Always In Record, Part 2

Default Setup

This is the second installment in guest blogger Ryan Hewitt’s series on recording. Today he discusses the pros and cons of default settings. If you missed his initial post about being “always in record,” you can read it here.

When you open a plugin these days, you get the “default setting;” all controls set to something “normal,” or unaffected, or something the maker deems a worthy place to start from.


Ryan in the studio. (Photo: Victoria Perova)

What’s your default setting when you walk into a recording session?  Your default drum mic setup?  Go to electric guitar recording chain?  Favorite vocal mic?

Lately, when I step into a recording situation, I have not had the luxury of time to spend as I wish, experimenting freely with different mics, positions, preamps, tape levels, etc, and so I rely on my default setup that I know will work for a given situation.  I’ve learned these defaults from past sessions where I’ve had that luxury, or where I’ve observed as an assistant.  I’ve kept a mental log of what mics, placed in which positions, treated in certain manners, will work together to get me the sounds I want for the music I’m recording that day.

I was stirred from my default settings recently when I took over a session for a friend who had to move on to another gig, and another where a staff engineer got sounds for a record I am producing.  In both cases, the sounds were really good: totally exciting, appropriate for the music and refreshingly original.  My friends used things normally found in a well-equipped recording studio, but in slightly different ways than I might have.  It was so exciting to hear something new and different!  In the current state of the industry, where most of us hang out in our own private little caves called studios, we can’t get enough interaction with other engineers to see and hear first-hand what our friends are doing.  Reading about it, and discussing our methods is one thing, but hearing these ideas in the same place that they were recorded, and getting your hands on the faders and knobs is really another level.

When I taught a couple of week-long production classes in France this past January, I was challenged by a limited selection of mics, and by students who wanted to know what I would use if I didn’t have my favorite gear at hand.  Together, we experimented and listened to several available options for different applications, and compared the results.  Often what might be a logical choice, or a standard choice, wound up being inferior to the slightly left-of-center choice, and several times, the class was equally divided on radically different sounds.  These classes were totally ear-opening events for me, and really highlighted the challenge and joy of simultaneously sharing knowledge with others and learning from them in the process.

“Recording is always fun and exciting, but I personally need a little more danger this year, so here is my vow for 2014:  no default settings.”

The mic locker is already getting shook up this year; some new additions, some trades, some retirements.  My favorite plugins will see less use this year in order to make way for new tools, and new uses.  Out with the old and in with the new, in so many different ways.

Happy recording!


Ever pulled the all-nighter in the studio? Check back next Wednesday for Ryan’s take on that and other aspects of getting the job done.

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