Inspired by “engineering screw-ups” on Gearslutz, here’s a list of recording and mixing bloopers that made it past the mixing room onto the final release.
These aren’t performance missteps, where the band missed a cue, or the singer came in too soon. There are certainly countless examples of those but most were included intentionally, to add character or realism. Rather, the flubs below highlight mistakes in recording or mixing that could have been corrected before the track was released.
Some of the mistakes probably went unnoticed. Some, I’m sure, were noticed and begrudgingly accepted because of a deadline. But reassuringly for us amateurs, they all prove that even the pros aren’t perfect.
The edit in question happens at 0:09 in the clip below. I scratch my head every time I hear it. So many questions: What went through the mixing engineer’s head? Why didn’t Clapton object? What’s powpower?
Recording and mixing engineers traditionally build a vocal track by “punching in” (re-recording a rough spot) and “comping” (building a single vocal track from the best parts of multiple takes.) Before digital editing, this was a manual procedure prone to timing errors. So the example above, recorded in 1970, is forgivable (although puzzling, because it’s so obvious.) Today, however, it’s common practice to digitally automate the punches and comps, which means the next two examples really shouldn’t have happened:
You was the first track on their first album, so the band surely aimed to make an impact. And without question, Thom Yorke bellowing high A for 8 seconds is a great hook, perhaps even the song’s defining moment… until you realize that his wail is comped from shorter sections. Listen for the cut at 0:05:
Notice how the vocal timbre changes in the middle of the word “yeah”, after “eyes deceive me.” I can’t fathom how this edit made it to mastering. Unlike the Radiohead example, which is only obvious on close listen, this cut simply sounds distracting!
Here, the tonality changes completely at 0:10, and again at 0:30. Lennon supposedly recorded a demo on his home tape recorder, and at mix time, he and Phil Spector (who produced the track) preferred the emotion in the home recording for one verse only.
This is a cop-out. There are “perfect takes,” for sure, but for a professional (or a self-described genius like John Lennon) there’s no such thing as a take so perfect it can’t be recreated.
This is the best example of John Bonham’s notoriously squeaky bass drum pedal. Jimmy Page discussed the squeak in a 1993 Guitar World interview:
The only real problem I can remember encountering was when we were putting the first boxed set together. There was an awfully squeaky bass drum pedal on “Since I’ve Been Loving You”. It sounds louder and louder every time I hear it! [laughs]. That was something that was obviously sadly overlooked at the time.
(Note: I boosted the high frequencies in this clip to highlight the pedal sound.)
Some lessons I’ve learned from The Beatles:
- All you need is love.
- The walrus was Paul.
- If you drop a tambourine while recording, stop the tape and re-record.
I can see this slipping by unnoticed because it almost sounds musical. Almost. But listen to the clip a few times, and it becomes obvious just how out of place that tambourine is. (For more details, check out What Goes On, a fantastic reference for the little nuances like these in Beatles recordings.)
As Aguilera sings, you’ll hear a faint rhythm track in the background. This is headphone bleed – sound leaking from her headphone monitor into the microphone. (Note: I boosted the high frequencies on this track to make the bleed more obvious.)
Dave Pensado, who mixed Beautiful, discusses the noise here:
The song was about being beautiful and honest in EVERY way. That bleed is honest. It was one of the most honest vocal performances I had EVER heard. It was actually the scratch vocal.
This is another cop-out. Mixing engineers have their own version of the fourth wall, and Pensado broke it with this mix. Honest or not, the bleed reminds listeners of the technology used to record, and that distracts us from Aguilera’s performance.
As Rick Wright holds the last piano chord, the tape speed wobbles for a second:
This was not done on purpose, as some claim, to fit the song on side A of the vinyl album. (LPs ran up to 30 minutes per side, and Dark Side Of The Moon‘s A-side was less than 19 minutes.) Rather, this is a simple tape speed glitch.
This clip plays two phrases from the 2nd verse of Roxanne. Compare the reverb tail at the end of “night” and “right.” The first decays naturally and cleanly, the second ends abruptly.
Most likely, this is the result of a vocal punch-in or comp, where the reverb was recorded directly to the track, rather than added during mix-down. (The moral: Don’t print your effects to tape too early!!)
Does Natalie’s voice sound odd to you on the word “parents?”
Autotune is a powerful tool, to be sure, and used on the right material, it can enhance a recording. But here, it’s noticeable and distasteful: Natalie has a great voice, and the engineers did her a disservice by not re-recording the note. I like to think there’s a special seat in hell reserved for those who abuse Autotune this way.
These clips hold a couple of lessons for amateur producers and home recordists:
1) You don’t need to be perfect. The pros know this. Most mistakes will simply go unnoticed, some mistakes add character, and sometimes a looming deadline trumps all.
2) That said, there’s no excuse for releasing sub-par material when you have the time and the skills to improve it. The Incubus, Dixie Chicks, and John Lennon examples especially are obvious to the point of annoyance, and mostly just make the mixing engineer seem lazy!
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