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A quIck hello and a request for a shove in the right direction


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  • A quIck hello and a request for a shove in the right direction

    Hi, my name is Steve and I live in Turkey but spend a lot of time in the US. I am a singer/guitarist song writer who performs in local bars etc. I have never been into a recording studio nor have I ever done any recording at home.
    However, with some time on my hands and a thirst for anything new, I would like to "have a go" at home recording and to that end have bought or already had the following equipment: Burns solid body guitar, Ovation custom Elite electro/acoustic guitar, TCHelicon MP 75 dynamic mike, Alesis SR 18 drum machine, TCHelicon Voicelive play GTX, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface, a very powerful PC and Reaper DAW. I also have a large spare room to work in.
    Hopefully enough to get me started in my new hobby.
    I am trying to achieve a quality recording of both covers, think solo acoustic sixties pop to modern country, and also my own songs and would like to add drums base and additional instruments such as slide guitar perhaps via the purchase of software such as Band in a Box or similar.
    So to the request for advice, firstly is there any obvious points based on what I have against what I am trying to achieve. But more specifically, what order does one undertake the recording. For example, if I want the song to include, acoustic guitar, lead guitar, lead vocals, harmonies, harmonica, drums, base. Where do I start? Perhaps click track and playing the rhythm guitar, then vocals, then drums etc. or should I lay down a throwaway track first of guitar and vocals and the use that as a guide to be disposed of at the end.
    Anyway that's me so any and all help gratefully received. I am slowly working my way through all of the posts here and it is full of great advice.
    Cheers Steve.
    Cheers Steve

  • #2

    You have what you need. First Its just a matter of relying on your own playing skills and musical arrangements to get you there. Second how you build a song musically is important.

    Since you're using electric drums, I suggest you record those and either bass or rhythm at the same time. If the drums are stereo and you only have two inputs on the interface, then you're stuck recording the drums solo, then adding other parts. (this is where that choice in interfaces came in, More channels mean you can track more instruments at the same time)

    I've used electric drums for many decades and having a 4 channel interface made a big difference because I could record my drums in stereo and record guitar with stereo effects at the same time.

    Having only two inputs will work though. Having drums and bass in mono is no big deal, plus there are things you can do to synthesize a stereo effect on the drums. Rhythm can be mono and you can copy the track, pan each left and right and place different effects on each like a reverb on one and chorus on another. Reverb on one track give the part three dimensionality with the reverb pan to opposite side of the dry.

    After you get the drums and rhythm tracks, adding each additional part is relatively easy. For a simple song I may track drums and guitar, add bass, then keyboard, then vocals, then lead.

    I sometimes add lead before vocals, especially if I haven't come up with a melody and lyrics yet. I can sometimes come up with melody and harmony lines playing lead more easily. Other times I need those vocals there first so I can work the lead parts in around the vocals. Blues type songs often have the lead fit in between the words. This way you can mix the song so the words and lyrics are at similar volumes without the lead or words masking each other.

    If your electric drums are programmable, or playable, you can go beyond the simple metronome stock beats it may contain. I have some with pads I can use sticks on and others with finger touch pads. I can even use my keyboards and tap in the different parts. Of course if you have a dull electric drum set you can just play it like regular drums.

    If you're doing a cover tune, an excellent way to come up with a convincing beat would be to tape the beat out along with the original song. You'd first have to convert the song to the sample rate you'll be recording the tracks at. If its a song off a CD for example, you can use a program like CDex to pull it off the CD as a 16/44.1 wave file. Then you need a program to up sample it. If you record at say 24/48, you need to have the wave file match. You can do this with a free program that changes sample rates of you could set the DAW to 16/44.1, import the song, then save it at 24/48 or whatever sample rate you track at. 

    Then you open a project and import the stereo CD track. From there you can track each part of the drums (or any other instrument) playing along to the original. I'd start by tapping out the kick part through the whole song, then the snare, then the High Hat, then Cymbals, Toms etc. Record each track separately. Next you mix each part to match the original, Eq Pan, adjust gains, and Compress each as needed so they blend 1:1 with the original song. Then you simply mute the CD track and you're left with your own drums.

    You could go on and track the bass, guitars, leads, vocals along to the original. This can give you an extremely convincing rendition of the original song.

    The main thing is this process is going to teach you a whole lot about what you can and can't do. Its going to test your skills as a performer and its going to teach you how to mix your instruments to sound like a commercial recording. Once you start to get something that sounds really good, then you can just build your own songs without the reference file as a backdrop.

    Like anything, copying someone else's work is part of learning art. When someone learns to paint or sketch, he has the actual person or landscape in front of him posing as a reference for recreating what he sees. The same can be done for music, yet many think it has to be done from memory only. Memory will be there once you have the skills, so don't be afraid to copy to learn how its done. Its a good shortcut that works for both the music and adjusting the sound quality of the mix.

    I do suggest you start simple. Having success with a relatively easy song then moving up to something more complex is better than not getting through a more complex song and never finishing the project. I'm not much of a drummer myself. I have a full drum set miced up and can play basic beats but I suck at doing drum fills. I don't have that ambidexterity you need for drums or keyboard playing because I've played stringed instruments all my life, hell I can't even type on a computer keyboard with more than two fingers, but I do get it done.

    If the drum part is fairly simple without to many fancy breaks then tapping out individual parts can be done. You can be fooled as well. A song may sound simple at first but when it comes to actually doing it, you may realize you bit off more than you can chew.

    There are other ways of syncing drums. You can set up a click track to record parts, and if your drums have a midi port you can track them via midi. This allows you to rewrite the notes where you need them. In a straight analog recording tapping out parts you have to cut and paste individual notes. There are some tools where you can snap the timing and even replace the individual hits with a midi or sampled instrument.

    You can also attempt to sync the tempo of a drum machine to the play back of a CD track. I've done this a few times but its most difficult because there's nothing to stop the tempo from drifting off beat. I used to use this method when I recorded to tape and could vary the tape speed to match the tempo when it varied a little. Most digital drums have tempo steps of 1 beat per second which isn't fine enough if s song is drifting a 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 beat per second. Live drums in recordings often drift in tempo and it part of the live sound. More modern recordings may be very robotic, especially if they used a click track to record them, but even with that, the drum machine clock and the daw don't have their clocks synced so you have two independent sequencers running that will drift.

    This is why I say, if you use external drums and you want to record, its easiest to use them as a click track and add your other instruments to them. If you were to record say, the vocals and drums first then you'd have to tape the beat in afterwards as a live drummer would anticipating what the beat is going to be within the silent space in time.


    • steve mac
      steve mac commented
      Editing a comment
      Wow many thanks for such a comprehensive reply, it's certainly going to be a learning curve. Playing live in front of a couple of hundred folk seems like a piece of cake in comparison.
      Cheers Steve