We’re all used to hearing music in a particular way. It’s not necessarily how the instruments actually sound in real life, but like a film with its hyper-real sound effects, some bands and artists want to enhance their music to produce a perfect or ideal sound that’s them at their very best. They’ll say things like:
- I want it to be perfect.
- I want to create what I have in my head.
- I want it to sound modern, or current.
Recording like this can take some time, but is massively rewarding for artists. You sure will learn a lot about your songs when you deconstruct them into the small blocks that we need to work with in this style.
What to expect when recording in this style
Recording will properly start with drums but bassists or guitarist often have to record a “guide track” first. This is a rough take that the drummer can use to play along to, so he or she doesn’t just have 4 minutes of bar counting to do! Bass then guitars and keys next with vocals on last, you’ll all record one at a time layering on top of the previous recordings as you go.
Microphones will be placed very close to the instruments to reduce room tone and maximise options for the mix. It’s very likely that most instruments will be recorded on several different microphones at once. The producer will set mics then go listen to you play and then make adjustments either to the mic placement or to the sound you’re making. This cycle can go round quite a bit to find the perfect sound! The final sound may be slightly different to what you would choose for a gig, but trust your producer here, they’re looking to create just one part of a much larger picture, just like a jigsaw.
During recording you may encounter a common studio technique called double tracking. This is where you’ll record the same part multiple times, maybe with a slightly adjusted tone or mic placement. This doesn’t add any musical elements to the production but is about creating layers and the correct texture and balance for the song. It is especially common with rhythm guitar parts and vocals.
Once you’ve recorded all your usual parts you will get a chance to add parts that you cannot do live, extra guitar or vocal lines, or parts for whole other instruments like string sections, synths and keys that you don’t have in your band. This is an amazing opportunity to experiment and to express yourself as musicians without the limitations you usually face.
Vocals are recorded last as they are most affected by the arrangement of the performance beneath them. Vocalists should expect to make at least 3 or 4 full takes before breaking the song down into sections and trying parts or lines individually. The final take will be compiled (or “comped”) from all of these takes, you don’t have to find that magic perfect take.
Tips for artists
Make sure your instruments are in top shape; drummers tune and reskin if required, guitarists restring, vocalists rest! Maybe think about getting your instruments serviced professionally. The close mic’ing techniques your engineer will use will really enhance a well maintained instrument, but can struggle if the instrument has faults.
Practice. Practice to a click. Practice on your own. Chances are you’ll be recording to a click track, so get used to one – especially if you’re a drummer! You will also want to know the parts of your song on their own, what they sound like without the rest of the band.
Stay calm. You might be recording the same part over and over again, you might slip up or the producer might want to tweak something. It’s important to stay calm and focus on the part in hand, don’t worry about what’s to come or what has happened, your producer is looking after that.