8 Tracking Techniques Used by the Pros

When working on a record, there’s a ton to think about. So for now, let’s simplify. Take your attention off of gear and mixing, and focus your thoughts solely on tracking. I’d like to share with you 8 of my favorite techniques to use during sessions. (Note: I layer my tracks, so apply these techniques accordingly)

1) Take an artist through the song one time.

I call this creating a roadmap. It’s a great technique because it allows you to hear the entirety of an instrument or vocal (it also allows the vocalist to warm up his or her voice) without any interruptions. If the artist flubs a part, don’t stop and start again. Hear out the entire song to make sure everything sounds correct. If you have questions about a particular part, show your client the trouble spot and work it out together. If the entire take was perfect, then congratulations Johnny Cage, you’ve achieved a flawless victory.

2) Make sure the track is at a comfortable listening volume.

This may seem obvious, but you should create a balanced mix for the artist who is currently recording. Ask them if they’d like anything louder or softer, and adjust accordingly. In addition, let them know if you’ve done something that may throw their ear. If you’ve muted out a vocal line – enlighten them. If you’ve panned their guitar through the left speaker, let them know they’re only coming out of one side.

3) Decide if you want to record section by section, or in full.

After creating your roadmap, you’ll need to decide the best approach for recording. There are some artists who feel more comfortable recording a song all the way through and then cleaning up any sections that were sloppy. Others will prefer to track one section at a time – so you’ll need to keep recording the first verse until they’re satisfied. Only then will you move on to the next part of the song. See which technique will work best with your artists and you’ll save yourself a ton of time.

4) Punch in and out on downbeats.

When you’re looking to make a punch, don’t just hit the record button arbitrarily. Make a calculated approach and hit it right on a downbeat. The punch will sound cleaner, and you won’t have to drag your crossfades to match the grid. When punching out, use the same approach. Remember to tell your artists to play into and out of sections – this will make your crossfades sound much more natural.

5) Delete the audio in a region you’re trying to record over.

Sometimes you’ll find yourself listening to a song and you hear a guitar come slightly off beat. You’ll show your client and they won’t hear the mistake you’re talking about. You’ll want to track that part over, but if the artist is confused, they may not know exactly where they should be punching in. I’ve found a simple solution for this is to delete the region of audio that sounds sloppy so the artist can visualize exactly where they’ll be punching in and out. This has been a go to technique of mine for years. (If this confuses you, check out my producer quick tip on the matter)

6) Use beats and measures to tell an artist where to come in.

If visualization doesn’t work for your artist, another great tip is to count the beats aloud for them. Don’t just say something like “come in right after the cymbal crash”. Give them specifics. Say something like “you’ll want to hit the snare on the downbeat of 1, or the upbeat of 3”. Sometimes you’ll find combining this technique with a visual (such as a hand motion) can be just what your artist needs.

7) Give reliable input.

When giving an artist input, remember to always give a reason for what you say. Don’t simply tell them you don’t like their bass part. Give them a reason you don’t like it. Perhaps the bass isn’t following the root notes and it’s losing some body by going too high on the neck. Always be honest with your clients – they’ll appreciate it more than you’d think.

8) Let the artist listen to their final takes.

The last thing I like to do is let the artists listen to their performance once it is finished. If they are satisfied, it means they’ve given you their blessing and you’re ok to move on to the next session. If they are happy in the moment, they’ll be thrilled with the final product.

Next time you’re tracking an artist, you should definitely use some of these techniques. Have you ever used any before? What are some tricks you use?

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The Intangibles of Recording an Album

In life nothing is ever black and white. Even the keys on a piano can break this color scheme. If you’re in the key of C major, the rule is to stick to the white keys. But every once in a while, a black key will sneak it’s way in. In theory the note is wrong – but why give an F about theory when you can give an F#?

When it comes to the recording side of things you might as well chuck your rulebook right out the window and learn to use the force. Instead of dishing out boring old rules (which you’ll inevitably break anyway), I’m going to discuss some of the intangibles of working on an album. I’ve compiled 4 of the most important elements of the recording process:

Feel:

Feel encompasses so many different aspects of a record. Each song has it’s own “feel”. Musicians play their instruments with their own personal “feel”. And sometimes when you’re tracking, things just “feel” right.

Let me give you an example. I once recorded an artist who was building vocal harmonies for a climactic ending to her song (think along the lines of The Beach Boys.) As she built her harmonies, I suggested she flat the 5th, then croon her way into the natural 5th. Her father (a musician himself) discarded the idea as the flat note was out of key. However, my mentality was to use that flat note to create dissonance – tension before the big resolve. After a few listens, the part began to grow on them and they really started to “feel” it. Then they started to love it. My biggest advice when it comes to feel is to let your intuition be your guide.

Momentum:

It’s important to make plans and set goals for your recording days. However, Murphy and his law will always find their way into your sessions. Have you ever seen a football game where one team scores a touchdown, and then they lock into a groove where they seem unstoppable? (Most likely any team playing against the Jets) Well, the same thing happens with sessions.

When a session takes a turn for the worst, it’s contagious. The drummer can’t remember his transitions correctly, so it takes him an hour longer to track his drums. Then the bass player forgets what key he’s playing in and everything starts to unravel. In these cases, your best bet is to take a breather and come in fresh the next day.

Momentum always resets itself back to zero when you start again with fresh ears. And sometimes you’ll find that momentum can just as easily swing in your favor. When everything is falling into place – ride that momentum until you can feel it start to falter.

Tone:

Tone can refer to many different things. When I think of tone, I think of the way a band can differentiate themselves. Take Green Day for example. You can turn on the radio and instantly identify one of their songs. But when you break down their albums, Warning has a completely different tone than Dookie. And when it comes to individual songs – Longview has a completely different tone than Basket Case.

When taking tone into account, break down these 3 factors:

– Does this tone capture the mood of the song? (If you’re writing a heartfelt breakup song, poppy melodies and major chords simply won’t do)

– Does the tone of the song mesh well with the record? (Think of the album as a whole and make sure the songs all vibe with one another)

– Does the tone of the record match the overall style of the band? (Make sure the band has a distinct sound that defines them. Their music can’t sound like it came from 10 different bands)

Chemistry:

Band chemistry is incredibly important in the studio. You’ll find that certain musicians are so in sync with one another that it makes for an amazing sounding record. But equally as important is the chemistry an engineer and producer has with the band.

If the band is constantly squabbling with the engineer – then the engineer can lose focus on the bigger picture. And if the producer is forcing ideas on a band that the band doesn’t agree with, it will absolutely translate through the final product. Finding that perfect balance of personalities in the studio is crucial to creating an amazing product. It doesn’t mean that everyone needs to love each other, but everyone has to keep their eyes on the prize and work in simpatico.

So next time you’re in the studio, keep an open mind about rules, and keep an ear out for those intangibles. What other factors have you come across while tracking? I’d love to hear what you’ve experienced, so please feel free to leave me a comment below.

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