Welcome to Day 12 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

We’ve all seen the pictures of those huge tracking sessions.

The drum kit has 16 mics on it. Both guitar amps have two mics on each of them. The acoustic guitar has two mics. The vocalist has a mic. The bass player is playing both direct AND they’re recording his amp with two mics. The keyboardist has 3 different keyboards, each with a pair of outputs.

Don’t even get me started on the orchestra in the next room. 😉

As much fun as these sessions can be, they’re not very realistic for us home recording folks.

If you have dreams of one day owning enough mics and preamps to do a big ‘ol tracking session, GREAT!

In the meantime, though, keep it simple.

Up to this point, any project I record in my studio, including my own album, I’ve taken the overdub approach.

The Overdub Approach

Rather than trying to put together a full band and recording everything at once, I recorded everything one instrument at a time. Rarely do I use more than two inputs simultaneously.

If you’re starting out in the world of recording, I’d suggesting using your one good microphone that we talked about on Day 3 and recording your projects one instrument at a time. One instrument. One mic.

“What about drums?” you may ask. Great questions. Until you have the capabilities to adequately record a drum kit (or rent out a studio for a drum session), use something like EZ Drummer to create your drum tracks.

Again, when you’re taking the overdub approach, the idea is to keep things as simple as possible. When you’re only recording one instrument at a time, you’re allowing you’re mind to really focus on that one instrument, that one mic, that one task. Instead of keeping up with 12 mics and 12 different mic techniques, you’re simply trying to get the best possible sound you can get with just one microphone.

Once you master the use of one microphone, graduate yourself to two, then even more as needed.

The goal here is to learn to crawl before you walk.

Most hobbies are fairly simple. I like to play basketball, for example. In high school, did we focus exclusively on complex trick plays on the first day of practice? No, we worked on the fundamentals.

It’s the same idea with recording, don’t jump in too deep until you’ve gotten a good handle on the fundamentals. Hopefully 31 Days to Better Recordings will help you with that.

Day 12 Challenge

In the comments below, list an area of your “recording life” that you’re letting become too complex. What can you do to simplify it and get better at it?

  • I’m just now putting together my rig that’s way past due. I have been lucky enough to do a full length album with a band though. The biggest surprise of that experience was how little overdubs we did. Granted, we were a performing band, so we had the songs hashed out. But, tracking almost everything live and then going back in to overdub some guitar solos and vocals was pretty much it. I still love the organic sound and FEEL of that album. I love to hear little “unintended” sounds on recordings. Gives them life.

  • Simo

    I usually record everything with just 1 mic… The only “complex” thing in my recording life is to go both DI and miking the acoustic guitar to blend the sounds if I fell the need, and I already had good results…but it’s not that complex so I think I’ll keep doing it…

  • Arjun

    An area of my “recording life” that has become too complicated is my inability to keep things simple, as Joe mentioned. Because I tend to be overly cautious and want as much variety as I can get during the mixing phase, I tend to over mic guitar amps sometimes. On my last session, I had a Rode NT-1A off axis, a Shure SM57 pointed directly at the cone and another SM57 angled 45 degrees at the cone (because I saw a youtube video of someone who suggested it). Needless to say, I had 3 tracks for each guitar part, which included a rhythm guitar, lead guitar and a guitar solo that kicked in before the outro (totaling 9 guitar tracks!). Mixing this was more of a headache, as it was time consuming to eq, set proper levels and panning. The end result was not too bad, but I had to spend a lot of time on it. Rather than having a vision and trying to achieve that goal, I was distracted by unnecessary tracks and trying to play around with them.

  • Preshan

    Great post Joe! I’ve only worked in the Overdub Approach too, because the max I’ve got is 4 simultaneous inputs, so not much hope of tracking a band’s live performance in the studio. I find overdubbing gives you way more control and focus.

    Hmmm.. I think I may be complicating the way I mic instruments. I like to use too many inputs – 4 mics on an acoustic guitar is probably a bit much. So I’m going to try simplifying micing methods. For that matter, I can get a pretty good drum sound with just 4 mics, but I’m always inclined to over-complicate and wait until I have 10+ inputs… but I need to try and get the best with what I’ve got first. 🙂

  • Bob Sorace

    I’ve noticed that on songs that I’ve restricted how many tracks I’ll use turn out alot better than the ones where I’m trying to throw in the kitchen sink.
    Four tracks of acoustic guitar? That’s a bit of overkill. I’ve tried getting fancy putting two mics on an acoustic and it doesn’t sound too bad, but other tracks where I’ve just put one seem to sound a little more real.

    Less IS more, and until I really get a grasp on engineering, I’ll continue to just keep it simple.

    • Will

      I agree, I’ve tried doing stereo recordings of my acoustic and I get all tangled up in mic placement, phase cancellation, eq for each channel and how far to pan them… next time I’m going to use one mic and focus on keepig it simple!

  • I use recording as a writing tool, so I would say that I waste a lot of time getting the perfect sound in the recording before the song is completely written, and thus end up with a lot of half-finished songs.

    • Cush

      I tend to do this a lot as well. I’ll spend way to much time focusing on tones and the mix of a song that is really just a rough draft. It’s tough to not try and perfect everything.

  • Scott

    I think the area of my recording life that is too complex is my overuse of my Pod X3 Live. I will spend hours looking for the “perfect” tone. I’m not saying that I should settle, but I am now going to only pick three amps to use.

    • Joe R.

      I think the X3 Live can be used as a RE-Amp

      This means you can record a dry track and then send it back to the X3… tweak your sound within the mix. But it is still a good idea to limit the amps and cabs.

      I have the same problem with the Vetta 2 Amp… Too much to choose from.

      • Scott

        It can be used to “re-amp”. You can record the dry signal, then put Pod Farm 2 on it track.

  • Christopher w

    I think I’m using way too many microphones when I get in the studio’s at collage, example; I just used 12 for a simple drum kit last week.

    I think I should just use a few and get the best sound placement out of them but its very tempting when I see the mic cupboard just to use as many as I can… just because I can.

  • rick

    Having been in the first HSC Production Club (but never getting past Week 5 =P), I now look back on that time and think I just took on too much. And Joe Gilder is actually a phenomenal teacher, so it really was an issue of “it’s not you, it’s me.”

    So now the goal is to record a few songs (probably an EP) with only piano (maybe an Ivory patch I like) and just my vocal (using either my Shure KSM27 or Groove Tubes MD6tm).

    Once I get the *my* piano/vocal sound down, I will add more elements.

  • Matt

    I don’t know that I’ve recorded anything very complex… I do have a hard time getting a piano sound just right. I do okay with drums but, I still haven’t figured how I like to do the overheads best. Usually, by default I put a mic over the Ride side of the kit and one over the hat side of the kit. I check them to be sure I don’t have phase issues. Sometimes, a quick and dirty way of getting them in place is to use a cord or cable or something to make sure that the two mics are of equal distance to the center of the snare. This makes for a good starting point. Then adjust as needed. However, I sometimes try to move the overhead mics over the top of the cymbals and sometimes nearer the drummers head. Not sure which makes for a better sound. Still working on this…….

  • Everett Meloy

    I’m still having problems recording my acoustic guitar to sound more natural and fuller. I’ve tried two microphones and dropping the lower end with EQ. So I think maybe the simpler approach seems to be more likely the best approach.

    • Occam’s Razor: “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”

  • I have found that im letting VST’s take control. I have a habit of purchasing them, reading the manual and then let them sit on my hard drive because I have no real application for them, yet. I also tend to go big, when I should stay small, this is with mics as well as other gear. Like did I really need that Neumann TLM 102 or would that rode NT1a have been just as good considering my engineering talent hasn’t quite reached the level of the gear I have purchased. Great articles keep em coming!

  • Joe R.

    Over the past 6 months I have simplified the entire recording process by leaps and bounds. The recordings sound 10Xs better and I spend less time on a given song. This is important for my sanity!

    I have been programming each and every drum hit for a few years, I got pretty good at it. But in the end the drums sounded Dry(I’m not a Drummer). I recently purchased MIDI drums from Groove Monkee.
    This should save me tons of time on the next song I do, not to mention sounding better.
    The MIDI drums are played by an actual drummer and they are not Quantized.

    • Scott

      I personally love the midi loops at Groove Monkee. I have purchased 4 of the packages and am looking at getting a few more to fill things out.

      • I used to bang in every drum hit and essentially just tolerated the results. I’m not a drummer either. I’m now using Smart Loops (bought 3 sets) and feel the recordings have really jumped up a level. Wanted to try the midi route before committing precious $’s to Superior Drummer or something similar.

  • Frank Adrian

    I don’t know that anything I do is complex – I’m not that good yet. I did once record vocals through two mikes. I was initially thinking to A/B them, but I liked the way they sounded together. As such, I simply blended the tracks and used that, so it got back to simple really quickly. I mainly use MIDI-programmed sampled drums with only miscellaneous percussion miked (i.e., shakers, etc. – I’m not a drummer) and, in fact, a lot of my guitar tracks go through an amp modeler and direct into the audio interface. Plus, I always DI my bass. So, yeah, nothing really complex.

  • Marc

    It seems that whatever I read relative to recording emphasis is placed on keeping it simple stupid (KISS – Ok maybe we can do without the stupid). In any event, I find that once you master the fundamentals everything seems to be easy from that point. You have constantly emphasized this credo and now that I have spent a few months learning recording, I clearly understanding its importance. Technology forces us toward complexity. We need it but must learn to control the urge to use everything it throws at us.

    Thanks for your continued support of the industry. BTW – Owen is adorable and Congrats…

    • I agree. Owen IS adorable. 😉

      Yes, I’ve talked with far too many recording folks who spend hours and hours tinkering on their mixes. When I ask if I can hear a mix, they never seem to have anything to play for me. DOH!