I’m finishing up a fun little EP project right now. The artist is a phenomenal female singer/songwriter.

Early on in the project she told me she wanted everything to have a very acoustic, folky feel. Almost bluegrass. To that end, we avoided using drums or any heavy percussion, and we stayed away from “electric” instruments, like electric guitar and bass.

While this approach keeps the instrumentation fairly simple, it also poses all sorts of fun challenges. For two of the six songs, we sent the files to her brother to add some banjo/upright bass parts. They came back sounding VERY cool.

The problem was that he’s a busy guy and didn’t have time to record parts for every song. Adding upright bass to these songs took them to a new level of awesome. It’s just what they needed. Unfortunately, I only have upright tracks for two of the 6 songs.

At least two more on the project could really use a nice upright bass part. Otherwise the project as a whole may sound a bit disjointed and unorganized.

The solution? Virtual instruments.

While a purist may hold his nose up at the idea of using software instruments on a folk/acoustic recording, I don’t have a problem with it at all. I like to do whatever it takes to make the project sound good. (And so should you.)

I whipped out Xpand2 (the virtual instrument software included in Pro Tools), and found an upright bass patch. It sounded GREAT. So I recorded a quick (and very simple) bass line for one of the songs.

Once I mixed it in with the rest of the instrumentation, it sounded fantastic. If I solo’d the part, could you tell it was a “fake” instrument? Yes. But when I place it in the mix, it’s VERY hard to tell.

The key here was to keep the performance simple. If I started doing all these funky riffs on the bass, it would start to stand out. Keeping it simple helps it “hide” inside the mix, without drawing undo attention to itself.

2 Lessons to Apply to Your Next Session:

1. Don’t be afraid to use virtual instruments. Some of you may use them ALL the time. Others may think they sound fake and unusable. These, just like everything else, are tools you can use to make great recordings. Become familiar with them…you never know when you might need one in a pinch.

2. Don’t write off something because it sounds weird by itself. This applies to virtual instruments and recorded sounds. Just because something sounds funny or “off” by itself doesn’t mean it’s not the perfect thing for a particular song. I honestly don’t care what any of my tracks sound like by themselves as long as they blend together well to make an awesome mix.

Leave a comment below – Do you suffer from “it must sound perfect” disease?

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