Vibe vs Engineering Perfection

Brandon Drury —  October 22, 2008

I was visiting my study today (that room with the bathtub in it) and popped open the latest Tape Op magazine and read the Tim Hatfield interview. I don’t recall hearing of Tim Hatfield before, but his credits include a Keith Richards solo album. You get the idea. He’s an engineering robo big boy with numerous outstanding credits.

Here at I’m consistently putting a focus on THE MUSIC. The audio engineering is just an aesthetic. It’s just the makeup that goes on top of the face. In this article, Tim really summed it up extremely well.

I hope Tape Op is cool with me quoting their magazine. (If you’ve heard of Tape Op but not subscribed to this free magazine, slap yourself in the face and sign up.)

Tim was referring to Keith Richards and other big boy musicians he’s worked with that like to grab an instrument and just start making stuff up on the spot. We are talking about when the artist says “Oh, I’ve got this idea. I’ve gotta put it down.”

Tim goes on to say “You have to be ready to record. It doesn’t count if you don’t record. Record, because the musicians is playing and the sound will be dealt with later. Maybe the level is not really up, but the whole point is to get the most inspirational performance you can. Don’t stop somebody that’s playing to say, “Wait a minute. I’ve decided I need to move the microphone a half an inch to the left.” Don’t stop the whole band because the high-hat mic has moved.”

There are some major issues that have been hit in this tiny little excerpt. If, in the heat of the moment, mic placement isn’t ideal, so what! Capture music that is worth capturing. Capture music that speaks to you or tells a story or makes you feel something. It seems that if we can just do that, the world doesn’t seem to care too much about what mic placement we used.

Granted, I’m not saying that audio engineering is not important. However, I am saying that audio engineering is there to SERVE the music. It’s certainly not the other way around. I wish recording magazines and websites talked about THE MUSIC more. It seems a bit silly for the typical home recorder to spend so much time thinking about gear and the “right” way to mic an instrument when they should be asking “Does this song tear my heard off?”.

Then again, if a song actually tore your heard off, would you be able to even ask the question? Food for thought.


Brandon Drury

Posts Twitter Facebook Google+

Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.

2 responses to Vibe vs Engineering Perfection

  1. Great article, I was just thinking about this the other day. I remember hearing that one of my all time favorite Jams (the end of “Cant u hear me knockin)by the Stones almost didnt happen, because the engineer was about to stop the tape at the end of the song, when he decided to let it run and captured that improv. Some engineers will let someone warm up, thinking the first few takes cant be the better ones. When the first might be great. This is especially true now when you have processing and such easy splicing/editing. Cool dude!

  2. Tracks that have earned the right to be called ‘classic’ didn’t get there because of the way the snare was compressed, or the way the instruments were isolated. It’s the song, and the vibe created by the musicians in the room. Would ‘stairway to heaven’ be a classic if it was recorded on a casette 4-track? Probably. What about a cut from the latest britny spears cd, cut on a ssl 9000? Hmmmmm …no.
    Nowadays we can edit individual parts of a single word or note if we want, but i’d much rather be working with a track that has so much ‘vibe’ it’s not necessary.
    A real ear-opening experience i had recently was hearing some of those songs that have been put out as a collection of the original tracks. Three in particular- marvin gaye’s ‘what’s goin’ on’, eagle’s ‘lyin’ eyes’, and queen’s ‘ brighton rock’.
    The thing that blew me away about each of those was how rough some of the tracks are! On ‘what’s goin’ on’, the backing vox almost sound bad! No self- respecting digital engineer would allow that today- it would be auto-tuned and nudged in time. The bass on ‘brighton’ sounds like crap when solo’d, and brian’s amps are boxy and noisy.
    Two things- first, when blended into the mix, they sound great, and second, each of these songs are classics.
    So the lessons i learned? Little mistakes don’t matter if the feel is there. Eq the track in the mix, not solo’d. And the big lesson- the song and musicians are more important than the technical stuff.