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The Song, the Song, and the Song

Hello, lovely people. Hope you’re doing marvelously well. Here we are, back with another Frequently Asked Questions Friday! As ever, please subscribe, hit the notification bell somewhere down there, and you’ll be subscribed, and of course, you’ll be notified when we have a new video.

Alright, what’s our first question? If a band has more tracks on their album than they can play live, how would they perform it? Is this common?

Wow, what a frickin’ awesome question. I’ll tell you why it’s an awesome question, because I get all of the potential answers for this question. I work with bands that don’t want to do overdubs, or many overdubs, because they’re like, “We’ll never be able to perform this live,” and then I’ve worked in other situations where they have too much going on, and it’s not necessarily a live thing, it just starts to get really crowded, and doesn’t start to sound like a band anymore.

So as those of you that follow me know, because I say it pretty much every video, every other video, my favorite band, and the reason why I started doing music was from the time that my father played me A Night at the Opera. I got it for Christmas. I was a little kid, and I fell in love with that record. Now, why do I bring that up? Well, go check out the album.

To say it’s densely tracked would be understatement of the decade. It is super dense. But does it ever feel too much? Those of you who watched, or are about to watch the Brendan Small video will know that Brendan, who did of course Dethklok, and Galaktikon is also a huge Queen fan, and so we talked about their production. It’s deceptively complex and deceptively simple.

So what does that mean? That means that the basis of a song, like a queen song, is drums, bass, and piano. It’s only three instruments.

Then it’s the layering of guitars. We’ll talk about classic period, mid-70’s, late-70’s Queen. At no point though, because it’s so well produced, and it fits the song, at no point are you overwhelmed by it, and do you believe that it would be disappointing to see them live. If you watch live footage from that period, it’s pretty amazing what they do. What they do do when they did Bohemian Rhapsody live is actually use a tape for all of the massive harmonies, because there’s four of them singing.

Now P!nk does Bohemian Rhapsody live. Not Kanye. P!nk does it live. And a whole band and background singers pull it off, and it’s amazing. Now, if Queen had gone out with a bunch of background singers as well, they probably could’ve pulled it off. My point is it’s all dependent on one thing and one thing only. What could that be?

The song! If the song carries the big production, then it’s fine. If it feels like it works, if it feels like it needs a gospel choir, then great. I think the biggest problem I face is when people come in with very grandiose ideas of layering things that just seems to be very complicated, counterintuitive melody, so they’re competing with each other.

When I think about a classic song like a Queen song, when he’s playing those complex guitar melodies, or those complex vocal melodies, they are supporting a really big, straightforward melody. There’s not 15 different vocal melodies competing with 15 different guitar melodies. That’s when it becomes insanity, because suspend your producer, engineer, mixer, musician brain for a second. Suspend it.

Okay, is it suspended? Now think about being a kid listening to this music for the first time. I remember being eight. Eight years old and listening to that album. My dad bought me that album when I was eight. I didn’t hear 57,000 musicians all playing, I heard looking at the album, guitar, bass, and drums, and piano, and vocals. I didn’t know the intricacies of it, because it was all projected forward to me. The song was really, really well arranged, and as complex harmonically and melodically as it may appeared, the ideas are very direct.

I’m not being taken in 15 different ways. Even that, “Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo, Figaro, magnifico,” it’s not, [mimics jumbled words]. It’s not massive 7/4 rhythms against 5/4 against 3 with melody. My point is it’s very synced and very clear in its ideas.

So long waffle about Queen, yes, you caught me. The point is, does it serve the song? That’s the simple answer. I could’ve got to that right at the beginning. To answer your question, if the band has more tracks on the album than they can play live and had to perform it, is that common? Yes, it is common, because if the idea is direct, you can get away with it with one or two guitar parts playing it. If you want to create the feeling of it, if the big melody is the big melody, maybe it’s just you and a harmonizer. Maybe it’s just you and a harmonizer, and you and another guitar player as a harmonizer building maybe just the four or eight part harmony, depending on how complex your harmonizer is.

There’s ways to perform it, there’s ways to get around it, and if it’s Dance music and it uses a lot of keys stuff and there’s only one keyboard player, well let’s face it, you go and see bands nowadays — Linkin Park was a great example of that. When I went to go see Linkin Park on their first album for those of you that remember it in 2000, 2001, it was a wall of obviously Pro Tools tracks, but you listen to that hybrid theory album, it was a concussive massive guitar, and keyboard, EDM before EDM was called it. You know, Dance elements all put together, and it was just a full frontal sound.

But that’s what I wanted to hear. That’s what every kid wanted to hear. So it’s kind of six of one, a half a dozen of the other. If it supports the song, then it’s great. It’s all about the song.

Yes live. If you go and see Yes live, they pulled it off. They pulled off all of that insanity in production, because it was the musicality of it, and they kept it quite simplistic in their approach. There’s many, many things.

And Pop music, it’s always going to be a bit of a debate, because there might be more than one lead vocal and very layered. When I saw Garbage a few years ago, actually it was on the first album, so a long time ago now. Nearly 20 — probably 20 years ago.

When I saw them, it was a lot of stuff coming off of Pro Tools, tape, whatever you wanted to call it, and it was a little difficult, because you wanted to hear a live rock and roll band. However, Shirley Manson and her voice just carried it, because she’s so charismatic and such an amazing singer.

So it’s a bit of a debate, but ultimately, going back to the quick answer, the song, the song, the song. If the song demands that kind of production, then you do what’s best for the song. Sometimes it’s a vocal and acoustic, sometimes it’s a sixteen-part vocal harmony. Just let the song take you there. We buy music, we stream music for an experience, and then live can be a different experience. It’s okay.

Could you use an SM57 for vocal or live vocal?

Abso-bleeding-tutely! 57s and 58s are completely interchangeable as a mic. You can use them in different circumstances. Many people only have a 58, actually take off the nice dome and use that on their guitars all the time. I’ve seen people do that on guitars, I’ve seen them use it still with the dome on on guitars, on snare drums, and one whatever, and it works great.

So whatever a 57 is for live or studio can be swapped out for a 58. It happens all the time, often out of necessity. As we all know, and as Eddie Kramer personally told us, Woodstock that he mixed was essentially, not exactly, but essentially recorded with the immediate predecessor of an SM58 on everything. Everything was miked up with that microphone. That $100, easy to buy used on eBay microphone — or brand new.

So totally interchangeable, arguably, and you can argue if you’d like, arguably the greatest mic ever made.

Not because it’s completely hi-fi. No, because I go to clubs and I see SM58s with the domes like, completely destroyed, and dented, and scraped, and you plug them in and they still sound great.

So a very, very road-worn, very useable microphone that delivers great results that most importantly, we are familiar with the sound of.

I can not tell you how many guitar sounds, how many snare drum sounds, you have heard that were recorded with an SM57.

It is a very familiar sound to all of us. So it makes it arguably the most successful mic of all time.

We can all debate that. I’m sure there will be.

Can I use a shotgun mic in the studio for instruments and vocals?

Fantastic question. The answer is yes, yes yes, yes yes, yes yes yes. Of course you can. Definitely. Any microphone that works would be great, but let me give you one story.

Imagine, U67 here. Imagine a shotgun mic coming down over the top towards the singer. That is the sound of Toys in the Attic and Rocks. That is how Jack recorded Steven Tyler.

U67, shotgun mic, probably a Schoeps, if you want to know, coming down like this, because he liked the sound that he got when the mic was over Steven’s head. He just set — and he blended the two together. So next time, go back and listen to Rocks, Toys in the Attic, you’re talking some of the biggest rock songs of all time. Go and check out both of those albums, and that is the sound of the vocal.

When I was doing vocals with Jack on an Aerosmith record, he wanted to try that, and we did do it on a couple of takes. We put in different mics from the side. So the point is, yes, if Jack Douglass can do it, anybody can do it.

Just using the bottom mics on the toms is just wild to me. I wonder if that might work on a harder modern song in conjunction with a pair of overheads?


That’s pretty awesome. I hadn’t even thought about that, because that makes perfect sense. I think what I would do, short answer to your question, is yes, mic underneath, because you’re going to get the, [imitates tom] you’re going to get the body of it. You’re not going to get the snap of the stick obviously hitting the head, but as I think you’re intimating, you’re going to get that from the overheads.

So what you could do in your DAW is time align your tom hits with your overheads. Get them perfectly in time. The top will give you the click, and the bottom will give you the low end.

Only thing to remember is make sure you reverse the polarity. Flip the phase, as we like to say. Reverse the polarity of the bottom mics, because they’re looking this way, and the overhead mics are looking that way. But I think that’s a great idea. Good thinking, Batman.

I recently downloaded some of the drum samples you have available. Are we allowed to use these in our own songs, or are they just for practicing?

Heck no, they’re yours. They’re yours to use. Those drum samples, as I’m sure you’ve heard me waffle on about, are in Augustana, they’re in Aerosmith, Fray, James Blunt, I mean, every record I’ve ever done, at least somewhere on the album, I’ve used them on some songs, all songs, whatever. I use them all the time, and I sourced them in all kinds of ways.

There’s some really well known ones there. I think it’s called gunshot snare. It goes, [imitates snare]. Those are Dave Jerden’s. They came from his machine, he gave them to me. They are on Alice in Chains, all over the album Dirt. So when you hear that, [imitates snare], that’s the Dirt snare sound.

There’s also a Jet snare from the band Jet, which is that “boof” snare. There’s all kinds of bands that I’ve worked with in there. There’s a warehouse kick and snare in there, it’s just called Warehouse. I think the Warehouse kick is the warehouse at Aerosmith, because we had a big, in Pandora’s Box, which is inside Vindaloo Music, there’s a warehouse to the side where they store guitars, and amps, and everything, and we mic that up with a U67. One of the new ones without transformer, believe it or not. Miked it up, and ran the kick and snare through a PA. That sound, we also put a steel drum kit in there and recorded in there.

So there’s all kinds of — there’s tons of great drum sounds, and waffling on, I’ll just cut to the chase, they’re yours to use in anything you like. If you want to name check me and say you used them, that they were Produce Like a Pro, that would be amazing, I would really appreciate it, but ultimately, those drum sounds are there for you to use, and I’ll tell you, a lot of people have used them.

And not just Academy members and Produce Like a Pro community here, you’ve all used them, but other producers and engineers, I’ve given them those samples, and they’ve used them in a lot of records that we all know and love. We share our samples in this community. This is a community, this is not an us and them, this is us all together making great music, so take them and use them any way that you want.

Do you have a basic video that explains EQ, compression, reverb on drums?

Wow, great question. Do I have one video that does that? No, I probably have about 12. What I should do is give you a bunch of links. I’ll give you some links here. The blog will have links to it, as well as underneath to different videos. There are videos I’ve done with different producers and engineers, and I’ve also recorded drums, so there’s that as well. But there’s videos here on YouTube, put those links in, there’s also courses we’ve done, you name it. We’re actually doing a new course for Academy members only with Cameron Webb, and it’s just going to be free for members of The Academy, and we’re going in to record with him, and he’s going to do a full breakdown. I actually spoke to him about half an hour ago, do a full breakdown on how he records drums. Everything. You name it, all the sounds, the whole shooting match.

But there’s tons of videos available, please check them out here or in the blog.

I’m mixing on headphones, then burning a mix and listening on a nice home stereo, and of course the car test and phone test. Should I upgrade my headphones (mine are cheap) or pickup monitors next?

What a fantastic question. I can’t directly ask that question without asking you a question. How is your room? Is your room treated? Does it sound good? My room, it’s hard to tell in this, but maybe in the background you can see there’s bass traps up there in the ceiling, there’s bass traps up there in the ceiling, so we got rid of the standing waves, there’s also treatment inside of the walls that’s covered with this cloth. So there is a lot of stuff going on in here.

When Genelec came here about a year ago to install monitors, they brought in their — the new system that they had, we rang out the room, and all we had was a little bump at about 100, 150Hz, and as they said to me, this room is not overly bright, it’s really balanced on the high mids and the high end. It’s just that little bump. And why do we have the bump? Well, the same reason every studio in the world like mine does. This thing here.

This console gives us a little low bump, and it’s interesting, if you watch the Mark Endert video, he talks about the fact that when he stopped using a console, he made a fake console, because he was used to hearing his speakers reproduce that low bump.

So apart from that though, my room is relatively — not perfectly, but relatively flat, but even then, when I first started mixing in here, even with the treatment, I would go backwards and forwards to the car test.

So definitely keep your car test, but the reason why I talk about the room is this. Your room has to be flat-ish. Has to be not a massive three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten dB lift in any one specific frequency. With very few exceptions, every room is going to have little inadequacies. There will never be anything that’s completely flat, and a lot of guys will tell you — a lot of guys and girls will tell you, they don’t want to be in a perfectly flat environment, they want to be in a relatively flat environment.

That is opinionated, and it’s going to spark off a lot of comments and questions below. Have at it.

To answer your question probably, when you’re saying should you upgrade your headphones or your monitors, it depends on your room. If your room is not that good sounding, you probably want to spend some time — if you’ve got money, time and money, and not that much, but a few dollars, getting your room to sound a little flatter. Because if you’re on headphones exclusively, it might be that your monitors don’t sound good in that room.

I’ve had people say they hate Genelecs, and when I say why, they say, “Oh, they’re too mid-rangey.”

The weirdest thing is, in my room, when I had NS10s and the Super Rocks here, that’s the last thing I would say about the Genelecs is that they’re too mid-rangey. NS10s, heck yes. They have like a 7dB lift at 1.5kHz. That’s mid-range.

But Genelecs have an extended high end that I love, and they also have a lot more low end than an NS10 could ever put out. So I thought to myself, “Why are they saying it’s so mid-rangey?”

Well it’s their room! Their room makes them feel that those speakers are like that. For me, I’ve tried other speaker manufacturers, and I’m not here to trash anybody, and I’ve found them to be too low-midly, and then other people have said to me that they have no low-mids, meaning their room didn’t have any low mids. You get my point.

The room itself affects the way you hear the speakers more than anything else, so my first question would be to answer your question is how does your room sound? Is it relatively flat?

Get the Sonarworks. It could really help you as well. It’s relatively inexpensive. So whatever headphones you get, if you’ve got the matching Sonarworks software which goes with those headphones, it can flatten it out a little bit, and that will really help you.

If your headphones are cheap, how do you mean by cheap? $20 cheap or $150 cheap? Because $150 cheap is not that cheap. My headphones — my Ultrasones, which I’m going to reach over now and grab, my Ultrasones are about 200 bucks. My Beyers, which are out of shot are not 200 bucks. They are significantly more expensive.

These DT990 Pros, I think they were like, 600 bucks? And these first of all are very comfortable, but they’re also very, very flat sounding. At least for me. They don’t have the hype that the Ultrasones have. However, I know both sets of headphones, so when I put on the Ultrasones, I’m listening for like, the little clicks. The digital pops that would be exaggerated by those headphones really beautifully. When I put on the Beyers at the end, I’m listening for the final mix to make sure it doesn’t sound full.

So you get my point, it’s about understanding your equipment. Understanding your equipment is more important than putting a lot of money into it — within reason. If your headphones are 20 bucks, I get it, upgrade them, but when you’re in the $100, $150 Audio-Technica, Beyer, Ultrasone, lots of companies at that price point are going to make — Sennheiser, Sony — when you’re in that 150-ish price range, those are good headphones.

You can buy the Sonarworks software — which I’m not affiliated with, by the way, I just know it works really well, and flatten that out a little bit. There’s lots of different things out there which really, really help. I’m not biased towards any one thing, I know that the strongest thing for me is knowing those headphones.

So firstly, check out your room. Can you get it a little damper, a little flatter, no standing waves? Can you get it to sound good? Maybe your monitors will start working better for you, but if you’re in a situation where you can not dampen your room at all, you’re in a garage, and there’s concrete floors, and a steel door, and it’s really difficult, then yes. Headphones and car test is definitely the way to go.

Once you get to that 100, 150 on the headphones, it’s really going to help you.

Thank you ever so much for watching. You all absolutely rock. Have a marvelous time recording and mixing. Please leave a bunch of comments and questions below. I really appreciate this format. This has been so unbelievably rewarding to have people comment and question and help each other out as well. Please give your experiences below. Please leave your experiences below.

Check out all of the links that we’re going to put in to different videos that we’ve touched on, and have a marvelous time recording and mixing.


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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