does mixing kill the soundstage?

All this talk about "soundstage" gets me to thinking how in the world do we hear an accurate (or even close) soundstage on anything other than live, acoustic, performances recorded by just 2 mics with no mixing. Why would you even *hear* where a singer is if they are being recorded by a mic right in front of them that is recorded, most likely, seperately from anything else? They run all these different tracks (vocals, drums, guitar, whatever), changing the volume of each one to get the best *sound* Why would this not create a total mess? I guess I know nothing about how the recording process is done, but just off the top of my head it seems like almost everything would just be a garbled mess, which alot are, but some are not and I KNOW they are mixed somewhere down the line. Am I missing something? That being said how does one find good quality live, acoustic recordings that DO have a great soundstage? I listen to just about every type of music under the sun so I am not picky. I just want 50-75 good CDs that will send chills down my spine......
Mixing doesn't kill the soundstage, it creates it. Often, a song begins w/a click track (metronome beat or scratch drum heard in studio headphones) while the various tracks are laid down on top of that. Only after all the parts are 'tracked', does the assembly of the song begin. Mixing engineers adjust tone (EQ and effects), volume, and stereo placement (panning). The trick is to give each instrument its own place in the mix and not stack parts w/similar frequency content on top of each other(thus muddling the sound). This applies primarily to modern rock, pop, and country. Symphonic recordings (or any recording where individual mics would be impractical) are usually done with multiple condenser mics where the mixing engineer slighty tailors each mics output and placement in the mix to duplicate the live experience. Both recording methods have their pitfalls. Hope that helps...
So they actually try to create a soundstage that most likely does not exist in real-life (in the former example). Interesting. I guess a very large percentage of the sound quality falls on the shoulders of these people. I would love to "sit in" and experience that happening. Some may find it boring, but I love to watch a good cook prepare a meal. ( time for a midnight snack.......?)
In modern multi-miked recordings the soundstage is an artificial creation. A talented recording engineer can assemble the individual recorded tracks (typically between 24 and 48) into a coherent sonic image. The juggling of left versus right channel volume and phase manipulation allow the placement of specific instruments within an artificial, digitally created, ambient soundfield. Within any musical genre there are generalized rules that govern the mix with mono compatibility being the highest priority. A skillful engineer can fashion a very convincing aural experience.
Just to add a bit to 61's post, there is always the actual room sound aspect of recording vocals, piano, acoustic guitars, etc. that can help an engineer create a convincing soundstage, even within the artificial environment 61 so well describes. I am about to begin a recording project that involves a "clicktrack", acoustic guitar, guide vocal, percussion, bass, piano, horns, in that order, and I will try to keep as much of the natural room sound as possible even with much overdubbing.
If the actual room sound is not that great, I will add a different room sound as discretely as I can.
Bmpnyc, obiviously if you have a great sounding tracking room, then it can only help the quality of the final mix. It sounds like you'll be recording in only one room, hence your ambient room sound will be consistent from one track to another. Alot of recordings are not this fortunate and efforts must be made suppress the original room sound and to then add a synthetic ambience (basically a reverb, nearly always digital) as a sonic "glue" to bind the divergent sounds together. Good luck w/ your project!
Thanks 61.
Speaking from experience both as an audiophile and having done professional recording engineering both in top notch studios and minimalist classical recording venues, I just had to chime in. First of all, 99% of all pop/rock music is completely artificial. Single source mono microphones are used to record the majority of instruments. In a final mix, the mono signal is panned to the left/right channels to give a sense of "placement". Personally, I think it is more accurate to call most pop recordings "placed" mono than stereo. Still, to make a good sounding mult-track rock recording takes talent and possibly the finest engineer out there is George Massenburg (he also designs his own gear under the name GML and it can be as breathtakingly expensive as high end audio gear). In terms of symphonic recordings, multi-channel micing is utilized mainly by Deutsche Grammaphone. Engineers opt not to record in this fashion because the sound leaves a lot to be desired. Recording a symphony is more about the sound of the orchestra in a hall and capturing the essence of the orchestra as a whole. 48 tracks of mono mics that are mixed together can never represent the sound of an orchestra. A recording that has been made in this fashion can be instantly identified and the phase shifting and incoherrence between the microphones is nothing short of annoying. The finest classical recordings out there often use very few microphones. Chesky does a phenominal job of doing minimalist micing (but the performers aren't the greatest). The older DECCA recordings from the "Golden Age" would be your best bet for symphonic recordings (but use a few more mics but did a great job with it). John Eargle recordings on Delos also use a few more mics but are exceptional. If you are looking for an out of this world acoustic recording, pick up "Meeting By The River" by Ry Cooder and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. The disc is impressive both because the two of them had never met when they recorded it and because of the calibur of the recording. It is a minimalist 2 channel analog recording that cannot be topped.
Hi A71spud; Great thread, and my thanks to all the above posters who took time to explain modern recording techniques. Now I know how JJ Cale can sing in the center of the stage and still lay down the guitar "hot licks" off to the left. Cheers. Craig
Slartibart, thanks for the heads up on the Ry Cooder/V.M. Bhatt recording. I also prefer a live 2 track analogue recording at 30 ips. I have done this previously on a few demos, and love the feeling of a real event being captured. Unfortunately, time and budget prevent me from recording that way at the moment, but I am hoping to eventually do another 2 track live recording. It is an amazing energy rush!
BMP- I have done some interesting experiments with 2 and 4 mic setups with non-acoustic type recording. I have tried to have bands play in a large room and position them at various distances from the mics but the results varied. I have also tried to overdub instruments with the same technique using a stereo pair but again, the results varied. I think the best recording I ever made was of a violin recital. I used an AKG C24 in Blumlein flanked by a pair of Neumann KM130 omnis. The mic preamp was an old and heavily modified Ampex tube unit all of which ran to a Nagra D. Analog is the way to go but a 1/2" reel at 30 ips gets mighty pricey (about $50-75 for every 15 minutes of record time). Honestly, recording on 1/4", 15ips Ampex 499 to a Ampex ATR or Nagra IV-S is pretty sensational (I have access to several thousand master tapes on this medium that are better than anything else out there). I am also amazed at the amount of artifical signal processing that is put on to even symphony recordings. If people heard an original master vs. a post production CD release, they would be astonished at how much the sound often changes.
Slartibart, it has been a long time since I paid close attention to engineering. I used to produce in the 80's, and have been teaching since the 90's. You are inspiring me to take a more active hand in the recording project I am just beginning. Thank you. Once you have tried 30ips on a Studer 16 track, and then a Studer 24 track, it's hard to go back to less expensive formats. I will be recording digitally in a very intimate and well designed studio with only mid level recording gear, but a very good engineer. If I can get enough interest in my work I will pursue a more desirable recording format in the future. Man, talk about bass authority, you a'int heard nothin' till you hear a Studer 2" 16 track. Whoa! I think that Led Zepellin's second album was 16 track and that Who's Next was recorded on 16 track, but I don't know which machines were used. Anyway, I will speak with the engineer I will be working with and attempt to formulate a plan to achieve some semblance of a true soundstage. First idea that comes to mind is to record the different musicians and their instruments in the part of the room that they would be standing in if the entire band was in the room, and then assemble a facsimile of the soundstage. I'll let you how things progress.
If anyone is interested, I made a post where I copied some of the emails from the Harbeth user's group ( where one of the BBC's recording engineer members spoke of his experiences. It was titled "BBC engineer s bent on live recordings." Lots of similar discussions can be found on that site.
BMP- The track width on a 2" Studer and a 1/4" are the same. Also, the new tape formulations have made a world of difference (Quantegy 499 and GP9). The most kick-ass mastering deck is: It is a 1" 2 Track Ampex ATR. I have worked with Studer decks in the past but have been more favorable towards Ampex and Nagra. I am going to be buying a 2 track machine in the not too distant future and am torn between an Ampex, Nagra, and Studer. The beautiful thing about the Nagra is its size but it is frightfully expensive. For your recording, what kind of mics do you have to work with? No signal processing or recorder can do a darn bit of good if the mic and preamp aren't up to the task... also remember that EQ's and compressors can wreak havoc on recordings if not properly used...
Slartibart, Thanks for the tips.I'll check on those aspects. The mikes will be mostly Nuemann's. I once mixed to a 2 track Studer and felt it was the best I had heard. Many of the Ampex machines I used were noisier, but they were probably older models. I have used a Nagra once or twice and loved it. Good luck with
your 2 track purchase. My old Otari 2 track wasn't too bad, now that I think about it.
Slartibart, How much longer do you think we will be able to buy analog tape? When 3M stopped manufacturing, it was a real wake up call. Now I know the 499 and GP-9 Quantegy/Ampex tape formulation is the best you can buy, but other than BASF,(which I dont think is as good sonically, but boy do they know how to precision slit the tape!!!!)there is no one left. This is a pretty ominous sign for the future. What do you think?
Regarding Ampex vs. Studer, The ATR Transport, wins when Mike Spitz's mods at ATR Service Co. are applied. It simply is the lowest wow & flutter in the business. And then there's the incredible pinch rollerless design. Of course, as you know the 1/2" deck is 5db quieter than 1/4", so I can only imagine a full 1/2" width per stereo track. It must be devastatingly incredible. I cant afford to switch though, as 1/2" is already too much money, as you point out............Frank
Thanks to all who have responded (and for the positive marks too), it has been a real "ear-opener" for me. I am going to track down that Ry Cooder release before this weekend. It sure sounds like I should spend a bit more time looking for quality recordings to listen to instead of fretting about not having hospital grade outlets. Maybe that is why vinyl sounds better, they screwed around with the music a bit less. Technology can be a dangerous thing in the right hands......
A71, any of the Water Lily label albums will have a natural soundstage with plenty of hall sound. Kavi Alexander typically records with tube mics and electronics designed by Tim de Paravinici. There's a series of recordings with V.M. Bhatt and various guest artist (Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Bela Fleck, etc.) A good example of multi-track synthetic sound is Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly". Roger Nichols is the engineer. Check out the mix on "Ruby, Ruby". An interesting hybrid sound is Manfred Eicher's ECM label. He records with a close mic technique, but still provides plenty of hall sound. Typically, the drums and piano are spread across the soundstage larger than real life.

There's nothing magical about any of the recording technologies. Talented musicians together with skilled engineers can produce great music and great sound with even the most basic of equipment.
Well, the good news about analog is that even though everyone thought it was going to die long ago, it is still the medium of choice when making high quality recordings. Just look at what everyone said about vinyl... it was supposed to be long gone and you wouldn't be able to get a turntable or cartridge but they are still alive and kicking. Furthermore, both the National Archives and the Smithsonian have said the best mechanism for audio preservation is still analog tape and that it has a much longer shelf life than digital media.

I would definitely parrot what Onhwy61 has to say about recording... Toys don't make up for talent. Unfortunately, the toys make it so easy to make a recording today that people don't always spend the time to make it sound great. Of course, if there is no talent its gonna suck any way you cut it.
If you're interested in the technical side of music production, then check out this site. Pay particular attention to the forums moderated by George Massengburg and Roger Nichols.