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One weird trick

What’s the best attack time for kick drum compression? How high should you filter lead vocals?

We want to get better and to experience the success of our idols, so it’s all too easy to seek the winning formula. Show me the steps to guarantee results. The best tools. The best techniques. All the ways to ensure that, without doubt and without challenging decisions, I can’t possibly go wrong.

This is how school has taught us to approach problems. It’s also how advertising and the internet have taught us to approach problems. When you’re up against a wall, Google for the ‘right’ answer, and buy the tool that promises to be most effective.

But some (many? most?) problems don’t have just one right answer. There isn’t one winning arrangement or synth patch that guarantees a successful song, or a drag-and-drop selection of lyrics that makes for a hit. So it only makes sense that there isn’t one bus compressor, one mix template, one preset, one parallel processing chain that defines the success the greatest producers and engineers.

Super viral YouTube influencers are happy to beat the nuance out of the conversation. That’s their job. Concise, digestible, polarizing opinions that guarantee results. Look to these videos for ideas, not for absolute truths, and certainly not for a recipe to achieve your goals.

There’s no right—or should I say, there’s no wrong answer to art. It’s fine to learn from everyone, but don’t be afraid to do what works for you.