By Jim Fusco:
Welcome to another edition of “Ask the Musician” with me, Jim Fusco!
In lieu of recording another video tonight (I’m anxiously awaiting to record my first HD video, hopefully next week), I decided to finally respond to an inquiry I got on YouTube about how to record a multi-track song separately and still have it come out right in the end. The YouTube user writes:
I have one big problem. When we record, we obviously record them in different parts (by that, I mean we record the instruments separately). But, we can’t record them at the same time and we have problems recording them apart. When we try to mix them, something gets messed-up and we have to record over again and again. Have any tips?
Why yes, I do!
People like Brian Wilson (of the Beach Boys) had many musicians at their fingertips. So, it was easy to get all these professional musicians in the same room to record a track. And these studio musicians never mess up. They are the cream of the crop, so it was easy to say, “Play this,” and watch it get done.
For us that record alone, sometimes it’s hard to keep a beat constant through an entire song. Actually George Harrison was known for having a great built-in timeclock when recording. He could play a song in-time with no percussion behind him. That’s one of the reasons why it was easy to finish his last album, “Brainwashed’ posthumously.
And that brings me to my first tip: the most important thing about a recording is to stay on-time and on-beat. So, if you’re by yourself, make sure you lay down the drums first! Of course, you have to have a drummer that won’t speed up or slow down on you, so that’s an important step, too.
Now, knowing that everyone’s human, you should also consider keeping even your drummer in-time by using a metronome. Just lay down a track of a metronome in the right tempo first (you can always delete it or silence it later) and then have your drummer go to work. Actually, at that point, you can lay down any instrument you want. The only time this gets tricky is when the song changes tempo. One thing you can do is program a very simple beat as a MIDI track (I used to use a program called Noteworthy Composer way back in the day- wonder if it’s still around?). Then, you can map the song out, put in your tempo changes, and then just play it into your recorder as a track.
Another thing to keep in mind is software and hardware latency. If you’re recording on a computer, you’ll run into this. Even the fastest computers fall victim to it. Have you ever recorded a video on a webcam and seen the audio/video sync go off? Well, your computer is having trouble recording everything at the same time and it’s not making up for the latency (time lag) in either the software or the hardware you’re using. And, like I said, even on the best computers, you can run into this. I have a top of the line Mac Pro here and I get hiccups in my videos sometimes because my backup machine will kick in or a popup box will interrupt. It’s that little blip in the continuous stream of processing power that can really screw things up.
Now, you may have good luck for one or two tracks, but consider this- each time you record another track on the computer, you’re playing back each additional track. So, you can be playing back 24 tracks and recording another one at the same time- a recipe for audio latency.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m still recording on a DAW (digital audio workstation). I never run into those problems because recording 24 tracks is the machine’s sole purpose. There’s no internet, no downloads, no popups- just pure recording power. I’ve never had a problem with it, unless it’s my own bad timing that screwed it up.
So, I hope that gives you something to think about. It’s so difficult to record a whole song alone- only the best can really be great at it (Paul McCartney comes to mind). If anyone else has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them- leave a comment below! I’ll see you all next week- hopefully in full high definition- for another Laptop Sessions acoustic cover song music video.
I would do my best to not fall victim to bad timing, but despite feeling like I have a good grasp of the current time signature and tempo, there’s still evidence of missing a beat here and there – even in my latest work.
What I try to do is play a “demo” of the guitar first and record that. For some reason, I tend to keep time with that instrument much better. Then, I lay down a drum track on top of that. As I listen I try carefully to pick out any “disagreements”. If they are there, I rerecord.
If the song has a rigid time signature with no changing tempo, I may even use a metronome recorded to one track.
When putting additional tracks down, I have a minimum of tracks in the background when recording to make the audio latency as low as possible. A DAW like what both of us have is very good at needing only a bit of processing power to play back one or two tracks while recording another. The drum track is usually one I want playing back while recording, but another instrument track is likely. The one thing you don’t want to do is to turn off other tracks, then rerecord over them! (I’m willing to bet Jim has done this – because I have!)