Abi Asks: Ryan Schumer

Abi Asks: Ryan Schumer

Hey y’all!

Two blogs and many many moons ago, I embarked on a serious recording frenzy. Since then, I’ve been on a deep dive into recording techniques, and it’s been a blast learning about the magical art of recording different instruments. This week, I wanted to approach recording from a different angle—cue inspiring music—a more philosophical one. How slay! There’s still a lot I don’t understand about recording, and many aspects I might be overlooking as someone with not much experience. That’s the perspective I want to explore on this week’s blog.

To further inquire, I chatted with Engineer Ryan Schumer (Shawn Mendes, Burna Boy, Yung Bleu- to name a few). I asked him: What do you think is the most misunderstood/overlooked aspect of recording?”

He said: I love this question because it touches on a fundamental aspect of recording that is often misunderstood. It's a topic I discuss frequently with my clients. Engineers, producers, and even artists sometimes get too caught up in the technical side of recording. They often say things like, "I ONLY use the Sony C800 for my vocal," or "My snare HAS to go through an 1176," or "What plugins are on my vocal chain?" These concerns are common, and I can provide such quotes all day. However, one of the most misunderstood and overlooked aspects of recording is the source itself—the performance and ability of the artist or musician.

We can spend endless hours talking about gear and techniques, dissecting the nuances of different preamps, compressors, and plugins. These tools are undoubtedly important, and they do play a role in shaping the final sound. Yet, they are not the most critical factors. The core of any great recording lies in the quality of the performance. If the singer doesn’t have great vocal timbre, or if your drummer sucks and is using a Toys"R"Us drum kit, you will never achieve the results you're looking for, no matter how advanced your equipment is.

A great performance has an authenticity and energy that cannot be replicated by any amount of post processing. The tone, emotion, and skill of the musician are the foundation upon which all other elements are built. Modern tools can certainly enhance a recording and correct certain flaws, but they cannot create magic from a lackluster performance. A poor performance will always be a poor performance, no matter how much you polish it.

Equally important is the quality of the instruments being used. A high quality drum kit, a well maintained guitar, or a finely tuned piano can make a substantial difference in the recording. Instruments that are in good condition and properly set up will not only sound better but also inspire better performances from the musicians. A great guitar setup with fresh strings and proper intonation can bring out nuances that a poorly maintained instrument simply cannot. Similarly, a drum kit with well tuned, high quality heads will produce a more desirable tone and resonance. Investing in quality instruments and maintaining them properly is crucial for achieving the best possible sound.

This is why I emphasize the importance of focusing on the source. Ensure that the artist is well prepared and comfortable, and that they are delivering their best performance. Also pay attention to the acoustics of the recording space, as they can greatly impact the quality of the sound. A well tuned room can make a significant difference, often more than the choice of microphone or preamp.

Ultimately, while the technical aspects of recording are important, they should not overshadow the artistry involved. The best recordings are those where the technical and artistic elements complement each other seamlessly. By prioritizing a great performance, capturing it with care, and using quality instruments, you lay the groundwork for a recording that resonates with listeners, transcending the capabilities of any single piece of equipment.”

I really enjoyed reading Ryan’s insightful answer, these are a few gems that stuck out to me:

1) A strong emphasis on both the performance and the quality of the instruments/recording space. I love how Ryan put it: “The best recordings are those where the technical and artistic elements complement each other seamlessly.” This was a great reminder for me to be mindful of these equally important elements when approaching a recording session- to ensure that I deliver the technical quality that can assist the artist and session players to deliver their best performance.

2) Recording with a Toys R Us drum kit may not be the best decision ever.

3) Maintain your instruments—a wildly underrated piece of advice. Upon reading Ryan's answer, I booked time for all of my guitars to get set up and checked. It’s another great reminder to ensure quality and  set the framework to capture the best possible performance that sounds great from the get-go (this tip will definitely prevent deep sadness and frustration down the line). It would also definitely not be fun to record guitars that sound like steel strings in a crappy blender.

4) To continue working on my skills as a Producer to deliver these things. I’ll elaborate: as sparkly and nice as “ensuring quality recordings” sounds, it requires skills that you can only acquire by working hard with dedication for many many hours. The main takeaway for me from Ryan’s answer is to keep learning and improving my skills as a Producer- so I can actually capture the quality recordings and performances I aspire to. It ABSOLUTELY sounds cliché (which may be a little cringe), but clichés exist for a reason, right?

Thank you Ryan for your awesome and insightful answer!
Catch y’all next week!
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