RP reader Johnny Turnbuckle asks, “How come this sounds better than some recordings made using much better equipment?”
A simple question, but with not-so-simple answers…
As often happens, one question begs another. If you listen to the track in question you may wonder what exactly is better about it. And what was our reader comparing it to?
One thing you can say about Strange Way by BJK is that it isn't the normal kind of sound that you hear every day. So comparing it with commercially successful recordings would be pointless. It isn't at all like that.
Really, the only way you could judge it, artistically and technically, is “Do you like it? Would you buy it?”
Hmm, in the Audio Masterclass virtual office we didn't find many immediate takers. But maybe that's just an irrational fear of the unusual. Guitars that jangle quite as much as this certainly are unusual. And the placing of the vocal behind a thick blanket, or so it sounds, is unusual too.
Here at RP, we prefer not to judge tracks on a scale that runs from bad to good. We prefer to look at each individual track as the creator's 'artistic statement'.
So if someone makes a recording that has an unusual sonic texture, that's fine. They have made an artistic statement. Whether the statement proves to be worthy in the long term depends on listeners' perceptions, and whether hearing the track made a difference to them.
And even if the track's creator doesn't have a great technical ability in recording yet, they have still seen fit to release the track, so that in itself is part of their artistic statement.
And since Strange Way definitely pushes the envelope of what a recording can sound like, we like it!
But going back to the original question and making it more general, how can a track made with inferior equipment sound better than another track made on better and more expensive equipment?
The answer is – and this might come as a shock to some – that making a great recording is down to the producer and engineer. As long as the equipment meets a certain – quite easily achievable – standard, then an expert producer/engineer can record a great track. Granted they might have done a little better with more expensive equipment, but the difference really would be quite small.
Conversely, you could have the best equipment in the world, but without experience and skill in recording, the result will be sub-standard. Sorry, I didn't mean 'substandard', I meant 'an artistic statement that didn't quite fulfill the creator's aspirations'.
So from a simple question come two conclusions…
1. There is no such thing as a bad recording, as long as it is what the recording's creator wanted you to hear.
2. If one recording sounds better to you than another, the reason is almost certainly the superior experience and skill of the recording's creator, not better equipment.
And one more thing… if a track really does sound good to you, then its creator has succeeded. Their artistic statement has indeed made a difference.