is recording in stereo passe?

when I listen to old motown songs in my car, I hear a stereo effect that sounds like I’m sitting right in the middle of the funk brothers. Not so much with modern music. Is that something that sound engineers don’t do anymore, and at what point in history did techniques change?

along the same lines, my 60’s and 70’s classic rock band is recording a demo, and I’m wondering how extreme I should mix it in stereo. I know I’m going to center the Bass, and lead vocals. I have the drums set up with a small stereo mix across the 6 mics we used to record them with, but I’m hoping for some input on what to do with everything else…

2 background singers, one male, one female
Lead and rhythm guitar
Keyboards and piano
occasional cowbell and tambourine

before the mid '60’s Motown records were mono recordings. If you listen to a mono recording on headphones it will sound like the band is playing in the middle of your head. This probably accounts for the “sitting right in the middle of the funk brothers” effect.

When mixing down to stereo it is worth considering how it will sound if played in mono. For example, if your recording is played in a bar, will it still sound good to someone that is sat close to just one speaker? If you want to make an instrument sound as if it is panned well over to the left side but still retain good mono compatibility, try panning it only half as far as you want it, but delay the right channel a little (less than 50 ms otherwise the right channel will sound like an echo. Even a 1 millisecond delay will make an appreciable difference). The delay will tend to make the sound more distant on that channel, thus pushing the sound further to the other side when listened to in stereo.

Thanks for the tip!

If it makes any difference, this is for a demo that will be both put on youtube, and available as a download. I would suspect that most of the time it would be played on a system that can reproduce stereo effect

Here’s a click track. If you listen to it on headphones you will distinctly hear the click pan from centre over to one side, back to centre, across to the other side and back to centre again, but if you look at the waveform the amplitude level is identical on both channels. The “panning” effect is created entirely by delaying one channel then the other by 1 millisecond. The effect should also be noticeable on speakers, but on headphones you will hear the click move to “inside your head” when the left and right channels are identical (mono).

On my android at the moment, but i’ll check it out when i’m home.

So you think a true stereo effect isn’t desirable anymore? Even for the demo?

Here’s an example of what I have so far, but I can pan any of these tracks individually

I generally prefer stereo, but the panning on that track is rather extreme. The rhythm guitar is right over one side and the lead is right over the other which sounds quite odd on headphones. Also the lead guitar is too hot and is distorting (clipping). There’s also a buzz on that guitar which could be an earthing fault on either the guitar or amplifier.

When I recorded them, I had them on opposite channels. I can make it less extreme, but I do like the effect. The lead player had a slight buzz in his amp, if it’s still noticeable later (the intros to the songs are going to be deleted, and vocals still need to be added) i’ll try a plug in to remove the buzz.

Here is another.

If you like the effect then go with it, but I would make the panning a lot less extreme. On modern commercial recordings panning is rarely more than about 40% one way or the other, so that is what people are accustomed to hearing. The “trick” with adding a tiny bit of delay is a way to make it sound like something is panned over a long way, while only really panning it a small amount (say 20%).

Enough that I noticed it. How have you recorded the guitar? Is the amp mic’d up? Does the amp buzz when he’s not playing? Is the buzzing more when he’s not touching the strings?

Again it sounds like it has been recorded very hot (very high recording level). Unlike recording on tape, digital recording is unforgiving about recording too high and produces a fuzziness to the sound as soon as you try to go over 0 dB. To avoid clipping, set your levels so that the maximum peaks are no more than half of the track height (- 6 dB). This will leave a little margin for error and avoid the clipping. -6 dB looks like a lot, but it’s not much at all in reality and will be much closer to the required level for the mix than pushing the recording all the way up to 0 dB.

I’ve done a quick remix and narrowed the stereo a lot and it is still distinctly stereo

one of the guitars had a direct box from the back side of his amp, but the lead player had his cab mic’d

If I can’t get rid of the buzz, I’ll just have him record it over using a different amp. before I do that, what would recommend for removing the buzz?

Once we add the vocals and delete the beginning of the song, I doubt it will be heard, but we’ll see.

it is possible that I recorded them too hot. this is the first time I recorded directly to a computer like this. I thought as long as I stayed away from the edges of the timeline, I would be ok

It’ll be difficult to remove successfully. “Mains hum” that causes the buzz is usually quoted as 50 or 60 Hz (Europe / US), but the buzz has many harmonics of that frequency, so (US example) there will be buzz frequencies at 60, 120, 180, 240, 300, 360, 420, 480, 540, 600, 660, 720, 780, …Hz. Much better if you can start with a clean recording.

Although I’m making a fuss about the buzz, it’s not really bad. If you ensure that the track is silenced when he’s not actually playing (a noise gate can help with that, but take care to not abruptly cut off the notes) then as you say the buzz will be (mostly) lost in the mix. The point is that if you start with good clean recordings then you are not having to fight with additional problems when you mix down and you can concentrate on the actual job of mixing rather than having to make compromises to work around deficiencies. An extreme example is when someone asks how to improve a recording in which an instrument is out of tune (you haven’t done that :wink: ) The answer is not to use an Auto Tune effect, but to make sure that the instruments are in tune before you start.

I’m not sure exactly at what stage the clipping occurred, it may have been in the raw recording or at some stage during the mix down. I don’t know what equipment you are using but it may even have been the microphone pre-amp overloading a little, but at some point it has clipped a little. When you’re recording, just check that you have a bit of headroom at each stage of the signal chain. In Audacity 1.3.x you can drag the meter toolbars to make them the full width of the screen - this makes them a lot easier to see the peak level.

well the nice thing is we recorded 16 songs, and the goal is to produce a 10 minutes video out of those songs. I can pick and choose which clips I use, and if a song isn’t up to par, it will wind up on the cutting room floor.

as for the tuning, yes, I hear it too… the guitar players tuned between each song at my request, but one of them uses such light strings he stretches them when he plays. not much I can do about that…

these guys aren’t professional, and this is a weekend garage band trying to get a recording we can sent out to a few places to play… not looking for a recording contract or anything… good thing… LOL

eventually, the recording will be synced up with a video like this of us playing in different venues. this one was just recorded with the mic on my camera. BTW, I’m the bass player

It’s coming along well so far. I look forward to hearing how it develops :slight_smile:

thanks… I’ll tone down the stereo effect, even though part of me really likes it. (i’ll shoot for between 60/40 and 66/33)

we record lead vocals tomorrow, so it’s about to get much more interesting.

More stereo and less dynamic range compression* than Steve’s remix

[* dynamic range compression has reduced the cowbell ]