Old 09-23-2013, 10:06 AM   #1
Vinicius Marques
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Default (Just wondering) when it's time to make things simpler

Hi there! A year ago my band and I bought a fairly good gear in order to record ourselves. My initial goal was to record instrument per instrument, including acoustic drums (Glynn John's method - 4 mics). Since we only get together at saturdays, I thought we'd complete tracking 9 songs in 2-3 months, and mixing and mastering would take me another month. To make things easier, I set a deadline of 6 months to the final release. It woud be a piece of cake, since we got the gear, got the songs all arranged and been playing them for about a year, got a good amount of time to get it done... but then reality cast its shadows over us.

Tracking each instrument separately would demand only the musician involved to get to the studio. The others would (and in fact they did and liked it) be dismissed. It went well for 2 weeks, when the drummer got tired of playing alone and started not to show. Trying to bring the bassist, the guitarrist, someone to the sessions showed to be an ingrateful task. Only the singer would show, so we started a side project

So I made a conclusion out of it: no one was even bothering about recording, for it was no fun to them. They liked to do rehearsals, but recording was apparently to much of a pain to my mates. Then I finally faced it and decided I was going to make things simpler.

First of all, we would now be tracking everyone together. This implied a lot of "downsizing", since I only got a Tascam US-800 and a Fast Track Pro. The US-800 has only 6 inputs, and using it along with the FTP for 2 additional inputs would cut my sampling rate down to 48 khz (instead of 96 as I was planning to do). Then, since we are 6 (and given I wanted to use 4 mics on the drums), playing together would require at least 9 inputs - so I decided to track the drums with only 3 mics (overhead, bass drum and snare), and leave the backing vocals to the overdub sessions.

Then it got interesting - to make things work like that, we would have to spend some money. We got some from the gigs we've been doing, so I bought 6 headphones, a phone amp, some drills, wire, P10 jacks and plastic little boxes. This way I can open a hole in the wall, stick the wires through it and build something to plug the instruments from the outside of the room to the interfaces there inside without having to open the doors - the drummer will play inside the room, and the rest of us will play outside, so there will be almost no bleed in the drum mics. All instruments will be recorded direct and dry, and simulation will be used then (maybe reamping too). The vocals can be re-done in overdub sessions, so as any part that don't fit.

Last saturday I called the guys and invited them to jam using the headphones. It was fun enough to make them say "let's record these dammed songs" and get motivated again. Even though I haven't opened that hole in the wall yet, they realised what I was planning to do and contributed with ideas. Now we're finally on our way.

P.S.: I do know there are better ways of doing what I described, but remember the main goal here is to bring back FUN to our sessions. Knowing my mates I know they will record faster together than separately (look at the year we spent on nothing). The thing here is, sometimes you have to give up on your rules to make things happen, you know?
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Old 09-23-2013, 01:47 PM   #2
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Too much of a long post, but all I want is to start a discussion over when it's better to do things in a way that's not what you pictured at first, not what you know it's the best way, but a way you know will come to an end. Sometimes you have to let go on certain "rules" to get the job done, like "I know it's better to track drums in stereo, but if I track'em mono I'll be able to track someone else at the same time", or "it's better to record in 96 khz but 48 will do fine"... it's better to finish a project than to not even start it!
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Old 09-26-2013, 05:13 PM   #3
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Hi.
Yes this is what Sherlock Holmes would call a three pipe problem. My own experience is that people differ in their excitement for the process of recording per se. I love it as much as any creative activity but for some it's boring, tedious and de-motivating. And we are not alone - I blame The Beatles for all of this stuff. Ringo famously said all he remembers about Sgt Peppers was having so much free time that he learnt to play chess and the "Let it Be" fiasco was John's attempt to simplify the recording process in which he had little interest.
And it is a little galling to have cajoled a band into a "live" recording and then deliver a mix that they then all individually had issues with many of which really needed overdubs or retakes. Add to that band "politics" and such and it gets even worse.

I have no answer but am very tempted by Mike Oldfield's approach (only I have only a hundredth of his talent.)
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Old 09-26-2013, 06:39 PM   #4
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My band wanted to create some demo tracks that we could send out to potential employers. We needed to record drums, bass, two guitars, keyboards, and from one to four vocal parts, depending on the song. I have an eight-input Zoom R16, which isn't nearly enough to capture everything at once and do it justice. Our plan was to start out with just the rhythm tracks (bass, drums, and the predominant rhythm part - usually guitar or keyboard), and then to layer things from that.

Before that, we had been recording our practice sessions. It was definitely non-optimal, since we were all playing in sort of a circle, crowded into a too-small space. Everything bled into everything else, and we only had one track for all the vocals and three tracks for the drums But it was good enough to listen to our practices and fine-tune our parts.

One day, the drummer had a suggestion. Why not start with a rehearsal recording and, one by one, lay down new tracks to replace the original ones? It was an interesting idea, and we gave it a go. We started by muting the previous drum tracks and letting the drummer play along with "the band". Yeah, there was still some bleed from the previous drums into other tracks, but that was easy enough to ignore at the time. After he'd laid down the drums, I did the same with the bass part. That was easy enough to do, since the original bass part was recorded with a DI. Little by little, we replaced each original track with a newer, cleaner version with no bleed. Each vocal part got its own track instead of all of them being squished together, and the end result was actually pretty decent.

Best of all, we got a "live" feel, since it was all based on the original recording, which had everybody on it. Every track that was laid down was done while listening to some combination of the original and whatever replaced each part. It was interesting enough that people didn't get weighed down with blindly playing, and everybody had a good time in the process. And, while we were laying down drums, we did all six of our demo songs in one night. Then I did the same with the other parts on separate nights, so nobody had to hang around listening while others were recording. Well, that's a bit of a lie - we did sometimes do multiple vocal parts simultaneously to provide a more gelled sound, especially for backing and harmony vocals. But it was still a pretty layered approach.

You may want to try a similar method. It allows you to exploit more input channels than you could for a true live performance, while still preserving a live vibe and giving you plenty of tracks to get everything laid down nice and clean.
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Old 09-26-2013, 07:02 PM   #5
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My band was trying to go the route of tracking everything to a metronome and separately for isolation and so on. But what we got was the feel was not like how we play, and the drums sounded terrible when in the final mix. It ended up sounding awful compared to the demos we were doing for ourselves to study the songs in progress.

Our plan is just to get a space where the drums sound better and record everything live.

It's not because I think it's a better way to record, but that we get better results this way.

I am not good enough to make the recording decisions ahead of time to fit the final mix. But when we spend a few minutes moving mics around to get a good balance and hearing what is basically the final mix in the tests before actually playing, we get stuff that sounds like how we want to sound.
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Old 09-27-2013, 06:02 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by martifingers View Post
I have no answer but am very tempted by Mike Oldfield's approach (only I have only a hundredth of his talent.)
Thanks for posting. Oldfield uses to record all by himself, right? It really helps when you don't have to deal with others, since "people are complicated machines", but in a band you have to try and make everyone get inspired, not to fall into that Beatles' kinda feeling like you pointed so well.


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One day, the drummer had a suggestion. Why not start with a rehearsal recording and, one by one, lay down new tracks to replace the original ones?(...) It was interesting enough that people didn't get weighed down with blindly playing, and everybody had a good time in the process. (...) so nobody had to hang around listening while others were recording.
That's an interesting approach! I thought of something similar, but in my case I think it would push us back to the “non-fun” environment, since there would still be one musician listening to a recorded performance, playing alone in the studio... only that the performance was a live band, not one or two scratch parts... We might in the end do it a little, since recording like I described we'll end up with no bleed in most of the parts and eventually we'll have to overdub something. As for the “nobody had to hang around” part, this wasn't an issue for us, since I used to call only the musician who would record that day, and so on... but again, you approach is a good solution and we may indeed end up doing some of it, as overdub sessions might take place.


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(...)what we got was the feel was not like how we play, and the drums sounded terrible when in the final mix. It ended up sounding awful compared to the demos we were doing for ourselves to study the songs in progress. (...) It's not because I think it's a better way to record, but that we get better results this way.
I do get a good sounding record when I track us separately, and in fact we have recorded one song this way, but due to errors in tempo I discarded it (might solve them with some editing, but I'd rather spend my time recording again). Even the drums are good, and the feel is good too. But the process showed a little too awful for my mates, so to us it's not about technical issues, but psychological issues instead! A little harder to overcome, but keeping things simpler I think we can do it. In the end it's like you said, “not because it's a better way of doing it, but that the results are better”!

------

Thanks for the replies, guys! Let's keep it up as we're getting good stuff here!
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Old 09-27-2013, 09:36 AM   #7
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The posters here, sounds to me like the other band members don't deserve you. Leaving the hard work to you then dooming the project by not having the decency to show up. I know you guys, every outfit needs someone to organize such things, the least the others could do is appreciate it by showing up and doing their bit. Sorry, it all comes flooding back at times. Fin rant.
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Old 09-27-2013, 10:17 AM   #8
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The posters here, sounds to me like the other band members don't deserve you. Leaving the hard work to you then dooming the project by not having the decency to show up. I know you guys, every outfit needs someone to organize such things, the least the others could do is appreciate it by showing up and doing their bit. Sorry, it all comes flooding back at times. Fin rant.
Well, sometimes I do get angry because of it. It's really frustrating to spend my time learning, getting better on recording, and then not being able to finish something because of others... but I'm used to it. And too much engaged in making music with those guys (who are great persons AND great musicians) to give up. Maybe it's the lack of an outside producer that make them act like that, but I like production too much and want to learn more, and using my band as a laboratory is the best way (or at least the less dangerous), I think... so I keep on trying!
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Old 09-29-2013, 05:15 AM   #9
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That's an interesting approach! I thought of something similar, but in my case I think it would push us back to the “non-fun” environment, since there would still be one musician listening to a recorded performance, playing alone in the studio... only that the performance was a live band, not one or two scratch parts... We might in the end do it a little, since recording like I described we'll end up with no bleed in most of the parts and eventually we'll have to overdub something. As for the “nobody had to hang around” part, this wasn't an issue for us, since I used to call only the musician who would record that day, and so on... but again, you approach is a good solution and we may indeed end up doing some of it, as overdub sessions might take place.
There may be some sort of 'happy medium' you can strike with the band and the equipment you have. I'd maybe look at throwing all the gear and channels at drums and bass in the first instance (but getting the whole band to perform) and then getting all the other instruments in a second pass. That way you're getting both the separation you're looking for to give you a good pitch at mixing it but the band are getting the chance to capture a performance etc.

I do lots of work this way and it's a good balance to serve both needs.
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Old 09-29-2013, 06:03 AM   #10
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Well, sometimes I do get angry because of it. It's really frustrating to spend my time learning, getting better on recording, and then not being able to finish something because of others... but I'm used to it. And too much engaged in making music with those guys (who are great persons AND great musicians) to give up. Maybe it's the lack of an outside producer that make them act like that, but I like production too much and want to learn more, and using my band as a laboratory is the best way (or at least the less dangerous), I think... so I keep on trying!
Youll succeed in making great music with that attitude. Persistence counts for a lot imo
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Old 09-29-2013, 06:47 AM   #11
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Well, sometimes I do get angry because of it. It's really frustrating to spend my time learning, getting better on recording, and then not being able to finish something because of others... but I'm used to it. And too much engaged in making music with those guys (who are great persons AND great musicians) to give up. Maybe it's the lack of an outside producer that make them act like that, but I like production too much and want to learn more, and using my band as a laboratory is the best way (or at least the less dangerous), I think... so I keep on trying!
Find some other people that have the same goals as you. These people are dead weight. They will just drag you down and prevent any success you might achieve in doing what you want.

If they can't bite the bullet and help make it work then they don't want it to work. If there are issues why they don't want to record then they can be worked out. If it's a lot of time wasted for them, then don't waste their time. If they don't like recording, and that is your goal, and they don't want man up to record, then your only option is to find other people.

If you really like the guys then you can attempt to make it happen but it is an uphill battle that and you'll have to carry them every step of the way... so they better be worth it.

It is almost impossible to achieve a great *modern* recording from a ensemble recording. Too much bleed over from all the mics, mistakes, and timing issues will cause big headaches.

It can be done, but requires top notch musicians, lots of money and time to set up. It is much easier to record things separately and if they don't see that and/or don't care then they are just making your life harder... which means they don't care about your time and dedication.

Chances are your putting in at least 30x the work in the recording process(acting as a recording engineer, sound engineer, mastering engineer, musician, bank, etc...) while all they have to do is show up for a few hours and play(oh, and god forbid, practice at home).

If you find the right people, which requires you to go out and find them, your life will be so much more enjoyable.
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Old 09-30-2013, 06:23 AM   #12
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(...)I'd maybe look at throwing all the gear and channels at drums and bass in the first instance (but getting the whole band to perform) and then getting all the other instruments in a second pass.(...)
Good idea, thought of tracking drums, DI bass, DI guitars and scratch vocals first, them overdub as needed. We got a harmonica player who will DEFINITLY NOT be tracking at the same time as the others, as he tends to play all over the song, nonstop.

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Youll succeed in making great music with that attitude. Persistence counts for a lot imo
Well, thanks! I should have given up a long time ago, but the music we make together is really worth it!

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They will just drag you down and prevent any success you might achieve in doing what you want. (...)If you really like the guys then you can attempt to make it happen but it is an uphill battle that and you'll have to carry them every step of the way... so they better be worth it. (...) It is almost impossible to achieve a great *modern* recording from a ensemble recording. Too much bleed over from all the mics, mistakes, and timing issues will cause big headaches.
That's why I and the vocalist started a side project. He is the only one who'll show up every time I ask. But the music the 6 of us make togheter has been, as I said, worth the extra work for me. At least until my patience goes away... Another reason for that is that we bought the equipment together, and even thought I can use it for my own projects, I have to use it for the band (this is my conscience talking, the band is not really upset with it as long as we use the gear in the rehearsals). As for the impossibility of making a decent recording that way, I'm aware of it... It's a pity, 'cos I really believe I can make something interesting with the gear and practice I've got, but had to give up doing "great" in order to just "do" it...

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Old 10-01-2013, 06:41 PM   #13
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Interesting subject. I think making music and recording it well is a delicate balance between many things: playing chops, creative motivation, engineering ability in tracking, then in mixing, group dynamics of a band (whoa!), and practical management of the whole process.

Vinicius, from your description it sounds like you're naturally smart about this. Trust your instincts.

Some musicians can do individual multitracking really well, others not. Sometimes the one-track-at-a-time approach ends up with performances that, though recorded at very high fidelity, are expressively sterile or worse, sterile and rhythmically off. The vibe of people playing together in the same room at the same time can't always be created artificially. Classical ensembles come to mind. You wouldn't be able to find a good string quartet that would record their parts separately, as the live dynamic between the players - the music happening in the moment - has to be there for them to play expressively and balance their ensemble sound.

Best of luck to you. Your band is lucky to have you!
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Old 10-02-2013, 09:27 AM   #14
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(...)Trust your instincts. (...)The vibe of people playing together in the same room at the same time can't always be created artificially. (...)Best of luck to you. Your band is lucky to have you!
Well, thanks! Wish I had a larger room and iso booths to mic the amps, so it'd be the best of both worlds! Isolation AND live feel... that's what I'll bear in mind when building my next studio.
And what more can I say... I love these challenges!
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Old 10-02-2013, 11:53 PM   #15
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Good idea, thought of tracking drums, DI bass, DI guitars and scratch vocals first, them overdub as needed.
We always call it the "basics" doing it that way. None the less I'd prefer to get another audio interface that you have enough channels that you can record all instruments at once. Especially if it's not a recording a record/CD but a tracking a band rehearsal scenario. In the latter case I'd be frustrated by the idle times, too.

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We got a harmonica player who will DEFINITLY NOT be tracking at the same time as the others, as he tends to play all over the song, nonstop.
Harmonica players are all the same all over the world I guess.

Gruesse, Pablo
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Old 10-03-2013, 04:58 AM   #16
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(...)Especially if it's not a recording a record/CD but a tracking a band rehearsal scenario. In the latter case I'd be frustrated by the idle times, too. (...)Harmonica players are all the same all over the world I guess.(...)
That's the problem, the initial goal was to make an official release, not recording rehearsals... now we'll have to record it live, even though I prefer to do it the other way... anyways...
Guess the harmonica players are what they are, indeed! ahaha
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Old 10-07-2013, 05:53 AM   #17
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So we finally got to the studio last saturday!
In the end I made a blend between the two options: recorded drums and bass together, with me playing a scratch guitar and the vocalist doing a scratch vocal. Next we'll record the rythm guitars (me and the other guitarist together), then my solos, then the vocals, and finally the harmonica (if he records before anyone, he'll play all over the song and I'll have extra work editing). Everyone monitored through headphones (even who was not recording), so it felt like a rehearsal, and I recorded drums with 4 mics, as in my initial goal.
We've got some decent drumming for 2 songs, and the bass parts for one of them (the other will be redone).
The best part is that everyone got involved, and got a great time doing that.
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Old 02-02-2016, 08:38 AM   #18
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Wow, it's been almost 4 years since I started this thread! We had to bypass this recording thing for a while, but since last July we restarted it and now it's going.

First of all, good news: we finished one song and have another one in mixing stage. Check out a lyric video for the song "Charles Bronson" (portuguese lyrics, but anyways): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLdWWpep_wY

Now, let's get a bit technical: I ended up finding that we should record bass, guitars and a scratch vocal over a drum machine, then real drums, then vocals and backing vocals, then guitar solos and then harmonica. I know that's a bit uncommon to not record drums first, but that's what really worked for us. The drum machine helped us to keep in time but with a more "live" feel, and made it easier for the drummer to lay his parts after the fact.

Rythm guitars (Gibson Les Paul Studio and Epiphone SG Special) and bass were recorded directly into a Tascam US-800, then I used SimulAnalog GuitarSuite Marshall JCM900 simulation for the guitars and Ignite Amps SHB-1, TPA-1 and NadIR (with free RedWirez IR Library Marshall 1960A Celestion G12M-25s Neumann U47) for the bass. Guitar solos were captured by a Wahrfedale DM-S dynamic mic close to the speaker of a Marshall MG15. I tried to reamp everything, but in the end I found the simulations worked better for the track, except that I ran the bass part through a preamp and back to the box for a more focused sound, since the bassist used an active Fender Jazz Bass and I wasn't happy with it.

Drums were recorded with the 4-mic Recorderman setup, using a pair of Behringer C2s for overheads, Wahrfedale DM-S for the snare and an old brandless dynamic inside the kick. Vocals and backing vocals were tracked with a Sennheiser E835s, and a homemade pop filter. The harmonica used the same Wahrfedale used on the snare and guitar amp, then Voxengo Boogex amp sim.

In Reaper, I used basically the amp simulators, ReaEQ, ReaComp, ReaDelay, ReaVerb, and Stillwell Rocket. For mastering, ReaEQ, two instances of ReaComp and JS Master Limiter.

I took almost six months to mix and master the song, mainly because I had only 2-3 hours a week to do it, and the band kept rehearsing in the meantime. But in the end, I finally can say that I'd rather get something finished than perfect, and here we are!

Thanks for all advice and please take a listen!
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Old 02-02-2016, 09:42 AM   #19
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It is always time to simplify. From a pure engineering standpoint, the solution to a particular problem should be as complex as it needs to be, *and no more.* Any time you can remove complexity and still achieve what you want, you should.

Or as I like to say when my architects are getting all fancy... "Complexity is the mother of all fuck-ups."
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Old 02-29-2016, 05:34 AM   #20
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"Complexity is the mother of all fuck-ups."
That's my new motto.
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Old 02-29-2016, 08:12 AM   #21
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Unless you have professional musicians playing stuff they enjoy then it could be a nightmare in a studio. Take Zappa for instance. His output was amazing.
I made a CD with my band years ago and non of us were very good musicians and when you have headphones on playing to a click track you realise just how shit you are.it took over a year to produce 15 songs.fuck that and never again.
I work on my own.Its a hobby for me and I enjoy it.The technology is there now to produce good music solo.
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Old 02-29-2016, 08:51 AM   #22
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Occam's Razor:
Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

It's mathematically oriented/derived but is true of almost all problems in life.

I was an art director for many years and I can restate it:
The simplest solution is more often than not the most elegant solution. In design it takes a lot of work to arrive at the simplest solution. Distill and then distill again. There is a definite tendency to overthink and overdo it. Until you distill it you are a decorator, not a designer.

I was also a producer/engineer and almost always recorded the entire band, with scratch vocals all at once. There's a magic that happens when a band performs together. I've used scratch vocal tracks even though they could be recorded in better technical circumstances. If the feel was there and the vocalist couldn't at least match it, I'd rather deal with the technical problems of mixing a track like that than lose the feel.

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Old 02-29-2016, 10:00 AM   #23
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I tend to approach it like sculpting.
Start with a basic building block - drums or rhythm guitar or sometimes just the melody and handclaps.
Throw the kitchen sink at it, then gradually scrape away the bits you dont like.
What is left then forms the basis for building the song.

Slow but you dont lose the spontaneity.
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Old 03-01-2016, 01:05 PM   #24
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playing to a click track you realise just how shit you are
One of the reasons I chose to use drum loops instead of a dry click
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