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Monday, December 8, 2008

Fletcher gives recording advice

His favorite microphone? The Shure SM57

Dear Fletcher:

I was wondering if you would share what some of your personal favorite microphones are? Preamp? All in one type boxes? And what are some of your personal favorite microphone, preamplifier combinations for vocals, or any particular instruments?

The Anonymous Newbie

This is really pretty easy. My favorite microphone ever made is the Shure SM57. It's rarely ever "genius" but it never ever totally sucks. You can point one in the general direction of a sound and you'll get a pretty decent representation of that sound that can be recorded and pounded to death later.

Everything else is pretty much open to negotiation. I do mostly unsigned artists which often means that the "A List" gear isn't an option. Above and beyond that there is always a ton of shit I'm checking out for Mercenary so it's not all that uncommon for me to be in the position where I'm working on a project with nothing but tools I've never seen before. So, I'll be in the studio trying to define uses (or reasons why I'll never use them again) for stuff that is a total and complete mystery to me.

A lot of times I'll hit one piece of gear that I absolutely think is the balls only to get to the mix or mastering and find that it wasn't all that great so then I'll have a self-imposed problem I have to try to work out of.

The only things I really stress about in terms of the whole recording process are the sounds I'm recording. You can have all the $10,000 mics in the world but if the sound you're recording is shit, the recording is going to come out like shit. If the emotion from the performer isn't there, then you're going to come out with a pile of shit. If you have great sounds with great performances and can use whatever tools you have at your disposal to capture those sounds and those performances in a manner that compliments the musical statement, then you're sitting in a damn good chair.

Having access to some of the hardware I have access to will often make the job a hell of a lot easier. It can often make the product maintain the emotional content that was the artist's vision of how the product should be presented. But, it's never a means to an end. The whole goal is to be consistently "upper mediocre." Nobody is a genius everyday, nobody sucks every day -- OK, some do suck everyday but they're destined for failure in anything they do. The idea is really to be a little better than average everyday, and genius when you can, and try to avoid being totally shitty always.

In real life, I'm a mechanic by hobby while many of the people that might read this are "recording engineers" by hobby. When I go to a custom motorcycle shop and see the tools they have at their disposal, I drool.

We have a moderately well set up shop that we play in on weekends. I'm like the little intern. We have some pretty cool shit. A lot of the tools here run on compressed air, we have lifts and bead blasters and some specialty tools. We can build a scoot pretty much from the ground up but we don't have the CNC stuff that a lot of the "real" shops have and we never will because it's a hobby and not a profession.

By the same token, I like some of the stuff we build in our shop way more than some of these customs that sell for $50,000. If you're drawing the parallel, it's all about making the best product you can with the tools at your disposal whether you're building motorcycles or recording music.

After building a few motors, I've learned some tricks to make it easier to build motors and I've learned some tricks that make the motors come out better. After approximately 30 years of being an audio engineer I have a pretty good grasp of theory and a repetoire of techniques from which I can draw that will pretty much insure a good translation of the artist's intention.

At the end of the day it ain't how you got to the finishing line, it's that you got there at all. I don't think there are a dozen things I've done in my career as an engineer that I've sat back and listened to and said, "Holy shit! That's good." I'm the same way with a bike. I've never owned one that's been "finished." There is always something I'd like to change. There is always something where I feel I could have done better. There is always something I wish I'd done differently. I just take that to the next gig, and the gig after that and so on.

Recording is a medium because it's oh so rare that it's ever well done.

I doubt that was the "answer" you were looking for but it's the best I happened to have today.


Fletcher, Mercenary Audio

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