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Lessons From My Band’s Single #5) Break The Rules & Use Your Ears

February 9, 2014

This is part of a segment of lessons I learned from recording Layton Harper Band’s cover of “Oceans.” Here’s part onetwothree, and four.  

LHBBecause music is an art not a sport, there really are no rules. But that hasn’t stopped people from making rules for music, especially for recording. Some people like to turn recording into a science (but it’s really still an art). Above all, there really are no rules for music, but there are some guidelines. Once you learn the guidelines, you can learn to break them.

One such example is when we were recording acoustic guitar for the LHB single.

See, there’s this weird sciencey thing called “phase cancellation.” (I’ll try to keep it brief) When you have two microphones on an instrument, the sound waves can hit each mic at a different time. If the waves hit just 180° opposite of each other, they cancel each other out and things start sounding all weird. So naturally, there are some “rules” that were established to prevent this (such as the 3:1 ratio, or the XY pattern, but those are another sermon entirely).

I stared about this for two seconds before my brain exploded. That's science, yo.

I stared at this for two seconds before my brain exploded. That’s science, yo.

So when I set up two mics to record the acoustic guitar (see the pics in the last post), I knew there would be potential issues with phase cancellation, just as I’ve experienced before with stereo mic set-ups. So I just put the mics up and recorded a little bit for reference. I expected to hear weird that phase-cancelled sound; then I would go back and adjust it until it sounded right. But when I played it back, it sounded good. In fact, it sounded great. Nice and wide!

I looked back at my mic set-up with disbelief. I had broken every phase rule. The mics just looked all wrong. You would not put a picture of this mic positioning in a recording book. Yet, it sounded fine.

I was tempted to change it because I knew I was “breaking the rules.” But I didn’t because I trusted my most important musical tool: my ears. 

At the end of the day, music is an audio art. It’s not about rules, it’s first-and-foremost about sound. Music = sound. So yes, there are certainly times when you need to break the rules. There are times where you need not get lost in a sea of “do’s and dont’s” and just do what sounds good. That’s what music is about. Making cool sounds and noises. The Sound > The Rules. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. I’ll doing more like this in the future. And as promised, here is the finished song on my soundcloud. You can hear all we’ve been talking about.

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