Recording Your Own Record Like the Pros: Basic Tracks
The first thing you’ll do when you get there is start on the basic tracks. If it is a band situation, that means miking up the instruments to get the best sound onto tape (or hard disk for that matter) that truly represents the band’s and the ‘genre’s’ sound. For example, you won’t want to ‘slick up’ or over –EQ the instruments if this is a punk recording and you’ll want to get the cleanest sound possible if this is a pop recording. If it is a recording with a lot of MIDI and drum machines, then this will be the time you start to decide on particular sounds, beats and basically build the song from the ground up.
What is essential no matter the genre, no matter the recording style of the initial tracks is to capture a groove. Again, this is not genre specific, but if a song doesn’t groove, have a natural rhythmic feel then you are likely to lose you listener even before they have a chance to get to you lyrics, hook or solo.
Also, a lesson hard-learned but one to pass on nonetheless in this phase is that, especially with recording mediums like Pro-tools with unlimited tracks, it is always best to over-mike the recording of the basics. Put mikes on each drum on the drum set, two over heads to capture the cymbals and one on the hi-hat, then maybe a few around the room for different room sounds and effects. You can always subtract from a particular take, but it is hard to add. You may think you want an old-timey sound and that if they did it with two mikes, you can too. In most cases you will be sorely disappointed in the outcome: two-mike recording is an art, as is multi-track recording. And while you may have recorded a great rhythm track, when you listen it might sound thin, hollow, out of proportion, or any other bad adjective you can think of.
But the key piece of advice I have about this stage of your recording is that you, the producer, or leader of the band, need to create as much of a comfortable environment as possible. You do not want your artist or your group to feel under pressure or under the microscope where they are inadvertently holding back on their playing. You want to encourage some risk taking, to encourage a full-steam ahead performance. When artists are on edge, uncomfortable, tired, nervous or feel undue pressure, they will never give you what you are looking for. Some may rise above their fear or trepidation, most do not. This is where your work in pre-production will start to pay-off, because you will understand each individual's psychological make-up even in the most rudimentary sense, and know when they need a pat on the back, a break, a cup of coffee or a kick in the pants. You’ll know that they perform best in the late afternoon, or after a good meal, or with the lights turned down low. There is nothing more exciting than hearing an artist reach their potential and even move ahead of it and to have captured that on tape, or in most cases now, on a hard drive.
Remember what you are doing here is laying the very important foundation to a recording that you want both yourself and others to listen to, think you are really talented, and want to listen to that recording for the next 50 years and beyond!
Next – The Overdubbing Stage or How to Convince Your Guitarist That 40 Takes of Their Solo is More Than Enough.