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Five Things You Can Learn from Meshuggah

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This month, Nail The Mix features producer Tue Madsen giving a lesson and session on the production of Meshuggah’s “MonstroCity.” To celebrate, we asked our buddy, Nail The Mix’s Eyal Levi, to share with us five things you can learn from this rightfully-revered band.

Check out Eyal’s list below! If you’re interested in becoming a Nail The Mix subscriber, go here and click “Get Access Now.”

It’s always a treat to get our hands on a new session every month on Nail The Mix, but the session for “MonstroCity” was especially eye-opening. I could literally write a book about what I learned just from opening up Tue’s session and digging around in the raws, but I’m just a simple producer not a fancy author, so you’ll have to settle for these: five of the biggest takeaways I got from the session, and how you can (*cough* should *cough*) apply them to YOUR band. Want more? Sign up for Nail The Mix, download the session and get your learn on!

1. They’re every bit as good as you think they are

The thing about recording is that it puts everything under a microscope. If you’ve ever recorded yourself playing then you know what I mean. You’ll hear all kinds of mistakes that you didn’t think were there.

By the same token, it will also shine a spotlight on people who are really really fucking good — and these guys are as good as it gets and their raws sound better than most bands’ mixed tracks. Get your hands on the amped guitars and you’ll hear exactly what I mean- there’s a certain nastiness to the pick attack that no piece of gear will ever get you.

If you’ve never tried recording yourself, I highly suggest that you do so. It doesn’t need to be a great recording, just enough so that you can hear what’s going on. I guarantee that you’ll find plenty of room for improvement – make a list of stuff to work on, grind hard, and someday you might be ten percent as good as Meshuggah.

2. If you’re a real musician, technical skill doesn’t limit you, it frees you

There’s a misguided idea that a tradeoff exists between technical proficiency and great songs with groove and feel. This is, well, complete bullshit that’s usually said by people who can’t play and are too lazy to put in the oftentimes grueling work is takes to get there.

The fact of the matter is that technical proficiency, while not required for every genre or style, is always a good thing. It’s what enables to you take the ideas from abstract thoughts in your head to something tangible.

3. Sometimes more is more

The “MonstroCity” session is (pardon the pun) a MONSTER, with over eighty-five tracks including more than a dozen layers of guitar tones, several tracks of reamped drums, and other stuff that for most bands would definitely constitute overkill.

But Meshuggah aren’t most bands. They’re Meshuggah, and this level of almost baroque density absolutely works for them. When coupled with incredible chops and beastly performances of awesome songs, these extra layers create depth, dimensionality and other subtle stuff that really takes the track from good to great. The level of craftsmanship on display in this session is just insane.

4. Just because they do it, doesn’t mean you should

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I want you to repeat it until you believe that it applies to you. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

The thing is this: when Meshuggah does the stuff I mentioned above, it’s the icing on the cake — NOT the cake itself. They do that stuff to get an additional five percent of polish on top of a session that’s already incredible. If YOU do it, 99% of the time it’s going to be a distraction taking you away from what you should be focusing on: your songs and how well you can play them. When YOU add layer upon layer of stuff to your session, you’re just adding crap that muddies waters that are likely already very murky.

Walk before you run. Until your band can record your shit in one or two takes with a level of tightness that means comping and editing is basically optional, don’t even think about getting fancy like Meshuggah. If you can’t record two tracks of airtight guitars with one tone, then quad-tracking or blending tones isn’t gonna help.

5. If you have a real identity, the gear is irrelevant

Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.) is a very real thing. I see tons of people thinking that if only they buy this amp, that cab or this guitar, they’ll somehow find the magic thing that makes them stand out from the crowd, that unlocks all the brilliant ideas inside them just waiting to be unleashed on the world. Thinking that a certain guitar makes your music better is about as dumb as thinking that buying a certain kind of pencil will make you a better artist, but for some reason G.A.S. is rarely questioned in music.

As proof of this, note that there’s nothing all that special about the gear used on this Meshuggah session. It’s all stuff you could get at Sweetwater: Mesa, Marshall, some common microphones — stuff you’ve seen a thousand times and may even own. The magic ingredient isn’t their gear, it’s their unique vision for what metal could sound like. They could play this stuff on Fender Squires and maybe it wouldn’t sound quite as good, but their vision would come through just as clearly (and actually — now that I think about it — it might sound kind of cool played on Squires).

So if you want to break new ground as Meshuggah did, my suggestion is to spend less time drooling over gear and more time finding your identity as a musician.

To tune into Unstoppable Recording Machine, Nail The Mix’s sister podcast on which the NTM producers invite guests to speak about production and music topics,  go here. You can also follow Nail The Mix on Facebook.

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