Pro Audio Files

5 Old-Timey Adages We Desperately Need Today

Once upon a time we didn’t have super-jacked computers with Pro Tools 45 and a gazillion plugins that do almost anything you could think of.

It was a tough time. Editing was extremely time consuming. When you mixed, you needed to worry about things like a noise floor (gasp!).

Because the production process was a bit more restricted and potentially time-consuming, certain guiding principals came to light in the form of quaint little adages.

But in the DIY age, these adages have fallen a bit to the wayside. So here’s five old geezer mantras you can recite to yourself before your next production.

1. A Recording Should Sound Like a Record

What it means: A well arranged and recorded multitrack should “sound like a record” simply by pushing the faders up. If the words “well, it isn’t mixed yet” come out of your mouth, you did something wrong.

Why we need it: The modern production generation is beginning to lean too heavily on the mixing process to make things “sound like a record.” This value is misplaced. A good song, with a good arrangement and good tracking should already excite people before a single knob is turned in the mix stage. The mix should be ironing out the kinks and taking it all one step further.

2. A Good Song Only Needs 3 Things: A Singer, Piano and a Piano Bench

What it means: One fairly accurate litmus for a great song is you can strip it down to just a vocals and a single instrument, like a piano or guitar, and it’s still captivating.

Why we need it: The modern production generation is leaning too heavily on sound selection to make a song work. The focus has shifted away from composition in favor of having powerful drums/guitars/unique production. And while having great sounds is an integral part of the process, nothing supersedes the quality of the lyrics, melody, and progression.

3. The Emotion Is Between the Notes

What it means: A great performance isn’t about the notes. It’s about the dynamic, the space, the pocket, and as Miles Davis famously noted: it’s also about the notes you don’t play.

Why we need it: The modern production generation is leaning very heavily on sequencers. While sequencers are extremely useful and can be very emotive they naturally lack human feel. The humanity of a performance is quintessentially what allows the feel of a record to translate to other humans. Unless the feel is specifically inhuman or robotic. Moreover, a lot of music is relying on sequencers in an almost mathematical way and takes away from the surprise both in terms of performance and composition.

4. The Emotion Is in the Room

What it means: Music is an art of communication, and part of that communication is the conversation between the players.

Why we need it: The modern production generation is relying very heavily on the process of overdubbing to create records. There’s a fear of commitment prevalent in today’s music culture. We’re scared to not be able to edit everything into perfection, or to not be able to treat an instrument without bleed from another instrument. But this process of overdubbing takes away the potential for those spontaneous and wonderful little things that can happen when musicians start feeding off each other. No amount of editing can ever recreate that.

5. To Thine Own Self Be True

Ok, this one isn’t a music saying per se, but it applies.

What it means: Draw your inspiration from an honest place that reflects who you are. Don’t fake the funk.

Why we need it: The modern production generation has the capability to create in almost any manner imaginable. There really is very limit to the things we can do. Oddly enough, the number one issue I have most of the records that come across my desk is that they sound like imitations of another band/artist. Or at the very least don’t seem to speak in a way that’s exclusive to the folks making the record. No one is really interested in hearing a knock-off of someone else. What generally catches people’s attention is the passion put into a record and the fearless daring to go off the beaten path.


– Weiss

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch:

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  • Silvio Benvenuto

    Sorry for the bad english, I’ll try to explain mi point of view. The music industry tells people what to love, and then creates tons of mainstream stuff that put down what I call the “listening standard”. So here it is: tons of electronic instruments, tons of sequenced notes, then just add a boosted beat and compress it all to win the loudness war. Play the song in every radio and tv channel, fill the internet with related contents, and people will like not just the song, but that way to create music. Maybe some music genres are safe for now, but things like metal (IRs, presets, samples) and music for movies are quite dead for me. Just my two cents, cheers from Italy

    • Silvio Benvenuto

      oh god, mi = my 😀

    • Joseph Sannicandro

      I dont think the problem is necessarily artifice in itself, there are plenty of brilliant electronic artists doing creative innovative work. (Even in Italy! Think of Senufo Editions, Die Schactel, Boring Machines, Silentes, Fratto9, and many more). The problem is these listening standards ate understood to be “natural” and hence go unquestioned. The over use of compression is a good example.

  • Joseph Sannicandro

    This advice is fine so long as the assumption is the product is song-oriented music, however I feel like this attitude is akin to telling film makers they should continue pretending live theater is the ideal model. How does this advice apply to, for instance, club music, abstract electronics, ambient, musique concrete, etc? Audio reproduction, studio production turned music into a studio art, everyone doesn’t have to continue producing “something that sounds like a record”

    • Eric Bridenbaker

      Well said. Some is good advice for these forms as well, although the article clearly does not speak to all.

  • Becca Kristovsky

    Have a listen to what we did yesterday. I think we covered all five of your points.

    • Annemarie Nelson

      Great work!! loved it…hoping to get to NY one of these days, be great to hear you live….Annemarie (from NZ)

    • Becca Kristovsky

      Thanks Annemarie, but we’re not in NY. We’re in Israel. 🙂

  • live in studio – we only pushed up the faders & was done. no punch ins, no edits after cutting. check it:

  • Guest

    White Texas goes to UK and nails moving Marvin Gaye Tribute – Cut Live to 2 inch 24 trk, no gear newer than about ’79 (most gear much older) Mixed down to half inch – Only pushed faders up. No punch ins, no edits after cutting. Marvin Gaye Family Loves it! 😀 Read what they said and hear music instantly – click here:

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