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.