Creating a Sound Recording
After the songwriting is done and the collateral material (e.g., guitar tabs, lyric sheets) has been created, the expensive part of creating music—professional sound recording—begins.
With current computer technology, most musicians can create sound recordings of their songs at home. However, to create a professional sound recording that can be sold commercially, most singer/songwriters and bands retain the services of a recording studio.
Building a sound recording is similar to building a house. There is a natural order to things. You don’t begin designing the custom cabinetry for your home first, you begin by establishing a firm foundation upon which the house will be built. Similarly, you don’t focus on the vocals for a song as the first step. You begin by recording the drum and bass guitar tracks, which form the foundation for a song.
Recording Drum and Bass Tracks
When we recorded our album I Wanna, Iguana!, Kent played guitar and sang along while recording the foundational tracks of the drums and bass in order to help the drummer and bassist connect to the rhythm of the song as well as to cue them for changes. Although typically handled in the pre-production phase, sometimes when everyone is playing together, the musicians may choose to change the tempo. This happened on “Indigo” which, after playing a few times, felt like it was a plodding along at the original tempo so the tempo was increased.
After a few times through the song for rehearsal, the actual tracking began. For this album, we recorded the foundational tracks for each song three times. By the second or third take, the sound was generally solid. After all of the musicians were happy with a solid take on a song, depending on the song style, they sometimes did one more take to add improvisation and change things up a little. Improvisational takes are often discarded, but sometimes a fun gem will come out of this “playful” take that makes a memorable part of the final sound recording of the song.
After recording all of the takes for a song, we listened to the playback of the best take that was recorded—especially the tricky section(s) of the song—to make sure it sounded right. If the recorded tracks felt good to the musicians and the engineer concurred that the tracks sounded good, we would then move on to the next song. During drum and bass track recording, we repeated the process of rehearsing, tracking multiple takes, and listening for each song.
Re-recording Individual Sections
Once everything was recorded, we gathered in the control room to listen critically to each of the songs, primarily focusing on the drums. If any parts weren’t quite right or the drummer felt he could play a section better, we would go back and “punch” in that part. “Punching” is where an engineer will arm the recorder to start at the specific place to re-record and the musician plays along with the playback starting before and then all the way through and past the recorded section. This allows a seamless blend of the new take. It’s important especially to make sure all of the drums are right before ending the session since this is the most time consuming instrument to set up and record.
Once the recording was done, the engineer lined up the tracks of the drums and bass to make sure they were sitting well together. As long as the original performance was a good one, the engineer can make small adjustments here and there for a note that may be pushing or lagging the beat without compromising the feel of the recording. Once everything was tight, the foundation was ready for the next recording layer to be built!