Recording & Mixing

RECORDING

Recording is not only about sound. It is about education as well. You actually become a better musician after recording an album. You just have to record it with the right mindset. The right mindset being not abusing the technology, and focusing on playing. That is what we actually think is the defining characteristic of Unreal. The fact that, after the recording, you actually know a thing or two more about arrangement, production decisions, tuning, intonation, song structure, sound. Sure we can do all these things ourselves, copy/paste everything, tune everything to perfection and have you make a relaxed album while saving some money in the process. Where does that leave us? We become better at our craft, while you go on thinking that you rule the world until your first live gig… which will probably be quite a humbling experience, unless of course you decide to blame it on the live engineers, in which case fuck you. You probably won’t ever make it big with that kind of attitude.

So here at Unreal, we tune drums, change heads, obsess about mics, figure out the way the band should actually record (more on this in a sec), we force you to play your parts, we discuss the psychoacoustic effects of headphone mixes… We don’t have one mic for bass drum, one specific preamp, one frequency we always cut. Everything is torn down and reset for every single session. That forces us to reset our brains and approach things differently each time. This is a true studio experience, one that will probably help you in many more ways than merely the sound of your album. If you want the quick and “modern” way, we are certainly not the studio for you. Don’t get us wrong, we can certainly do stuff quickly. There is quite a difference between “quickly” and “sloppy” though.

There are 3 main ways to approach the recording of a band. This will influence the final aesthetic of the production more so than anything else. These are:

Live Recording: The whole band goes in a single room, as if setting up for a rehearsal. No click tracks, headphones, nothing. We capture this as best as possible, like “a band in a room”. Contrary to popular belief, it can sound massive as well. Some obvious facts are: the bleed from instrument to instrument, the inability to do extensive editing afterwards (although we can easily splice the verse from take 1 and the chorus from take 3 provided that they had some semblance of uniform tempo and feel), and that you got to be able to play your shit properly.

Isolated live Recording: Same as above, but the amplifiers reside in different rooms and the band wears headphones. What you hear in the main live room is only drums. This has the benefit of having click track on headphones (if needed) and absolute isolation with some sacrifice to “vibe” and feel due to the presence of headphones.

Overdubs: Bail out. Record guide tracks at home, make them PERFECT, and then record each instrument individually, usually starting with drums. The modern way to record bands, this provides the most control but it is the most clinical approach as well. Granted, sometimes that might be just what is needed.

Now, you can combine those 3 methods to get the most out of a production. For example, you could record drums and bass live, then the rest with overdubs. Or the drummer alone could wear headphones with click track blasting through them. Or you could record isolated live, then keep only drums and rerecord everything else, just to give the drummer some groove. The possibilities are endless. The one that works best for any given band is something that either the band knows, feels, or has tried before. Usually a producer makes that all important call. When there is no producer (sigh..) we make that decision after discussing with the band.

MIXING

We mix using our console and outboard. We love it. It is fast, intuitive, and allows you to “play” the console like an instrument. The obvious advantage is that each successive album track becomes easier, since the multitracks output on the same channels. This is one of the huge benefits of analog mixing. The downside is that recall is difficult, and the tracks are best off advancing in a linear fashion. So, first we have to mix (and finish) track 3, then track 5, etc. We can’t go back to the 3rd song while we are on the last one. Well, we can (and we have done so in the past), but it is tricky and usually requires more time. Our usual project sample rate is 44.1khz/24bit and our 2track master takes are 44.1khz/24 bit as well.