The world of modern audio production is a magical place – there are endless resources of audio related information, but this also means that a part of that information may not actually be valid advice or may not be true at all.
Here are a couple of popular misconceptions that seem to be floating around as general knowledge.
YOU NEED EXPENSIVE GEAR TO MAKE GREAT SOUNDING RECORDS
This is one area where many people get confused – it seems that all those shiny pieces of expensive gear do have a magical sound to them and they are exactly what's missing in your setup to get that polished sound.
More often than not, this is actually not true at all – you'd be surprised how many modern mixers work in the box without any outboard gear at all. Sure, you need to get your basic equipment straight, such as your computer and your monitors, but you can definitely do without that fancy 1176 or Distressor unit.
Would that gear be nice and exciting to use in your mixes? Definitely. Would it make a mediocre mix sound perfect? Definitely not. The most invaluable piece of gear you need is the one you already have – your ears. If your mixes are not sounding professional enough, it's probably you, as much as it sucks to acknowledge it.
SOME DAWS SOUND BETTER THAN OTHERS
The internet is full of arguments about some DAWs being better than others and even that they don't sound the same. While not all DAWs are created equal, they generally have no “sound” of their own, so it does not matter if you're using Reaper, Mixcraft, Pro Tools or something else.
Sure, each system might have a different workflow that may eventually lead to different sounding mixes, but that can not be defined as the DAW itself sounding better or worse.
The most important thing is to pick a DAW of your choice and just learn it inside and out. Knowing all necessary functions and using it to it's full potential is what will get you the best sound. A well mixed song in Reaper will beat a poor Pro Tools mix any day. Don't get discouraged if you are using anything other than one of the major workstations – think of it as just a host for your audio files.
YOU CAN FIX IT IN THE MIX
With technology getting more powerful, it's increasingly easy and tempting to take a mediocre or weak performance and edit it to achieve an acceptable take. Sometimes it's a useful way of getting that extra 5% out of the performance, but usually it just makes us lazy and more ignorant.
Yes, you can edit drums to be perfectly on time, you can edit vocals to be perfectly in tune, but you can't edit power and emotion into the performance. A part of what makes people react more to the older recordings is the actual human element – masterfully played and greatly recorded takes with small human “flaws” in them.
Keep in mind that every bit of processing you do to an audio file is going to affect the tone. Pitch correction software has certain sonic characteristics that can be identifiable with trained ears.
Even though the older recordings do have flaws, they still tried to record the takes as cleanly as possible – today we should still try to do the same. The tools that we use to fix things should really be viewed as the last solution to get that extra few percent and make the artist sound still like him, just on his best day ever. The software gives you great powers, don't abuse them!
YOU CAN ONLY MIX ON HEADPHONES
With so many of us doing work form our laptops, it's inevitable that we will mix on headphones from time to time. While this is an excellent way of monitoring fine details and the super low frequencies that are out of a normal speaker's range, headphones do have their limitations – they lack the natural cross-talk that a speaker system has and the stereo image becomes very separated.
While there are successful engineers that do a lot of their work on headphones, they also use speakers. The more sources you can reference the mix on, the better. Most of the time amateur mixes that are done on headphones don't translate very well in the real world and it's quite easy to spot which mix has been done this way.
PARALLEL PROCESSING IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS
This is one of the most talked about topics today in the online recording community. Parallel compression seems to be the go-to answer for all the mixing problems we seem to face every day.
Your drums don’t sound good? Probably need some parallel compression bro… Does your vocal track sound weak? It's because you don't have parallel compression man... These kinds of conversations happen every day online, without even bothering to find out what kind of problems the mixer is having.
While parallel processing might get you that extra punch and sustain for your drums, it should not be viewed as a magical solution that fixes bad mixes, because it really doesn't. Think of it this way – if your drums sound bad, parallel compression will only smear the bad tones and make them more apparent when crushed and mixed back with the original drums.
By no means is parallel compression a bad tool. It's an excellent tool for the right job, but it's still just a tool, like EQ, volume and regular compression.
You should have a clear vision in mind why you need to use the tool to get the best results, not just use them because they sound cool and are trending at the moment.