Mixing possible: that's how communication between musician and sound engineer works

Sound engineer Magnus from Lala Studios gives concrete tips on preparation for the studio – so that musicians and mixers create something special together

Recording in a professional recording studio is often expensive. And the sound engineer rarely has exactly the same ear for music and sound as you do. When a band leaves the studio dissatisfied, there is often a supposedly trivial reason: the band and mixer have talked at cross-purposes. Therefore, Magnus from Lala Studios in Leipzig tells us here how bands and sound engineers understand each other better - and which questions you should ask yourself before your first visit to the studio.

Magnus Wichmann

is sound engineer, producer and owner of the Lala Studios in Leipzig. He knows what he needs to hear from bands to find the right sound - because he himself is also a musician.

Don't be afraid to show us your idols and inspirations

We almost always ask musicians for references. This helps immensely in making a specific plan for production. When I am brought in as a producer of a band or an artist, this is one of the first steps. Many bands are afraid of this because they want to sound independent and don't want to give the impression of having copied a style. Of course, the final result will never and should never sound exactly like the references. But we could explain to each other for hours with abstract words and onomatopoeia how certain riffs should sound - in the end both sides are dissatisfied.

When I call something 'fat' or 'warm' or 'rough', I have completely different sounds in my head than a person who is musically socialized in a different way.

References can be different and your sound remains independent. You can have the snare from record A and the cool reverb on the voice from record B.

Without sound references you have to rely on 'musician's language' - and that is too subjective.

Let's listen to music together - or invite us to a gig first

When we suggest this, musicians are often bemused. But if the recording is to be really good, it stands to reason to talk about music first. If time allows, we should spend a relaxed evening together in a bar or even better watching YouTube or listening to Spotify. Thus, ideas and vibes you can respond to as a producer quickly become apparent. In addition, it is helpful if we listen to your old demos together, if you have already recorded music yourself. We can then review them. Are there instruments missing, should the drums sound like this again or rather differently? It also helps us to go to one of your concerts - or at least to be present at a rehearsal. You should clarify beforehand whether this counts as working time for the respective sound engineer. With a big album production there is surely a good solution for both sides, because a production benefits enormously from this. Sure, at rehearsal, the band let's their pants down. But this way you get a clearer picture of what you want to represent as a band.

First, think about the technology you want to use

We can coach and give tips, but we can't (and don't want to) make a decision for you. As sound engineers in the recording studio, we love bands with a clear vision, authenticity and dedication. We like it best when you already know what you want.

I always experience the same insecurities with bands in the recording studio. Not because they are bad musicians - many of them simply have never thought about certain points.

1. Do you want live recording or overdubbing?

Live recording means that we record all instrumentalists at the same time while they perform the song live. Live recording usually captures the energy of a band better. It's a great solution for a band that plays well together and masters their instruments in their sleep.

When overdubbing, we usually record the drums first, then the bass, then the guitars one after the other. Overdubbing allows finer editing and better access to all individual instruments. In overdubbing, we edit the drums directly after all drum takes are in the box. We cut everything so neatly that it does not rumble and still sounds natural. Thus, all instrumentalists can play and record directly onto a tight drum set. The process is repeated for bass and guitars. With snotty punk this would rather not be desired, but with pop and other rather clean music styles it is definitely an added value.

2. Clearly define beforehand which equipment you want to use

In both cases a recording starts with the setup, the soundcheck and the related selection of instruments. You should make your choice beforehand:

  • Wooden snare or metal snare?
  • Fender or Gibson?
  • Bass amp or DI box?

We can advise you on the choice of microphones. It is important that you either bring a microphone with which you feel absolutely comfortable. Or, if you as a singer haven't found the perfect microphone for singing yet, try a few beforehand.

3. Be aware of how you prefer monitoring

A good feeling for the band is required for good cooperation: Does everyone hear themselves well, does everyone hear the others, is the metronome loud enough?

Best document how you play in the rehearsal room - of course only if you like it there.

4. What support do you need?

Then the actual recording of the songs begins. Depending on how sure you are with your instruments, I will give you only a metronome or what sound engineers sometimes call dirt track, dirt guitar, guide track or ghost guitar. If you need the metronome and songs vary in tempo, it would be best if you would bring a click track with you into the studio. Otherwise we will have to do it ourselves under time pressure. If we don't know the individual BPMs in the songs either, we might misjudge individual parts. In that case, the click is unfamiliar for the instrumentalists. This can make the whole recording process very frustrating and lengthy. We like to mix the 'sound concept' over the individually recorded tracks. If we start with the drums, the bass can record directly onto a finished mixed drum kit. This in turn allows us to mix the bass sound directly into the song at the amp. The same happens with the guitars, synths, percussions and vocals. You don't have that option in the rehearsal room - but think about how your bass should always sound like.

Conclusion: The more information you provide, the better we can work with you

We can work with you on an equal footing easier and more precise if you come well prepared to the recording studio. Ultimately, the budget and thus the studio time is almost always limited. So bring reference records with you, invite us to the concert beforehand, lay out the instruments you want to use in advance. Sometimes, as a producer or technician I'm also a little bit of a coach, sometimes I'm just a service provider and more often than not I'm also somewhat a psychiatrist. If you as an artist allow this and accept that we are on your side, then we will make the phattest records together.

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