Welcome to Day 19 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Whether you’re recording audio or MIDI, if you’re using some sort of DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), then you should have the ability to record takes.

What are takes? Takes are simply multiple attempts at recording the same part.

3-5 Full Takes

Whenever I record a lead vocal, I almost always record 5 takes. That means I have the singer sing through the entire song five times. At that point, as long as the singer is comfortable and singing well, I’ll be able to piece together one awesome take from those five takes.

When I record acoustic guitar, I usually record at least 3 takes.

Somewhere from 3-5 seems to be the magic number for me.

If the musician is comfortable with doing full takes (meaning he/she knows the song well and is comfortable with playing it in its entirety several times), then I would default to this approach to recording takes every time.

Recording full takes of the song is just a natural way to do it. It causes the musician to focus on the song as a whole, rather than focusing too hard on a specific section of the song. It removes a lot of pressure and lets the musician just…play.

If you can capture 3-5 confident, high-energy, passionate takes, then you’re well on your way to a great-sounding recording.

If, after recording 5 takes, there’s one section that he/she never really “nailed,” then it’s fine to go back and punch in a few takes of just that one section. Again, I would do several of these as well, so there’s no pressure on the musician to get it done in one take. (Don’t underestimate how much psychology goes into the recording process.)

The Section-by-Section Approach

There’s another way you can approach recording takes. Rather than recording multiple full takes, simply record one section until you get it right, then move on to the next section.

This approach is particularly helpful if:

  • The musician doesn’t know the song very well.
  • The musician is getting frustrated with having to do full takes.
  • You’re in a hurry.

The musician doesn’t know the song very well.

This is what I did with my bass player/brother-in-law Joel on my album Out of Indiana. I hadn’t played my songs for him much before our tracking sessions. He would just show up, I’d write up a chord chart, and we’d plug through the song.

We’d basically go through section by section. Record the intro…good? Good. Record the verse. Good? Eh…let’s change this note. Okay. Record the verse again…good? Good.

This doesn’t work very well if the musician isn’t very consistent, since each section will sound fairly different. Joel, however, is a stellar bass player, so I didn’t have to worry about that. (And he came up with some SICK bass parts.)

The musician is getting frustrated with having to do full takes.

Sometimes recording full takes can be exhausting, particularly if the musician just isn’t “feeling it.” Trying to go section by section can be really helpful. Record 3 takes of the first verse, then move on. It’s worth a shot.

You’re in a hurry.

This is never a really good idea, to record in a hurry, but it happens. Depending on the song/musician, it may be faster to go section by section (like I did with Joel), rather than spending time recording lots of full takes.

Day 19 Challenge

Which approach to recording takes do you use? Why? Your challenge is to try the other approach and tell us what you think.