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Playing With Myself

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Playing With Myself

Posted on Wed, Dec 12, 2007

I got an interesting question this morning about how I approach recording as a one-man-band. It struck me that I've never really talked about that here, so I figured I'd share what seems to work for me.

There are a bunch of different ways to approach layered multitrack recordings. I think the most common is to start with the drums, then record guitars and bass on top of that, then vocals on top of that. The problem is that (a) I'm not a very good drummer, and (b) it's hard to drum with no music as a reference, and (c) I don't always have a clear idea of how the arrangement of a song is going to go before I record it, so I don't know what to play.

For that reason, I usually start when the song is just a guitar part. I record that with a scratch vocal line. The goal here isn't sonic perfection, it's just to rough out the idea. I often will delete a measure here and there, or copy/paste an extra chorus where it feels short, and other hacks to get the song structure flowing well. The only critical thing here is to get the rhythm spot on - any timing errors will magnify themselves later. I almost always use a click track here.

With the basic guitar and vocal tracks in place, I turn my attention to drums. I crank the bejesus out of the click track through headphones and put earplugs in, then I record the drum part (usually verse-by-verse, since I suck, as previously noted). This is meant to be the final version, so I spend some time getting it right.

With the drums in place, the next instrument is the bass. Since the bass guitar needs to be married with the bass drum, I practice this a few times to get the feel down (with the tape rolling - you never know when you'll nail it). During this process, if there are any timing problems with the drums, it'll be obvious, and the mics will still be up if I need to fix it.

Next, now that I hopefully have a solid rhythm bed, I record the guitars for real. I'll also experiment with any other instruments or arrangement tweaks that I have in mind. Finally, I record the final vocals (and often, I still haven't written them by this point!). I don't run any of the signal through my headphones; instead, I pull off one earcup and pan the master into the other ear to kill bleed.

A few centuries of mixing and tweaking later, it's done.

   Discussion: Playing With Myself
Jamie Dull (anon) · 9 years ago

Josh Woodward Back · 9 years ago
Yeah, it's not a great technique when you're paying by the hour. hehe
Brad (anon) · 9 years ago
Minus the drums, this is pretty much how I roll, too. (I'm so bad at drums, I don't even try...) Sometimes, though, I do the guitars first, then the bass, then the vox.

You rock Josh. In whatever order you decide to rock, you rock :)
david (anon) · 9 years ago
thanks. i really like the panned vocal take-i think that'll work really nicely w/ my headphones. and you do do a scratch guitar. hah! :)
Joost (anon) · 9 years ago
Wow, i do the EXACT opposite.

I work out the structure of a song:
-how many bars is the intro
-how many bars is chorus
-how many for verse
-how many for bridge
-how many 'filler' bars between each segement

then i work out a rhythm guitar part, i figure out what the ~ bpm is.

i will work out a drum part for each section of the song and program it into the drum-machine.

then i start with the process of layering tracks, deleting bad tracks, and the whole game of musical masturbation.

For me: work out structure, write drums, write rhythm guitar v 1.0, write bass v 1.0, write vocal 1.0, write rhythm guitar v 2.0, write lead v 1.0, write vocal 2.0, write bass 2.0, then do all of it in 3.0

then again my work forces me to compartmentalize evyerything and forces me to analyze everthing to death.

Wayne (anon) · 8 years, 11 months ago
I do the same thing. But without the drums cos I don't have a drum track.
And when I do play, uh, 'bass' lines, I use a Gibson Les Paul with the thickest strings the neck can stand. I turn the tone down to 0, play with a bit of effects, and come up with a sub-decent tone.

But anyway.

I love your songs!
I found you at or something about, say, a month ago. I only listened to your albums last week because I was busy replaying In Rainbows to get all the songs in my top 25 most played list.
I must say though, most of your songs are pretty awesome. How did you do the weird voice thingy on Gallows Hill? Pardon me if I spelled that wrongly. I love most of your stuff though. Keep up the hard work. And God knows just how hard recording can be.
Josh Woodward Back · 8 years, 11 months ago
Hey Wayne, thanks! In Gallows Hill, it's mostly me just being strange with my voice, but I recorded it with a close-up SM-57 and a distant AT-822 stereo mic for ambiance, then ran it through a little Amplitube for crunch.
Wayne (anon) · 8 years, 11 months ago
Haha... I see. Awesome stuff, I must say. I laughed like hell when I heard it the first time. Nice song.
SM-57. I saw one of that in a music store and it was gone the next day. It's crazily hard to buy microphones in Malaysia. I just realized that. What do you recommend I buy with a RM200 budget? With a 3.3 exchange rate, that's about 61 or so in USD. I want a decent mic that can handle vocals and maybe guitars. It'll be cool if I can get something within that range that lets me record drums too.
Chris H (anon) · 8 years, 11 months ago
Do you actually write out your music on paper? (If you do, you should post it.) I haven't really written anything yet, but the bass comes to mind first, with some sort of basic melody. (I'm listening to your "Five Minutes" song and I just realized how much it sounds like the gangster paradise song.)

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