is pretty much always going to sound amateur no matter what you do as an engineer.
Old 27th March 2015
  #16
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Details and decisions.

Is there talent, is there technique? Can the equipment capture, is the conversion good?

Fingers or pick? Which pick, which strings? Which acoustic? Which mic(s)? Dynamic, LDC, SDC? Stereo, mono? Cardioid, omni, figure of eight? Pointed where at what distance? What room, where in the room, gobos? Which preamp(s), compressor(s)? Soft knee? Ratio? Attack? Release?

Which chords, played where? Which inversion, which bass line, which strum?

Which vocal mic? How far away? Off axis? Pointed up/down? Which preamp? Compressor? De-esser? Distorted, clean? Sing loudly, sing softly, aggressively? Enunciate, slur, legato, staccato? Happy, sad, angry, quiet?

Reverb, delay, chorus, auto-tune, EQ?

What about the frequency balance, the transients, the phase relationships?

How is the space used, is it wide, is it narrow, have I created depth? Where is my attention directed, is there enough, is there too little, am I interested, do I care, do I believe?

If you get all those decisions right for the piece of music, it will sound good, and that will sound professional.

If you make a few bad choices you can hope for nice, pretty good, quirky, or charming. If you make more than a few bad decisions, or if you ignore any elements in the chain, the recording will sound amateurish. I know, I've made plenty of recordings like that.

Slow down, consider everything.
Old 27th March 2015
  #17
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scouser View Post
Just looking for some advice on what key elements separate a commercial recording from a amateur recording.

I have found that even when something is recorded well, lets say vocal and acoustic guitar, that in itself doesn't mean it will sound professional. Do all recordings need to be processed in one way or another to achieve a produced sound ?

In terms of processing, what do users here consider imperative for the job ?
Good question.

IME it is the mixing that truly separates the amateur from the pro -- at least in the hi track count genres such as pop, rock, mainstream hip hop/rap, metal, etc.

I have heard literally hundreds of amateur records over the years where big money was spent at the best studios with famous rooms, A list gear, A list tracking engineers, "name" producers, etc. And essentially all of them still ended up sounding like demos in the end, even after pro mastering.

Most of these skipped hiring out a good mixer, and some even paid big $ for a "name" mixer and still got something back that paled in comparison to a good pro level mix. And in these cases the music/songwriting/arrangement were really good and not the problem; it was simply that the name engineer ran them thru the fast mill (probably handed off to the night shift intern crew) and simply didn't care. I think it is a myth you can hire a name mix engineer and get him/her to do their best work when you don't have the backing of a label.

Of the very few I have heard (can count them on 1 hand) that truly got a pro sound they were lucky/smart enough to get a competent mixer who really cared and put in the time to make it happen. Ironically, these were projects NOT tracked in world class studios !

IME (at least for the genres mentioned above) the mix is so important and so dramatic a factor that the raw, unmixed tracks would literally seem unrecognizable to the average joe if compared to the final mix/master. Pretty much every famous commercial recording you have heard (at least in the last 35 years) has been thru the lens of a very talented mix engineer.

So when you hear these commercial CDs you are hearing hundreds of important processing decisions that a 5th degree black belt mix engineer is responsible for.

Last edited by sage691; 27th March 2015 at 02:01 AM..
Old 27th March 2015
  #18
Here for the gear
 

IMO EQ Frequencies, A beginners mix is almost always bogged down with lower mid range. Tracking: First step, garbage in garbage out. you'll be amazed at how these two things will help..... Record as much as possible, experiment..... A GOOD ROOM: Room treatment is a must, If you are trying to mix in a room with no treatment, especially a small room, you might as well go outside and mix. You'll probably get a better mix. (that was a joke, but probably true)
Old 27th March 2015
  #19
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Alex Sanford's Avatar
 

It really is the sum of soooo many things. And really, as people have already said here, experience is the key. People who produce award-winning mixes have been mixing for a long time. They're experts. It's not because they use some magical piece of gear, or know some magical trick. They just intimately know what they're doing, and they know how to make great mixes. It's something that only a great deal of experience can teach.

The good news is, anyone can get there. You don't have to be born with some special powers, or have the money to afford all the best high end gear. Just keep recording, keep mixing, keep produce it. Do as much as you can. You'll get better every time.
Old 27th March 2015
  #20
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by adydub View Post
In this sort of scenario a great performance makes all the difference in the world. A brilliantly recorded crappy player is pretty much always going to sound amateur no matter what you do as an engineer.
Man I thought I was a good keyboard player but when I record I'm sloppy as heck.
Old 27th March 2015
  #21
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scouser View Post
Just looking for some advice on what key elements separate a commercial recording from a amateur recording.

I have found that even when something is recorded well, lets say vocal and acoustic guitar, that in itself doesn't mean it will sound professional. Do all recordings need to be processed in one way or another to achieve a produced sound ?

In terms of processing, what do users here consider imperative for the job ?
Here's what I will tell you. If you could get the performance to be right but you still feel like the quality is suck, then you might need to upgrade your recording gears. Buy better converter or whatever dude. With edm music you can just use samples and vst and it will sound great, but actual recording is different. You have to have a good set-up just to make quality song.
Old 27th March 2015
  #22
Gear Maniac
 
Paschalis I.'s Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cozmik Prod. View Post
A great room...
Replies like this make newbies want to give up before they even start.

The true answer is practice and train your ears to actually know what is considered to be right or wrong.

Make your ears mix to the commercial levels, of course room is important,
but don't discourage people in the newbie forum man :/
Old 27th March 2015
  #23
Gear Guru
 
Karloff70's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by narcoman View Post
experience. lots of it.

Everything else is a facet of it. Good rooms? Yeah - but experience will get you round a BAD room.
thread/
Old 27th March 2015
  #24
Deleted User
Guest
1. Know Gain Staging (this is half your battle for you)

2. Know your mic (no such thing as a bad mic, experiment)

3. Know your room (work with what you have)

4. Know that you CAN'T FIX ANYTHING in the mix. Record it how you hear it in your head and want it to sound the 1st time and you will save yourself tons of headaches.
Old 27th March 2015
  #25
Thanks guys, appreciate your thoughts on this.

As I said when I started the post

"I have found that even when something is recorded well, lets say vocal and acoustic guitar, that in itself doesn't mean it will sound professional"

This assumes that everything going in, is good and as it should be. So I was thinking what is it that is added after that which gives it a finished sound ?

As some of you have pointed out, things like compression, eq, reverb and limiters etc all play a part, presumably not many people produce records without these processors ? I guess there is always the exception, but in the main i'm guessing these procedures are a formality ? Is it the above along with mastering that brings a finished sound also ?

I been reading a lot about how the beatles made their records in the early days, and it seems there was very little to do compared to todays 100 track count, yet they sounded complete in there own way.

Maybe my question should have been "if I have a well recorded vocal and guitar, what would it need as a minimum to sound pro" ? Nothing at all ? compression, reverb, limiting, mastering ? etc etc

Don't know if i'm making much sense, but i'm trying
Old 27th March 2015
  #26
Gear Guru
 
Karloff70's Avatar
 

It would need whatever it needs. A pro would soon be able to tell you (subjectively). That's where that experience comes in.

It's not about what processes and whether they are required for something to 'sound pro', it's about experience being required in order to tell what is sounding 'right'. And then do whatever necessary with whatever tool to get that happening. For this you need to know what 'right' sounds like at each stage of the process. That comes only from working for a long time, ideally at some point with people who show you.

So, unfortunately the combination of tools you are looking for in your answer won't mean anything outside of that context.

Also, do you actually KNOW you do have a good recording? Not being a bustard, but many people who think they have a good recording do not. And the same skills of experience are required to determine whether you do or do not, so if that experience is lacking it is arguably not guaranteed you do have a great recording although you may think so........

Anyways, narcoman shut shop on the thread already. The rest will be fluff like this here post of mine.
Old 27th March 2015
  #27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Karloff70 View Post
It would need whatever it needs. A pro would soon be able to tell you (subjectively). That's where that experience comes in.

It's not about what processes and whether they are required for something to 'sound pro', it's about experience being required in order to tell what is sounding 'right'. And then do whatever necessary with whatever tool to get that happening. For this you need to know what 'right' sounds like at each stage of the process. That comes only from working for a long time, ideally at some point with people who show you.

So, unfortunately the combination of tools you are looking for in your answer won't mean anything outside of that context.

Also, do you actually KNOW you do have a good recording? Not being a bustard, but many people who think they have a good recording do not. And the same skills of experience are required to determine whether you do or do not, so if that experience is lacking it is arguably not guaranteed you do have a great recording although you may think so........

Anyways, narcoman shut shop on the thread already. The rest will be fluff like this here post of mine.
I think we all have some idea as to what sounds good, we have been hearing sounds from the day we were born. Isn't knowing that something doesn't sound right important ?

I don't belong to the school that says you have to be a mixer, engineer to know what sounds right, perhaps in order to get it sounding right those skills come into play.

If it sounds right to me, that's good enough..
Old 27th March 2015
  #28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paschalis I. View Post
Replies like this make newbies want to give up before they even start.

The true answer is practice and train your ears to actually know what is considered to be right or wrong.

Make your ears mix to the commercial levels, of course room is important,
but don't discourage people in the newbie forum man :/


Well, if they get discouraged by this then maybe they're in the wrong business anyway.

I am a newbie myself, and this realisation did not stop me from recording.

Yes experiance counts the most, you get that for free just by doing it...

Some people might sugest that you need fancy gear and expensive microphones, well, I think not.

If you have a good performer, some half decent mics and gear, but the acoustic space is great, it will easily result in a very nice recording.

Now I did not say you need to own a great room, you need to learn to listen and find one, great spaces can be anywhere. I use a friends bathroom as a reverb chamber, it works great and gives more "3D ness" then a fancy Bricasti will ever give me...

Commercial levels as in loudness war ?
What will that give you ?
A hyped up stressed out sound...

Forget qauntity, quality is what counts ! A crap mix pumped up really loud will still be a crap mix, and a really fine mix will suffer from that.


Just my 1 cent (inflation corrected opinion)
Old 27th March 2015
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scouser View Post
I been reading a lot about how the beatles made their records in the early days, and it seems there was very little to do compared to todays 100 track count, yet they sounded complete in there own way.

Maybe my question should have been "if I have a well recorded vocal and guitar, what would it need as a minimum to sound pro" ? Nothing at all ? compression, reverb, limiting, mastering ? etc etc

Don't know if i'm making much sense, but i'm trying
Beatles production/mixes were 5th degree black belt in every way. Same with The Doors, Floyd, etc. Nowhere near as simple as most might think, even compared to today !
Old 27th March 2015
  #30
Gear Guru
 
Karloff70's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scouser View Post
I think we all have some idea as to what sounds good, we have been hearing sounds from the day we were born. Isn't knowing that something doesn't sound right important ?

I don't belong to the school that says you have to be a mixer, engineer to know what sounds right, perhaps in order to get it sounding right those skills come into play.

If it sounds right to me, that's good enough..
No perhaps about it. They ARE the skills that make that happen. And knowing whether different ingredients are healthy for their intended purpose along the road of building a production is integral to building something that ends up sounding 'right'. So, basically knowing at the different stages which bits need to do what for it all to come together right is it. Not at all the same as knowing whether subjectively the completed outcome sounds 'right'.

And it doesn't happen without experience and can't really be explained across to someone.
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