Lesson 48

Recording a Full Band

There's no right or wrong way to record a band. Ok... there are some wrong ways to do it, but there's lots of ways that are right. I'm going to cover some different techniques in this course, and once you understand these techniques, you'll be able to adapt them to a wide variety of recording situations.

 

Method 1- build the song off of a click track.

Probably the most common way is to use a click track and build the song by layering one track at a time. Using a click track has many advantages compared to recording a live performance. Almost all commercially produced songs are recorded this way.

step 1- determine the songs tempo.

step 2- Create a ghost track to a click track.

The ghost track does not need to be a good recording. It can be a simple as just the vocals, or just the rhythm guitar part. It just needs to be enough for the first person to record their part to know where they are in the song.

Step 3- Record the first part. Ideally, you should record drums first. This is not mandatory, it is simply a recommendation and it will help the rest of the players lock in to the tempo. If you don't record drums first, there's a possibility that the other players will sway a little bit in the tempo, and then the drums won't match up perfectly. It's just easier for the other players to lock onto drums than a click track, and if the drums sway away from the click track that's more noticeable than if the instruments do. So, assuming you record drums first, do several takes, and choose the best take for the song. With drums, its not always possible to use parts from multiple takes because if the cymbals are ringing, you can't switch seamlessly to another take. Usually, the cymbal ring will be just slightly different, even if it's the same cymbal, it probably wasn't hit in the same spot with the same velocity. It will sound like an obvious and unnatural change in the cymbals tone. You'll want a clean break from sound in between your edits. If the drummer has a hard time playing through a part without making mistakes, and theres too much cymbals to use multiple takes, consider recording the cymbals separately as another overdub.

Step 4- Record the instrumental parts. I prefer to do bass first, but the order is not a big deal. You can do several takes of each instrument to mix and match and choose the best performance for each section of the song. You can also layer several takes on top of each other for a fatter sound, and stereo spreading.

Step 5- Record Vocals.

 I prefer to record vocals last, because the vocals are generally the most important part, and I want the vocalist to feel the energy of the whole song, as well as be able to sing in key. Do several takes for the ability to choose the best performance for each part, layer in doubles, and record harmonies as well. 

Step 6- additional production

Using software instruments and Midi, you can add additional parts such as an overlaying string section, filter sweeps, and effects. You can also record sound effects as desired.

Step 7- Mix and master.

Method 2- Live Recording

If you have the ability to provide multiple individual headphone mixes, recording live off the floor is a great way to capture the natural feel of a song and performance. No click track required, the songs rhythm will flow naturally. Other than just providing headphone mixes, there are challenges to capturing the parts. 

First is drums. This is the most important part because it cannot be overdubbed. The drummer needs to be able to play through the song without making any in unacceptable mistakes. If the drummer cannot do this, then live recording is not the best method to record this band, refer to a ghost track with a click track.
Anybody else can go ahead and make all the mistakes they want, because the other parts can be re recorded.

With the drums in the same room, it’s not really possible to do a 1 take live recording that sounds good. There will be drum bleed in all the microphones, which will mostly make the drums sound bad. But you can still do a lot with one take. You can get the drums, and any instruments that plug in, like electric guitar, bass, and keyboard. You will just need to re do the non drum parts that need to be recorded with a microphone, such as vocals. 
So in the first take, everybody in the band performs, and can hear each other in their headphone mix. All parts are also recorded. But then, in additional takes you re record the acoustic parts by muting them in the track, and the artist does their thing. This way you get perfect isolation of each part, and retain the live feel.

You can also do as many takes of each part as you want, except for drums. So go ahead and layer them up.

 

The main disadvantage of a live take is that you don't have the ability to do as much editing. You can't copy and past a part to another area of the song. 

 

You also might have to make a custom click track to cover parts of the song that the drums don't play. This is common, especially at the beginning of a song, or during a bridge.  There's 2 ways to make a custom click track that flows naturally with the song. The optimal way is for you, the recording engineer, to be another instrument in the band, and count 1,2,3,4 out loud so that everyone can hear it in their monitor mixes, and it's also being recorded. That way your counting will flow naturally with the song, and the players will follow your counting, it's a 2 way relationship. If you were not able to do this, then after the drums were recorded, you can record yourself creating the click track with a midi keyboard playing a hi hat, or counting 1,2,3,4. If you record the custom click track afterwards though, it will be difficult, and sometimes nearly impossible, to get the timing perfect. 


Once you’ve captured the performance, I’d recommend re recording the vocal tracks one at a time. This will provide much better sound quality because it will eliminate the phase issues. There will be a hint of the previous vocal in the background from the guitar mic. If the artists vocal performance is consistent, then it’s no problem, it won’t be noticeable, and it is not detrimental. If the performance is different, then it will be noticeable, and you might have to stick with the original live take.
If they do not sing consistently, and you really want separate takes, then use the live take as a ghost track, and record the parts individually. 

When you have a ghost track, the artists will need a count in to start at the right time. Here’s how I create a count in. I simply record myself counting 1234 to the first few measures of the song, I cut out the best 1234, and drag it to the beginning of the song. There’s a bit of trial and error to get it positioned perfectly, but the whole process only takes a couple of minutes.

Method 3- Record a ghost track as a live take, then record parts one at a time on top. 

In this method, the order is very important. You need to record drums first, and then get rid of the ghost track. Next, record bass, and then the rest of the rhythm section, such as guitars and piano. I would recommend recording vocals last. 

With this method, the ghost track serves as a click track for the drums, so you can do multiple drum takes. Then, the drums serve as a click track for the rest of the recording. This method captures the live feel, and gives the ability to do multiple takes of all parts including drums. The disadvantage of this method is that it is often difficult for the drummer to follow the same timing as the ghost track, and there could be some unnatural tempo fluctuations that won't be noticed until the ghost track is turned off, and you're recording the rest of the parts.

Method 4- No ghost track, no click track, just start recording.

This method is not recommended, but it can work if the drummer knows the song really well, and can play through the song and maintain a very steady tempo. Then you can layer the other parts on top. The order is crucial in this method. Drums must be recorded first.