Is there a certain part of the recording process that stresses you out? Recording? Editing? Mixing?

It’s different for everybody, but I can tell you, from personal experience, that whenever I’m stressed out in my studio, chances are it’s because of overwhelm.

In other words, my most stressful times in the studio are when I’ve got too much going on in a particular song. Too many tracks, too much editing to do, too many plugins, too many versions of the song…anything.

Stress isn’t always bad, and I always like to impose a little bit of stress (like creating a deadline and even using a timer) to keep me on task and productive.

Today I want to share with you one way to instantly remove one HUGE source of stress — too many takes.

When I say takes, do you know what I mean? I’m simply referring to recording multiple “versions” of the same track, so you can later go back and pick the best one. Don’t get me wrong, I think recording takes is a huge benefit to digital recording, but you can take it too far.

Pro Tools and most DAWs allow you to use “playlists,” which let you record as many takes on the same track without needing to create a new track for each take. Very powerful? Yes. Potentially stressful? Absolutely.

When I’m recording myself or a client, I try to record no more than 3-5 takes. That’s it.

Here are 3 reasons to record with less takes:

1. It forces the musicians to focus on performance.

If the musician thinks he can record 50 takes, and you’ll just sort through it later, he’s most likely not going to be trying very hard to get one great take. Sure, as a musician it’s helpful to know that you don’t have to get everything perfect, but as soon as you realize that you can keep screwing up and someone else will sift through the takes, that urgency to perform well tends to fade away.

Musicians need to be comfortable, absolutely, but they also need to feel a little bit of (good) pressure to perform well. Just like they want to perform well at a concert, they should want to perform well in the studio…in just a few takes.

2. Fewer choices when comping

If you have 11 takes of a vocal track, it’s going to take you HOURS to sift through those later. Putting together a comp track will be a nightmare.

Save yourself time LATER by recording just a few good takes NOW.

3. Keeps projects moving forward

Nothing stalls a recording project like having TOO much to do. If you think about spending a few hours tonight on a project, then you realize that there are 14 takes of guitar tracks on every song, you’re probably going to watch TV instead.

It’s too much work. It will take too long. You’re right.

If you’re lazy during the recording process, you’ll have a LOT of work to do to make it right. Take the time to get a few good takes in the beginning, and you’ll sail through the editing process, then you can move on to mixing.

How many takes do YOU normally record?

[Photo Credit]

  • Andre

    I edit / comp during the recording process. It gives the musician a break and at the end of the session I have one good track which perhaps may only need very minor tweaking.

    • Andy

      How? in logic at least when you record a new take it selects the entirety of the new take as the comp. Destroying all the tweaking that you did. Any tips?

      • There’s a comping feature that lets you pick and choose which takes you want to be on the “master take.”

  • Great post 🙂
    When I discovered the playlist loop recording feature in Pro Tools, I had a session with 20 takes of a 20 seconds part. And it was so frustrating to go through these tracks to find out which is best.
    After that experience, I started limiting my number of takes to 5. And my life it a lot easier since then 🙂

  • Itzach Stern

    The idea here is to control your mind to relax so that you can continue fresh with your task — emotionally, physically, and mentally.

    stress management tip

  • I like to impose restrictions, and I don’t like editing, so as I record myself I tend just to play the song all the way through over and over again, like if you were tracking to tape. It helps me get a better performance overall, and I’ve noticed no real difference if I recorded 3-5 decent takes and then comped them together. I end up spending more time playing and getting all the nuances of the song down and less time trying to slice them together later. That means I enjoy the process more which equals (at least to me) a better recording overall. 

    If I’m recording someone else though the amount of takes I record all depends on how the artist plays and reacts. 

    I’ve had to record an amateur guitarist a number of times who has no sense of rhythm whatsoever and also comes into the studio not knowing the song/arrangement of what he wants to record. That’s fine and everything, I agreed I’d help him but it’s very difficult to get one decent take out of him, never mind 3-5. It’s easier in a situation like this when it’s just an acoustic song, since there’s no need for other musicians to play on top, but for a regular pop song it can be quite challenging to layer other instruments (especially drums…) unless you focus on just getting the take that has the best timing even if that means phrasing and dynamics etc. have to suffer slightly. Comping was nearly impossible in these situations too, as take to take were so drastically out of time with themselves, never mind in relation to each other. It was quite a challenge. 

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree, when I rely on recording infinite number of takes, I never get my performance to the satisfying level! Not to mention the lack of enthusiasm when doing the comping after!

  • Anonymous

    So true. I would probably attribute this as the #1 reason there have been so many delays in the release of my record. The time spent comping has been ri-diculous. I find that I get so fed up with that aspect of recording, it almost makes the whole experience a bummer.

    Lessons learned for my next project. Sigh.

  • Toby Baxley

    I only comp as a last resort. I’d rather produce the vocal or the instrumental track as it is going down, phrase by phrase if necessary. I’ll usually rehearse “in red” and then start recording the real take. I shoot for one good take. I’ll fix spots as needed.