DIY Record Production – Part 3: A Method (contd.) – by Ian Button, Oct 2009
In the last article I described how I set things up on location in a rehearsal room or similar space to record a band. Now let’s talk about the actual recording…….
Recording and overdubbing
Once I’ve got everything set up, plugged in and working, I usually do a quick ‘soundcheck’ of the individual instruments, and then get the whole band to play or jam for a minute or so of test recording, just to make sure the levels are set right, everything’s coming through OK etc, and I check it back through the headphones to make sure nothing has overloaded or clipped.
At this point it’s really up to the band how to proceed. In theory, once you are set up, you can just press ‘record’ and let the band play as many songs as they like. Extradition Order once went on to play 23 in a row!; other bands like to concentrate on one tune until they are happy they’ve got a good version, then move on.
If I’m not involved or playing in the band myself, I tend to leave it to them to judge how the take has gone: they know their material better than me, and very often I won’t notice the things they are not happy with! Of course I might sometimes make suggestions on how to approach the tune, different ways to play, arrangement things, but only if I feel it’s my place to do so. If you all feel comfortable together this stuff just happens naturally and easily.
Try not to record too many takes. You end up with too much material to wade through and put together. Decide amongst yourself and the band if a take is generally good and go with it, plus another for safety if you need it. You can also record sections of the song to use as edits, don’t forget.
I hate ‘dropping in’ – it’s something that can be done, but that I try to avoid, especially when I’m recording 8 tracks at once, and because of the monitoring situation. I’d much rather roll the track back and re record a large chunk of it again, or do a whole new take.
Depending on the band, you might want to record to some kind of click or drum beat as a guide. There are obvious advantages to this in terms of editing or comping takes together, adding programmed elements later, copying, pasting or replacing sections – but it’s not always possible, or comfortable, and it can take all the life out of a performance. Don’t be afraid to let everybody play naturally – subtle changes in speed & feel can be really effective and/or hardly noticeable. Remember too that you can easily edit/correct/tighten up timings, generate tempo maps from live performances etc if you know your stuff. Don’t assume you/they need to be tied to a click.
When you’ve got your takes you can decide there and then which is the best one, and start building on that – alternatively you might need a bit of editing time to put together a definitive version of the song.
Then you can start overdubbing. You’ll be aiming to get clean, nicely separate recordings of guitars, vocals, any additional instruments etc. You’ll possibly be replacing guide tracks with more considered versions. You might just be adding a blistering solo.
This stage is where you can really start to use the recording process for more than just capturing performances – you are starting to expand the band’s sound beyond just the sum of its parts.
I’ll often record more than one overdub at a time (gtrs + keys for example, backing vocals) both to save time and to keep some band interaction. And I definitely try and get a well recorded lead vocal down at this stage, even if it ends up as a guide. This part of the process depends on how much time you’ve got left – but remember the overdubbing can pretty much be done anywhere, anytime, now that the most involved and complex part (the live backing tracks) has been done.
I try and keep the whole tracking and overdubbing process as relaxed and fun as possible – I’d hope no one feels any pressure from me as some kind of heavy handed producer: I don’t want to be that. Apparently I have only got annoyed with someone’s playing twice in the last few years in a recording situation, which isn’t bad going I suppose! I like to let people try ideas out (instruments, parts, whole songs). Some amazing stuff has come out of throwing loads of bits onto a tune and letting it all combine into beautiful chaos (we did quite a lot of this on the Extradition Order album, and on the forthcoming Awkward Silences tracks like ‘The Beasts In The Upstairs Bedroom’).
Deep Cut, on the other hand, is a bit more about precision, patterns, dissecting and orchestrating different guitar parts etc……the main thing is that ALL of it is appropriate. And brilliant fun……
This could also be a good point to talk about double tracking.
I LOVE double tracking. Really obvious double tracking. On vocals of course, but also guitars, keyboard lines, even drums.
I’ll admit, the bands I work with have mixed views on this – I understand that to some people it sounds fake and unnatural, and it doesn’t work for everybody it’s true.
I’m happy to defer/compromise (Tom Mayne!), but I will always try and get some potential double tracking material recorded at the overdubbing stage, just in case – guide vocal or guitar parts can be used behind later overdubs – backing vocals definitely should be layered up. Don’t forget stuff like this – you can manufacture the effect later but it isn’t quite the same.
So, that is pretty much it for this piece on initial recording. It may be that at the end of a session like this you’ve got something totally finished, that just needs a mix – or it may just be the basis for a much more involved production.
In the next article I will give a run down of the equipment I use and/or want, and/or would recommend for a DIY producer……