An Instrument only Sounds as Good as the Player!!!!!

Kenny’s Tip of the Day – An Instrument only Sounds as Good as the Player!!!!!

This seems kinda obvious but for most young engineers and novices, it’s really not. If you’re struggling to get a good piano, bass, guitar or drum sound and you don’t know anyone who can actually “play” the instrument, you’re going to think it’s your engineering skills. Or lack thereof.

The truth is, that it’s NOT you. I’ve heard amazing performers being recorded under terrible conditions and they still sound great. And no amount of engineering skill is going to fix a bad performance. Even with the best equipment in the best studio. It’s just NOT going to happen.

A quick story. When I was working at a high end studio, we had a standard drum kit set up for drummers who didn’t have their own or if their kit wasn’t very good. We had a set of Zildjian New Beat high hats set up and they were pretty old and dirty.

A young drummer comes in to play and I turn to the studio owner and tell him that we really need to get those old high hats replaced. They sounded like two trash cans rubbing against each other with no top end and no definition. Almost unusable.

Fast forward a week and Bernard Purdie comes in to the studio to record a few songs for the day. We’re getting the mics set up and I go into the control room to see how it sounds and I’m blown away. I turn to the owner and ask him where he got THOSE high hats. They were the best I ever heard!! Very clear and incredibly defined. Turns out. Yes. Same high hats as last week, different player.

After that situation we started doing things a bit differently. We would get drum sounds using the band’s drummer, but if we were really struggling to get the kit to sound good, I would go in the music room for a bit and play the drums. I’m no Bernard Purdie but I’m actually pretty good at my approach to hitting the drums. Being around great drummers tends to rub off as you see what they do right and others are doing wrong. If the drums sounded fine with me playing them, we knew that it was the player that was the issue and not the drums or our equipment.

I should also mention, that when I’m talking about “Performance”, I’m NOT just talking about timing and pitch. As we all know, those CAN be fixed with tools after the fact. But those are just a tiny piece of the puzzle. Performance comes from how you “approach” the instrument. Finesse, aggression and subtlety all come into play. The energy in the spaces matters as well. You can’t cheat experience with tools after the part has been recorded.

So keep this in mind with any instrument you record. You can’t control everything. We’re here to capture the event that is taking place. We can’t create the performance. Guide younger more inexperienced players to get better at their chosen instrument as it is such an important part of how the instrument actually SOUNDS.

I hope this message serves you… Well. Kenny

Kenny Gioia

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