What order do you record a song in?
When you first start out recording yourself after you’ve bought your first digital audio converter running into your first DAW, you pretty much are all over the place in terms of the creation process. You’ll plug in your guitar to track some ideas, then you’ll place some midi drums to give your track a backbeat, then you’ll lay down some vocals on your brand new MXR mic. At the creation level this is all good. Musical ideas often come and go and need to be tracked as soon as possible. But what happens when your buddies’ band asks you to record them? To add even more pressure, they said they will pay you!
The order you record a band in so important. It will often maintain workflow, keep the band focused and will reflect on your skills as an engineer and producer thus bringing you more clients in the future. Because there are no set rules in recording music. I will outline a good starting point below. Starting from the creation of the rhythm section to adding and layering stringed instruments to finally layering radio quality vocals, the process below will lead you to create better recorded tracks that will satisfy not only you but the client as well.
Whichever DAW you are using at the moment, the way you organize tracks within it is critically important. Amateur engineers tend to bounce around recording various instruments on different tracks within no visible or recognizable pattern. This may be suitable for demo’ing and idea capturing but it does not work when tracking professionally. Trust me, when recording a band, however much they are paying you, it is a professional recording and you need to think of it like that. Prior to hitting the record button and charging a band money to record be sure to understand your DAW’s workflow capabilities. Coloring tracks, grouping and bussing are all things you should understand within your DAW before you record any band.
Mix Challenge: Grouping and Bussing
Download Session Session # ?
Task: Buss or Group all drums to one stereo channel. Buss or Group all guitars to one stereo channel. Buss or group all vocals to one stereo channel
Outcome: Practice the importance of Auxiliary tracks and how they can lead to controlling your mixes more efficiently
I’ve worked on studio session where we managed to get up to 50 tracks with the band. However intimidating that may seem, it was actually a fun and exciting experience because we knew where each instrument could be found instantly. With properly labeling and creating an order to record the band’s instruments, we focused more on capturing a mood and tone rather than worrying about mixing later with all those tracks. Obviously, with experience comes clarification but outlined below is a good starting point pretty much for any recording. Check out a large session like Session # ? to see how quickly a studio session can add up on tracks.
Beginning with the drums is often the starting point for most studio sessions around the world. Creating a solid rhythm section gives the other band members something to follow. The drums are like the tour guide taking you on a journey. Recording solid drum tracks begins to establish the tone and mood the band is trying to convey with their music.
Because drums contain multiple sound sources like toms, snares, cymbals and pedals, it does make sense to track them first. Drums will require the most microphones to record. I have personally worked on studio session where we used 16 or more microphones to capture a drum set. Microphone usage on drums depends on so many variables and factors. Be sure to check out our “Secrets to recording Drums” blog to gain further insight.
So, your drums have been tracked and the band’s drummer is satisfied with his takes. Here comes the bass guitar. Bass guitar is often considered a main element of the rhythm section. Along with the kick drum, the bass guitar typically creates the majority of low end in a song. This is why it is important to track it early on in your session. The low end allows the other bandmates to “feel” the song.
Now that your rhythm parts are tracked and you can begin to sense the songs mood, we need to fill in the midrange frequencies with everybody’s favorite instrument, guitars. During the recording of the guitars, the songs overall sound begins to take shape and you can get a good idea of what the final “sound” of the track is going to sound like. Guitar tracking can involve many techniques and tricks like creating a large wall of sound or a simple left/right rhythm guitar. Be sure to know exactly what you want before recording. In my experience you need to approach recording guitars very meticulously. This part of the recording process will truly test your “ear for music”
Most modern rock songs, for example, are driven by the posthumous “guitar riff,” this will push you to learn all about timing, tuning, intonation and time signatures because of the importance of the guitar on a track. Check out “Secrets to recording guitar to gain more insight”
Want to know what Quad Tracking guitars look like? Download Session # ? to see it in action in your DAW.
Now that you can finally hear what the song is going to sound like, it’s time to add multiple layers of pianos and synths to fill in the available frequencies. Because the majority of the song can be heard now, piano players and synth player will have an easy time recording. By this part in the recording, often times the piano or keyboard player will have his MIDI notes ready. This means that his performance notes have been pre-mapped and just need to be sent through a synth.
Aside from being a relatively easy step in the recording process, I would advise you to be careful with the frequency range of some synths and pianos. Synths or virtual instrument that are too powerful, meaning their sounds fill up a large part of the frequency range, will cause frequency correlation problems. Use a frequency analyzer to see where you will need to remove or add frequencies to keep all the instruments in balance.
Mix Challenge: Use a frequency analyzer to see how much low end a synth has
Download Session # ?
Task: Using a frequency analyzer, check to see how much low end is on track ? in Session # ?
Outcome: Not only will you begin to learn the importance of a frequency analyzer, you will visually see the frequency spectrum of a virtual intrument
Finally, the most important part of any song. The main driving force. The true connection to a listener’s soul. The vocals. Now that you have tracked all instruments, the singer now has exactly what they need to record their parts. They can now sense the emotion and express it in their singing. They now know the songs structure and can properly arrange a vocal template, laying down verses, pre-choruses and the all mighty choruses.
Please take my advice and listen to me when I say, vocals are the most important thing in a song. In my over 12 years of being a recording engineer, this is what I’ve have learned. Lyrics sung over emotion create a connection with the listener. It is your job as the recording engineer to provide the best possible setup and atmosphere for a vocalist. It is so vital.
Vocals will make or break a song. To be honest, it’s not your job to mold a shitty vocalist into an opera singer. It’s your job to provide them the best opportunity to capture who they are, even if they aren’t that good of a singer.
If your planning on setting up a professional recording studio, start by saving up for a professional vocal chain like.
Like mentioned before, there are no rules when it comes to recording a song. There are however proven methods, like the steps listed above, that can help improve your workflow. My advice to you is to try these steps out when recording a song or a band and see how it affected your workflow and develop slowly your own style.