It would be beyond the scope of this book to cover all the ins and outs of recording and production. The purpose of this chapter is to save you a lot of time in recording your songs, by given you a couple of helpful starter’s tips.
1) Work out your song.
The old adage that it is “all about the song” really IS true.
No matter how good your engineering skills are; if the song is not catchy, hooky, structured, logical and interesting, the recording is going to suffer.
You typically want to work out the song first. There is no particular order. You could have a melody, then figure out the chords, and then figure out where to place the melody in the song.
Or you could have a song form you outlined for yourself, and then write within that song form.
- The different melodies for each song section.
- The harmony (chords)
- Song structure and form
What works for me is following:
I typically have a melody come to me. I figure out the chords to the melody I am hearing. If that melody is a verse type melody, I try to come up with a chorus melody that will go with that verse melody. Of course, if a chorus melody came to me, then I write a verse for it.
When I have 2 melodies, NOW I immediately map out the structure: where do I want which melody. And them from there on things go smooth and easy because I have a plan to work from.
If I wrote down in my map for the song, that I want a bridge, then I need to write another 4 or 8-bar melody for the bridge.
Then I write the intro and outro, and the song is done.
After I further refined the melodies, rhythms and feel, I am ready to start recording the song.
Also figure out the tempo of the song. Recording with a metronome makes that your performance is going to be rhythmically even.
2) Count/write down the number of bars for each song section.
This is IMPORTANT. Doing this will save you a HUGE amount of time.
Here is how this works:
I write down
INTRO bar 1-4
Verse 1 bar 5-12
Chorus 1 Bar 13-20
Interlude Bar 21-24
Verse 2 Bar 25-32
3) Create markers and record with a metronome.
- Recording softwares always have a ruler on top of the main recording window. The ruler typically either shows “time” or “bars and beats” or both.
- Create “markers” in your recording software window. In recording software there is usually the possibility to create visual markers in the recording window. In bar number 1 on the recording page, you would put a maker saying INTRO. If your intro is 4 bars long, then you would put your 2nd marker saying “verse” in the 5th bar, and so on. By putting markers, you are visually mapping out your whole song in the recording window.
- This will help you keep track of where you are at when you’re sequencing drums. It is easy to get lost while you are recording. Having markers showing you where you are at, can save you a whole lot of time.
- Another thing you could do, is record your whole song (guitar part) first with a click track (metronome), but this is harder to do when you don’t have great timing. It is easier to play guitar afterwards along with a sequenced drum.
4) Sequence drums:
- Kick (bass) drum and snare first in a first round: kick drums are always on beats 1&3, snares always on 2&4
- On top of that then record cymbals and hi hats.
- Quantize parts if you want everything to be rhythmically perfect, solid, and accurate. However: keep in mind that quantization takes away some human feel and human touch, because now everything becomes perfectly aligned and the same throughout. Usage of quantization depends on the kind a feel you’re going for for the song.
5) Start sequencing your drum parts
Record a scratch guitar part along with the drums.
6) Then compose/record the bass.
- You always record the rhythm section (drums and bass) to a band first.
- huge time saver when recording/writing bass parts: create 2 open tracks, for in case you mess up, and continue your recording on another track in case you messed up.
- Bass typically plays roots primarily. Roots on the first beat of a bar pretty much always, and chord tones. Depending on the style: if it is hard rock, alternative, punk etc: pretty much only roots, and in constant 8th note rhythm.
7) Record the guitar parts, keyboard parts etc…
- You can use the same technique here: have 2 or more tracks for the guitar parts. This way when you mess up during recording, you can always continue on another track. Other smart thing to do: keep for example 1 track for the verses guitar part, record the chorus guitar parts onto another track, have for example a separate track for the guitar solo. Advantage: you can give the guitar in each separate song-section a different sound (EQ) or different mix from song section to song section.
- It is totally up to you whether you want to record guitars or keyboards first
8) Record Lead vocals.
- You can use the same recording technique as above. (Using different tracks)
- This is the most important part of your song. This is the part professionals are the pickiest on and the most critical about.
- Spend most time on recording this.
- It pays off to get and use pitch correction software. There is NO shame in this: ALL top vocalist ARE pitch corrected in the studio. As a matter of fact: in high-level recordings, engineers even use this software on guitars, bass etc…
9) Backing vocals (B-Vox):
- You can record this before the lead vocals, or record them after the lead vocals have been recorded.
- Backing vocals sing harmonies: basically notes of the chord that is being played on guitar at that point.
10) When all of this is done, you record all the extra stuff
- Certain keyboard/synth sounds you want to ad.
- Sound effects, etc…
11) Then you mix the recording
ALWAYS have the vocals the loudest for a demo: the voice needs to sit on top of the mix.
Vocals in an actual album recording, always blend in more with the music than the vocals on a demo.