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  • This "Capturing the Magic Take" Thing in the Studio Is Overrated

    Remember how in the days of tape engineers always rolled tape because you never knew when that first take was going to be the "magic" one? That was a valid concept at the time, but I don't think it matters much today.

    n those days, studio time was expensive. You had to capture a vocal or whatever as quickly as possible. Often, a performer would be pumped up enough to give a great performance from the gitgo; others built up over time (I wrote an article about this, The Performance Curve). In any event, you had to capture that "magic moment," and that first take was often valued as "the one."

    But now we have unlimited takes and home studios. I might sing a vocal on a song, and yes, the first might be "the one." Great. But then I'll do a vocal two days later, and it's much better...I know the song better, I've sung it while driving, or whatever. A week late I might feel like doing another take for the heck of it. I still have the one I liked, but maybe I'll come up with something better. In most cases, each time I do takes separated by a few days, all things being equal the later ones are better until they plateau.

    So I don't think there's anything special about that first take, because when we do our own recording, we can have as many "first takes" as we want in a session. And if we don't like any of them, hey, there are as many takes as we want, over as much time as we want.

    N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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  • #2
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    A I R

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    • #3
      If we are recording ourselves I would say you are correct. But I don't believe the 'magic take' was ever about recording ourselves - it was about recording others.

      I record our church services, and prior to service the praise band will do a run through of their songs for the service. While I don't record it to CD, I do save it on the computer (primarily as a backup in case the CD recording goes bad). And there is a definite difference between the two takes. The rehearsal take is more relaxed and is more like what you might hear on a regular CD. The recording done during the service is completely different. There is the interaction of the band with the choir and the congregation. That can be both good and bad from a performance standpoint (but mostly good). Plus it doesn't seem as relaxed. The service is video streamed lived as well, so there is that aspect as well to take into account.

      My experience has been when 'regular' folks don't realize they are being recorded the sound is more natural. Once they know the 'red light is on' there is a difference. Maybe more tense, maybe more worried about making a mistake. Not sure, but different.

      That's my 2-cents worth!
      The Mandolin Picker

      "Bless your hearts... and all your vital organs" - John Duffy

      "Got time to breath, got time for music!"- Briscoe Darling, Jr.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Anderton View Post
        Remember how in the days of tape engineers always rolled tape because you never knew when that first take was going to be the "magic" one? That was a valid concept at the time, but I don't think it matters much today.

        n those days, studio time was expensive. You had to capture a vocal or whatever as quickly as possible.
        I agree that the first take isn't always going to be "magic," but it might be. Tape used to be cheap, and disk or solid state memory space is even cheaper, so why not record the first take? If you don't know the song well enough to sing it like you want it, you shouldn't waste your time recording just in case you get lucky --- unless you don't have anything better to do.

        Musicians and singers in the "magic first take" day were better than most people recording today. You have to take this with the understanding that there were a relatively small number of recordings coming out each year in the 1950s, and today several of those years' output show up every week, for better or worse. When Frank Sinatra came into the studio, if the orchestra was well rehearsed, he'd sing the song once, and it was done. If you didn't get that, you might get a visit from Guido the Kneecap Adjuster. But today, people go into the studio - whether it's in the Capitol tower or the former spare bedroom - in order to create something, not preserve what they've previously created and practiced. A first take or a partial take may become a point of reference to which ideas and variations, new lyrics, different phrasing, different instrumentation, different melody or harmony can be evaluated.

        And sometimes, the first take may indeed be good enough for the purpose, and the trick is to recognize that and quit fooling around.

        A related question is this: Does weeks of wrenching around with a song really change a recording that would likely be passed over by the buying public into a big hit? I think that today, the publicity, whether it be a big ad campaign or a viral video of an amateur performance is what makes hits. A great song and great performance certainly helps at a certain level, but does an extra three weeks in the studio reliably produce a few more million sales? I don't know for sure, but with the right publicity, it might increase sales because of the heightened anticipation of the potential buyers.

        --
        "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
        Drop by http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com now and then

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        • #5
          Magic things happen when people react playing together. Its less likely to happen when you have a single person recording themselves.

          You obtain individual achievement when you sit in a studio along and record.
          You are part of a group when you record with others.

          When you play with others there's you're not looking vainly into a mirror seeing only yourself, you are instead part of a team and as a team member you lift others and are lifted by others to creative heights you cannot obtain on your own.

          There are critical conditions for this to work however.

          You have to be working with peers who have similar skill levels and it only takes one energy vampire to prevent magic from occurring (including yourself). The artists you work with must be able to give just as much as they receive.

          If you don't experience that magic playing with others then you probably aren't working with peers. You may be working with a group of students doing all the heavy lifting, or you may be the student unable to lift or be lifted by others.

          These aren't bad roles to play. Anyone whose played in multiple bands know those roles. Being on an equal footing is the most competitive and can also be the most creative if that competition is properly focused abd you don't allow the Prima Dona to slip out of its box. I've been in many where a pupil grows enough to be a mentor themselves. It can take years of hard work and dedication, but I've been there many times.

          The best magic occurs when all members are projecting to an audience and the audience lifts the performers to places they cannot achieve amongst themselves or on their own. There's something those stage lights and presence of an audience just beyond them that gives a musician super human strength and a resistance to pain.

          Its called adrenalin - a natural hormone that gets released when a person fears the unknown. This hormone allows an artist to think faster, work harder then he would in a relaxed condition.

          For most people this adrenalin only lasts a short time and is often followed by forgetfulness and confusion. In extreme conditions it can lead to shock. Ever freeze on stage and forget everything? That's often the result of an adrenalin surge unchecked. An artists learns to trigger it on demand and regulate its release. As a result he can give a supercharged performance and climb to higher levels which seem magical to an audience and himself.

          He also learns to focus the energy adrenalin provides to elevate the emotional content of the music so it can be easily recognized by any who listen and the music. The music then takes on a presence which becomes both a trigger to others and a theatre of the mind where a person can sit back, close their eyes and journey where the performer takes them.

          Recording is simply a psychological substitute for a live audience. If the artist performs live regularly and is challenged into triggering his own biology to release adrenalin on demand, he will be able and produce magic recording solo. The more an artist withdraws from working with others the likelihood of this happening when he's not being challenged diminishes quickly.

          Many artists never make this connection between the physical and mental states and think they can create good music using only one or the other. Some go to extremes challenging their fears doing dangerous things to keep that adrenalin working overtime. Others quit facing an audience, experience no stage fright and their adrenilyn glands become dormant. Their ability to create quality music recording can diminish.

          A solo performer who quits performing live can even forget where those triggers are and instead of rediscovering them may seek substitutes. He may resort to tricks and gimmicks over pushing himself to explore new plains of art. Of course we all know the results of musicians resorting to artificial means of creating euphoria. Drug use among musicians is well known.

          The longer a musician records solo the less magic is likely to occur and though the music may be well crafted and technically superior, it often lacks the most critical element. Its whats at the heart of the music itself, the emotional echo of a living person captured in the recording all people identify with. Surely people may say its well crafted, perfectly tailored and groomed, presented in a gold box studded with diamonds and rubies. They may be easily impressed by all of that but none of that matters when it comes to what counts most.

          What matters is do they feel the magic you felt when you recorded the music. Are their adrenalin glands triggered when they hear that music and become giddy and excited by what they hear? Some people can be easily deceived by tricks and gimmicks but the artist himself cant be. He knows when its the real deal and knows when its contained in the performance its something all who listen experience.

          That's the one thing about music. Its a truth detector to a persons soul. It doesn't matter how much you adorn it, the basic groove has to have that magic or it wont have the element that makes it contagious to others. Listen to the most primitive hit made, bad vocals, rudimentary instruments, 3 chord progression, bad recording quality. What made it a hit? The magic element. When those players went to make that song that had visions of grandeur and put those feeling into the music. Doesn't matter if the musical composition wasn't the greatest and notes carefully chosen and groomed.

          Music inspires instincts in man that date back to his genesis, the wild animal he hears that strikes fear and the simple sound of a stream that gives him relaxation. If you can include those triggers with the elevated elements, a well planned musical journey through time, lyrics that inspire, a quality recording well produced then you have something that's going to appeal to an audience on many levels.

          If those triggers aren't put there when the artist performs, you may still come across as a magician performing magic tricks, but you'll always have other magicians in the audience who know those tricks and wont be moved by them. When there's real magic, both the performer and the audience are just as mystified by it and its something that is not only timeless but it and will inspire all who hear it, any time they hear it.
          Last edited by WRGKMC; 12-28-2016, 08:41 AM.

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          • philboking
            philboking commented
            Editing a comment
            Excellent post.

        • #6
          While it's true that today you can have multiple attempts at the "first take" (spaced days apart), and you can easily fix mistakes, that can lead to a paralysis of analysis - is the new first take really better, or just different? Should we use part of the first along with part of the second and fourth first-take passes? Should we wait until tomorrow and see if the first take from that day's recording is even better?

          You can keep working on things endlessly. While I appreciate the modern tools, there's still value in old-fashioned commitment too IMHO.
          **********

          "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

          - George Carlin

          "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

          - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

          "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

          - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

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          • #7
            Over time I've increasingly come to see music production as managing a flow of good bits that are connected with, well, connecting mechanisms.

            There is such a thing of course as a seamless, fabulous performance from beginning to end, but that's so rare and random that it's not relevant to the way 99.99% of studio recording is done.

            In the context of this thread, I don't try to trap entire magic performances but I do try to identify the magic moments. Which can be anything from a single snare thwack at just the right moment, to the style in which a key phrase is sung, to a just-perfect and cool synth riff, to an 8-bar fascinating chord progression, to a repeating chorus that can hold interest for two full minutes.

            Identifying and capitalizing on these magic moments pretty much sums up my goal in my own productions. The connecting mechanisms just need to stay out of the way, and lead folks efficiently from one magic moment to the next as quickly as possible. But not too quick. Keep 'em wanting more most of the time.

            Yes, a lot of magic moments, maybe most of them, happen early in a session - and for me, they also happen early in the morning more often than any other time. That's the real beauty of home recording - you don't have to "go to work" to get specific thing done under a clock while the money burns. You can maximize the wonders of the spontaneous thing IF you have the record button on.

            If a particular song doesn't really have a magic moment, it's grounded 'till it collects one or three.

            nat whilk ii

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            • #8
              Originally posted by Mandolin Picker View Post
              My experience has been when 'regular' folks don't realize they are being recorded the sound is more natural. Once they know the 'red light is on' there is a difference. Maybe more tense, maybe more worried about making a mistake. Not sure, but different.
              That's certainly true, I was thinking more of the "vocalist doing overdub" type of situation. But even veterans do sometimes create better takes when the record light isn't on, and they get a bit more nervous when it is.
              N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

              Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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              • #9
                Originally posted by Phil O'Keefe View Post
                While it's true that today you can have multiple attempts at the "first take" (spaced days apart), and you can easily fix mistakes, that can lead to a paralysis of analysis - is the new first take really better, or just different? Should we use part of the first along with part of the second and fourth first-take passes? Should we wait until tomorrow and see if the first take from that day's recording is even better?

                You can keep working on things endlessly. While I appreciate the modern tools, there's still value in old-fashioned commitment too IMHO.
                I think it depends mostly on how you work, serially or in parallel. I work on songs in parallel. I'll take a song so far, work on something else, start something else, go back to the first song, etc. So if one day I think my voice is sounding really good, I'll load one of the older songs and cut another vocal track just to see if it's better or not. I'm a strong believer that different isn't the same as better, but I also believe that when something's better, you know it. Yet there's still an element of commitment - if I like the new vocal better, I delete the old one.

                By and large I think what makes a recording appealing has little to do with individual takes (with the exception of vocals), and much more with the overall "gestalt" and what story is being told. I commit in other ways, too: I do destructive DSP edits on vocals like changing gain on certain phrases, then render. I render virtual instruments to audio tracks. So the "commitment" is to keep what I think is best, and toss the rest. I can't think of any times that I recorded a dry guitar with an amp sim and later changed the amp sound to something completely different. Whatever sound I started with shaped the direction of the song, and there's no turning back.
                N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

                Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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                • #10
                  ^^^
                  well said

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                  • #11
                    I agree Craig. I`ve been working on the same record for 10 years. It occurred to me around 3 years ago that the original tracks weren`t any less than the ones I was currently recording.

                    However, I have improved as a producer, instrumentalist, as a mixer, but in order to actually finish this project, I have to keep reminding myself.... "Perfection is a myth".
                    Last edited by Ernest Buckley; 12-29-2016, 07:26 AM.

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                    • #12
                      Originally posted by Ernest Buckley View Post
                      I agree Craig. I`ve been working on the same record for 10 years. It occurred to me around 3 years ago that the original tracks weren`t any less than the ones I was currently recording.

                      However, I have improved as a producer, instrumentalist, as a mixer, but in order to actually finish this project, I have to keep reminding myself.... "Perfection is a myth".

                      I think this is a big thing with most of us 'home studio producers' in that instead of say it's good enough, release it and move on, we keep tweaking it and never release it. In the end, we have a bunch of music that never goes beyond our own local harddrives.

                      I go to a site called "The Recording Revolution" - run by Graham Cochrane. Two things he stresses on his site that I really like:
                      • There is no plugin, microphone or DAW that will magically make your music have that 'sound'. Learn to use what you have to make better music. New gear is not the answer.
                      • Impose deadlines on yourself - make it a goal to create and release music. Once that project is done, learn from it and move on to the next.
                      I have found that by doing that, my recordings have become better. I am no longer looking for the 'magic' plugin, but instead I am learning how to use the plugins I have to their fullest potential. I am also setting up deadlines for myself to release my music and move on to the next project (I was doing real good this year until we starting going through the process of selling the house - but that's a whole other topic). I find that thinking about the next project keeps me moving forward, instead of constantly going back and tweaking my old stuff.

                      Here is a typical blog post on how setting a deadline can be a big help in the creative process
                      "How I Went from No Songs to Completed EP in Less Than 90-days" - http://therecordingrevolution.com/we...ed-ep-90-days/

                      Food for thought
                      The Mandolin Picker

                      "Bless your hearts... and all your vital organs" - John Duffy

                      "Got time to breath, got time for music!"- Briscoe Darling, Jr.

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                      • #13
                        For me its a matter of momentum. It takes me awhile to get pumped up and play at peak performance but when I'm there I do everything in single takes with no dubs. Maybe its because I performed live for so many years I simply hated rewinding tape and loosing the groove waiting to recue when I had an analog setup but I do think it makes for better continuity if the performer has the ability to do a full pull.

                        I've spent just as many years working the technical as musical. Getting too technical, constantly cutting in parts and building s song in blocks hurts my music more then it helps. I suspect its a matter of Left vs Right side brain activity needed for each. The technical side requires more right side and the Music requires more left side. Jumping from one to the other is necessary when you do your own recordings but I utilize methods of minimizing the need to change roles while I'm doing one or the other. Otherwise I fatigue more quickly and productivity diminishes.

                        If I mix I mix. I want all my tracks done and I'll carefully craft the pieces together. When I play I play. all I want to have to deal with is opening a file, arming a track and hit record. When I've given that track every ounce of quality performance I can muster, I'll save the recording and not listen to it again till I'm in mixing mode.

                        If I blow a solo I'm more likely to save it with its flaw and simply record another track. Its rare if ever I even go back to the flawed tracks but on rare occasions I may hear something in the keeper track that could have been better and I'll borrow a snippet from one of the others. I can say this is rare however, maybe 5% of the time.

                        I do more of this with vocals. I don't spend the time I should singing so I'm more likely to cut and paste verses, choruses together. Even then I may simply redo the entire part. Some of this is part of the song writing process too. I rarely have ideal lyrics when I first sing the vocal track. I refine the words based on my singing skill. If for example a word on a piece of paper looks good written and I find out its a tongue twister trying to fit it I'll find substitute words and phrases they are more comfortable to sing.

                        Ideally I should simply be working the vocals more so I can handle singing the vocals but my peak window for vocals is fairly short. more then 90 minutes and I'm simply not able to sing my best, and even my best isn't exactly stellar. I can at least tolerate it and it doesn't seem to irritate most people.
                        One other item which is involved is I not only play the parts from beginning to end but I'm actually writing the music as I play it. The most I may have preconceived is a rudimentary progression and a tempo target - that's it.

                        I approach both recording an writing like a painter does when he faces a blank canvas or as Michelangelo would see the his creation waiting within the marble simply waiting to be released. like a painter who has an image within his mids eye before he begins to paint I hear a song within my aural memory.

                        When I record I keep pace with that image as its being written. This requires me to always be thinking ahead, never backwards. I have to convert what I visualize to music before it occurs in recording time so I produce the notes with minimum flubs. I have to still make the jumps in chord and position changes too so its a matter of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

                        I been writing this way for over 45 years so much of this is simply instinctive. Comes from decades of playing live, jamming etc.

                        Where the real magic kicks in is when you work yourself into a certain zone. Its often described as a runners high. Its a place where you cant possibly make a mistake because you are far enough in front of the music where you have enough time to premediate every move. In fact the less you think, the fewer mistakes you make. This zone is like being freed from all physical and mental bonds and you can do just about anything so long as you don't try and be superman and take a bound that's too large to recover from. Gradual changes switching planes can be simple and your playing simply follows wherever the mind seeks to go.

                        My biggest flaw with this method tends to be over indulgence once I'm there. What was intended to be a 5 minute song may wind up being double that because you hate breaking out of that groove - you know, its like a band playing together and you cant get the drummers attention to end the song.

                        Because I am forwards thinking when I compose and record at the same time I have good reason to minimize my attention on the technical details when playing. You can only divide your attention so many times while still performing well I'm good for about three divisions tops and that's usually playing live switching between rhythm, lead and vocal, singing while playing lead is of course a hang ten spot when riding the wave and you risk having a major wipeout you simply cant recover from.

                        That is a zone where allot of magic occurs however. Its like playing a difficult music part and you get this major itch you simply cant get to till there's a break in the music and its driving you nuts. Many ideas can pop into your mind when you're in that zone but you have to choose wisely or risk a train wreak. Then you have to have to start over again and rarely do you get to the same zone again.

                        As Phil said, its may simply be a different groove. Its kind of like picking up a book and every time you read it the plot and ending are different. the only way you have complete continuity is by reading it non stop from beginning to end.

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                        • #14
                          Originally posted by Anderton View Post
                          This "Capturing the Magic Take" Thing in the Studio Is Overrated
                          Seems about right. However, we could push the date back to when multitracking with analog tape first took hold. At least in my generation names like Tom Scholz (Boston fame) and Steve Winwood did so much on their own with analog tape mutitracking that they were already breaking all the rules as far as first take and other traditions. When people discovered multitrack they discovered the "Second chance" or "Do over."
                          <><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

                          “Music is well said to be the speech of angels... nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine."

                          ~Thomas Carlyle

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                          • #15
                            Maybe it's circumstantial for me, but I do find that my best solos are on earlier takes. That's when the most spontaneity comes through, and I capture something that I haven't done before. Those moments for me, are magic.

                            When it comes to recording others, I still find that artists are best early on. As time progresses, I don't get the same energy.

                            YMMV.

                            144 dB
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                            Working on: Condensation, The Jupiter Bluff
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