Lesson 47

Recording a Singer with Acoustic Guitar

In this lesson I’m going to show you 4 different methods for recording an artist who sings and plays guitar. Each method has pros and cons, and you can choose which will work the best for you based on the flow of the song, and the artists abilities. Or if one method doesn’t work, you can try another. If nothing works, then you can always just do a live take, but that’s the least desirable method because it doesn’t sound as good. The reason a live take doesn’t sound as good, is because you can’t isolate the guitar and vocals, you will always have bleed. The main goal of these various methods is to get isolation of the parts. 

1- live take
2- click track
3- live take, replace vocals 
4- custom click track

1- live take. This is the least desirable. It has lowest sound quality, and it’s difficult to overdub or layer tracks on top. It also doesn’t give much options for getting stereo spread on the guitar. The main challenge with this technique is the guitar bleed into the vocal mic, and the vocal bleed into the guitar mic. Since the vocal mic is about 6” from the singers mouth, and the guitar mic is about 2’ from the singers mouth, the sound from the vocals will be captured by the guitar microphone about 2 milliseconds later. When the 2 microphones are mixed together, the vocals that bled into the guitar mic are mixed with the main vocal mic, but due to the time difference, they are out of phase. Check out lesson 1.3.2 on phase for more info on that. This will change their sound, and not in a good way. The objective is to get as much isolation on each part as possible through microphone polar pattern and placement. 
If you are recording in a room that is large, or well treated so it doesn’t have a lot of reflections (check out lesson 1.17 on room acoustics), a microphone with a figure 8 polar pattern will give you the best isolation. Place the vocal mic a little below the mouth, angled upwards to maximize rejection in the direction of the guitar. Place the guitar mic a few inches above where the neck meets the body, and aimed slightly downward to get the most rejection of the vocals. This will give pretty good results, and what they play is what they get. Good room acoustics are essential for this. If you don’t have good room acoustics, you won’t be able to get a great sounding live take, but to make the most of it, use a cardioid or supercardioid pickup pattern, the iSK little Gem is great for this, place and angle the microphones to get the best isolation you can. 

2- click track
This is the preferred method, but some artists can’t play to a click track, and it won’t work if the song has any intentional tempo fluctuations, such as holding a note at the end of a verse.
But when it does work, it works really well, and provides the option of adding more production to the song after it’s been recorded. 

Step 1
- establish the song tempo and set it as your project tempo. Send only the click track to the artists headphone mix. Have them play the song along to the click track, and record both the guitar and vocals together with a single microphone. This will serve as ghost track which will later be deleted.

Step 2

- play the click track and ghost track together in the headphone mix. Record only the acoustic guitar part. You can use any of the stereo spreading techniques explained in lesson 6,? To get better separation of the guitar. In this example, I’ve used the Haas effect.

Step 3
- remove the ghost track, and play the guitar part and click track in the headphone mix. Record vocals on top.

Method 3- live take, replace vocals.

If the artist cannot play to a click track, or there are tempo variations in the song, this works well if they are consistent in their vocal performance. It begins with doing a recording using the live take method. Then, mute the vocal track, and give them just the guitar part in their headphone mix, as they re-record the vocals. This provides a clean vocal take that will not have any phase issues. The downside is that there will be a small amount of audible bleed from the original vocals into the guitar mic. It will be faint, and if the vocal performance is consistent, it will actually add a pleasant warmth, which is often done on purpose in pop songs by recording doubles of the vocal track.
In mixdown, use the Haas effect on the guitar part to get stereo separation.

Method 4
- live take, custom click

This is probably the most difficult and time consuming method, but it works great for artists that have a difficult time following a click track, or for songs that fluctuate in tempo. The idea is to have them perform the song to record a ghost track, but as they are performing, you, the engineer, are tapping a snare drum or hihat which they hear in their monitor mix, and it gets recorded. As the song fluctuates in tempo, you will fluctuate the click track to match it. You need to really concentrate and stay on beat, because it’s a 2 way street. You follow the artist, but they also follow you, the same as a band follows the drummer, but the drummer also follows the band.

Once this ghost track and click track are established, you can record record the guitar part individually, and then remove the ghost track, but keep the click track and record the vocals. 

With this method, you can use any of the stereo spreading techniques shown in lesson 6.? On the guitar for better separation and a fuller sound.