GULLIBLE’S TRAVELS

/June 26, 2015

When there’s a problem during a recording or mix session, do you phone a friend, go 50/50 or rely on your experience to get the job done?

There seem to be countless audio enthusiasts in Australia at the moment who seem gullible in the extreme to any old hype they read on any old forum or website they visit – present company excepted of course!

If someone claims a product to be “the best thing since sliced bread on female vocals,” these budding engineers seem to swallow the catch phrase hook, line and sinker… never questioning whether these types of generalisations are mostly garbage in the first place. Worse, some then spread this misinformation as their own!

If a mic is said to be equivalent to a Neumann U47 “only quieter,” they rush out and buy it on the spot. Then, when the rose-coloured reality turns out to be refuse they have a heart attack… and ring me for some reason!

 

GULLI-BULL

Why are people so gullible? Is this a recent phenomenon or have audio enthusiasts always been this easily duped by thinly disguised hype? One thing’s for sure, the web is spreading misinformation about audio equipment 10 times faster than any genuine information about real experiences and practised techniques.

As Edgar Allan Poe once wrote: “don’t believe half of what you read, none of what you hear.” He might have predated the web by 200-odd years, but I’m pretty sure in this instance he was referring directly to it.

I’ve never read so much fifth-hand clap-trap in my life about mixing, mic technique and assorted pro audio equipment as I have on forums and websites. I’ve seen people posting on recording forums that haven’t actually recorded a thing in 10 years. In one case, I spotted an old acquaintance ranting on a mixing forum as if he knew the process backwards, when in reality, he’s virtually never mixed anything… ever! For the last 10 years he’s in fact been a banker (or is that wanker?), but for whatever reason he chooses audio forums as his ‘outlet’; relying on the flattery of others to keep him from robbing the bank and escaping to South America.

I hate it when people think they can substitute real experience for a few loose dregs trawled off forums. Get your own experiences would be my advice; there’s no substitute for them. All the reading in the world about the experience of others can never match your own concrete, verifiable, confidence-building work. Besides, living vicariously through others is just a wasted life.

 

DO U47s & SM57 REALLY SOUND DIFFERENT?

I’m not going to answer that… If you want to know how a Neumann U47 compares to a Shure SM57, stick them on two mic stands side by side and track with them for a week. Don’t just go on a forum and try to absorb a bunch of trite adjectives penned by little spotty whitebread, who once used them in his bedroom to record a YouTube rendition of Stairway To Heaven.

Yeah man, the 47 sounded cool… I mean, ‘warm’. The 57 sucked!”

You can’t learn anything from advice like that. It’s like saying you’ve been to Hawaii because you’ve seen Big Wednesday. You surely have to go there and experience it for yourself. The same rule applies to microphones…

 

SHIT FOR DAYS

Obviously I’m not saying you can’t learn things by reading or discussing things with others. Of course you can. But it’s important to be able to distinguish between the musings of an experienced engineer (assuming they’re not getting a kick back from a product manufacturer) and the regurgitated meanderings of an internet wannabe. The former may have an opinion worth noting, but still not necessarily relied upon; the latter is more likely to be on the forum looking for friends – a harsh call perhaps, but often true.

If you want to learn something about, say, quantum physics, you don’t ask John Laws for his ‘impression’ on the science, or my mother because she’s looked up at the stars once or twice. You ask someone who studies it: lives, breathes and eats the topic for breakfast. And even then you probably need to take half of it with a grain of salt. The point being, there are those worth listening to, and those for whom air is only inhaled so it can be converted into plain old nonsense.

 

DO, DON’T REHASH

I would wager that if someone who spends 10 hours a week on pro audio forums spent the equivalent amount of time testing microphones in different positions and in front of different subjects, or studying the inner workings of reverb units, compression settings and gain structures, they’d know 10 times more about their subject. They’d also start to realise how much there is to know about the topic and perhaps learn some humility along the way. Dare I say it, they might even start posting less because they’re too busy in the studio recording or mixing something!

There is no-one more dangerous than an inexperienced engineer with a strong opinion, except perhaps an ‘internet forum’ engineer with someone else’s. One is learning, but has more to discover… the other should get a job at Beacon Lighting (no offence to anyone working there) where the twinkly lights are sure to enthral. They even have fans…

When shit hits the fan during a tracking session, are you really going to look to the forums for your answers? Surely you’d be much better off with a swag of personal experiences burnt into that brain of yours from which to draw upon when the chips are down. You’ll learn exponentially faster that way, and come out the other side a vastly more qualified engineer.