Around 2006 / 2007. Borrowed a 421 from a friend to use on vocals, recording a touring band live to 8-track 1/2" in my Chicago basement "studio." This was a Good, Expensive Microphone. Also not an SM57. Also a Real Touring Band. VERY exciting. I think I was 19 -
I ask the singer to sing a little so that I can get a level into this "fancy" microphone we've borrowed specifically for this session (no talkback, the "control room" walls didn't extend all the way to the ceiling, so... I recently archived a bunch of reels from that era - virtually every song starts with 19 year old me bellowing "ROLLING" at the top of my lungs from the next room
) and the sound is strange and thin. Hmmmm... must be singing into the back of the capsule. I run out into the room and flip the mic around so that the other side of the basket faces the singer. Same thing. Does it need phantom power? No, still sounds totally fucked up. Maybe some compression? Nope. Different channel on the M-320? Nope.
"this thing's broken"
On an unrelated and less fun / no fun / super serious note - dealing with mix recalls in the digital era (console summing, faders at 0, digital levels & pans with analog processing printed back in rather than inserted works for me most days - still mix on the faders sometimes - analog group / master inserts are pretty easy to recall too - point is it's, like, '5 minutes at most' instead of 'two hours and still never quite right') - I decided years ago to never put up any resistance and just do the notes to the best of my ability. I haven't looked back and my life and mixes both have gotten easier and better. Counter to some of the sentiments expressed here, the one thing I will insist on is that artist not approve mixes until they've listened to them back at home where they're comfortable - I don't care if they've got three EQs chained together into a stereo widener, if that's what they're used to, that's what they're used to! The reality is that it's rarely that bad: most skilled musicians have a good deal of ear training under their belt whether they know it or not. It also opens the door for people with a persistent and bizarre vision that might not strike me as 'right' the first time I hear it: if I think I have a better idea of how their record should sound than they do, I'm never going to give that vision a chance, and I need to recalibrate my own thought process.
So I've found that really leaning into those notes that grate on me the most, as a challenge, as though they're the most exciting thing I've ever heard in my life, yields much better results. Say I love the dry, detailed, richly textured vocal sound I've got in my mix and the artist writes back - 'hall reverb on vocal please.' My first kneejerk might be - what about all that detail! Why does this idiot want to drown the vocal in reverb and swamp the mix? It's so stark and striking the way it is - what the fuck! Why is this idiot trying to ruin my beautiful mix? With a steady-state bland vocal reverb sound that everyone uses, and worse, it just occupies the same place for the entire song, smearing everything and removing the impact of each transition.
But wait - did they ask me to drown the vocal in reverb? Or for a muddy mix? Did they say they hated the clarity or the aspects of the vocal that my treatment highlights? No! They want reverb. They're hearing it differently than I am. What if I can find a way to give them their reverb without diminishing any of the things that I like about the vocal mix? A reverb that runs with the spirit of whatever made them want to feel like the vocal was in a 'hall' but has some exciting texture and life and evolves over the course of the mix to suit and emphasize section changes? Now we're getting somewhere!
Also, total novices have fucking amazing ideas sometimes, if you can remember to just try them and see what happens instead of dismissing them before they have a chance.
Really addressing my know-it-all younger self here more than anyone else, so I hope no one takes offense! I bet even the very best of us can use the occasional reminder to stay open to strangeness <3