A song has been written, chorded, and practiced, and is now ready to be recorded. I start with rhythm guitar.
Both of Sean’s guitars are acoustic/electric guitars, which means I can plug them directly into my sound system. I used to also mic the sound hole of the guitar with a separate microphone, but I find that the tonality is much cleaner if I just use the sound produced by the guitar’s line in. So we plug the guitar in, get the software set up, and start recording.
We normally have to do multiple takes of the guitar. This is normal. Thankfully, since we are living in a digital age, the entire recording process is much easier. We start with a full take of the guitar. Barring any horrible mistakes, Sean will play the entire song through once. Then we listen to what we’ve got thus far and identify the areas we want to fix. (I will also keep a notepad and pen handy while we’re doing the initial take and write down the measure numbers of problem spots in the recording.) Once we’ve determined what needs to be re-done, we do what are called cut-ins.
Rather than have Sean play through the entirety of the guitar part again, I will start him a few measures before a part that I had to cut out. I press record, he plays along with what he’s already done, plays through the spot of silence where the bad part was cut out, and then I generally keep him going a few measures into the other side of the hole. He knows not to stop playing until I cut the recording, and I know not to cut the recording for series of holes that are really close together.
Once the cut-in recording is done, I have to massage the ends of the previous take and the new take together. It’s usually much easier than it sounds, because the software I use is pretty nifty. (More on that later—yes, I’m actually going to do the last “All this Crazy Audio Nonsense” post finally!) And that’s part of the reason why I have Sean play over some of what he’s already done. It makes things easier to splice the takes together. Also, if we were to just start the guitar right at the beginning of the hole, there would be an awkward bit of silence between cuts.
After finalizing the guitar recording, I record the main vocal part. This track often ends up being Swiss cheese, too, because sometimes it takes me numerous tries to get things the way I want them to be. When doing cut-ins for the vocal parts, I once again record over part of what I’ve already done. I’ve found that the breaths between phrases are much less awkward if they’re natural, and in order for them to sound natural to my ears, I have to sing at least part of the phrase before and the phrase after the one that I’m replacing.
Once the main vocal part is finalized, I will add the percussion. I know that this is especially backwards from the way that many recording engineers do things. They will often start with the percussion, but since I record the guitar with a metronome, it doesn’t much matter to me to do things in this order.
And once I’m happy with the percussion tracks, I will begin bringing in the outside musicians. They may be vocalists for harmony parts—my brain latches onto the melody of a song so stubbornly that I have a really difficult time singing harmony with something, and I have to have something to sing along with—or play other instruments like cello, harp, or bass guitar. I don’t generally have an order to which I’ll record these parts. They pretty much get done in whatever sequence is most convenient for the people performing the parts.
Recording a song in the studio is most definitely a multi-day process. Even if I didn’t need to bring in outside musicians, and Sean and I were able to perform all of the parts of a song ourselves (like some really fantastically awesome musicians I know of), we get burned out fairly quickly when working on audio projects. Most recording sessions last somewhere between three to four hours, depending on the work being done. At some point, all the sounds sort of bleed together and I just need to walk away and work on something else for a while.
But once all of the parts are recorded, it’s time to start tweaking them and shaping them into the finished track.