Yesterday I received the following question from Kyle:

Everyone has their own flavor on how they record, in terms of tracking everything to a click track, recording a certain group of instruments at the same time, etc. My question is directly related to this.

decisions, decisions

A little background… I have a progressive bluegrass band here in Michigan and we are currently recording our second CD, with much original material.

The first CD was tracked one instrument at a time with a click track. This was mainly because I didn’t have enough mics. (now I have 4) While the sound clarity and quality was pretty good, there was this “disconnect” that I couldn’t pin down to any particular instrument. We went ahead and released it anyway because we needed something to sell but I wanted a “tighter” sound.

On the second CD, which I’m about 60% done recording, I’ve decided to try recording the guitar, mandolin and bass, then track everything else separately. The music is MUCH tighter. I don’t have isolation booths so I am getting some bleed-over, so the sound quality is not the greatest in comparison to the first project. Plus, you get more imperfections because what are the odds that everyone will play the same take perfectly?

My question is: in a perfect world, which method of recording should I be spending most of my time mastering? What method do you and most engineers use? I see pros and cons on both sides and would love to know what others out there are doing. Thanks Joe. Love the site man.

Kyle is asking a question that all of us will ask at some point or another. Do we go for that live feel and hope for the best? Or do we track everything separately and risk the music sounding a bit sterile and lifeless?

Here’s my email back to Kyle:

FANTASTIC question, Kyle.

The short answer is…I think you should master both tecniques. One client may be a band, and they may play really tight together and have a lot of energy. I would do my best to capture that energy live.

Your next client might be a singer/songwriter who only plays guitar and sings, but he wants you to put together a full production around his songs. Chances are you’ll record him first, then go through and add the other instruments…you COULD do this live, but it’d be a little more difficult “hiring out” the parts to other musicians and making them commit to rehearsing until they get the sound you want.

Granted, here in Nashville they’ll hire session musicians all day long. They’ll rehearse the song 2 or 3 times in the studio, then they’re ready to record.

Most of us aren’t dealing with musicians of this caliber, and that’s okay, but that would be a good reason to add instruments one at a time. There’s the potential to lose some of the energy this way, but it can also sound tighter.

In the end, every decision you make, whether you’re arranging, producing, recording, editing, mixing, or mastering, should be made by asking “what’s best for the song?”

If a band is at its best when they all play together, then there’s your answer. Don’t force them to overdub the tracks if the performance is clearly better when everyone’s playing.

I’ll take a good recording of an incredible performance over an incredible recording of a mediocre performance…any day.

Comment Question

Your turn to weigh in. Which way to you record the most? What problems do you face? How do you address these problems? Take 60 seconds to leave a comment now…thanks!

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