TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 33 – OVERDUBBING

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 33 Overdubbing

We took an overview of the multitrack process in TCM Mastering’s Home Music Studio Part 29 and over the last three weeks we have looked at Setup and the Recording Stage in more detail.

Depending on whether you’re recording a full band, yourself as a one-man-band with various instruments or a MIDI setup will determine the approach you use to recording and the rest of the multitrack process.

Recording A Band In A Home Studio. Carefully Placed Acoustic Screens Can Really Help To Separate Instruments As Well As Improve The Sound Of Your Recording Space.

A band is likely to be the most challenging setup in a Home Studio setting. There could be several personalities and egos all fighting for their opinions to be heard.

Acoustics in a home could be less than perfect. Physical space could pose problems with the lack of good instrument separation (although you could always use more than one room if available, or well placed screens – see picture above).

And if you record the band as a whole, there’s a good chance that one person will not play exactly as planned which could compromise the band recording….. because no matter how good the separation is, there’s bound to be some spill from one mic to another.

Let’s say you have an electric guitar going through an amp. Other mics that are setup for the drums, for example, will undoubtedly pick up some of the guitar sound. If the guitarist makes a mistake whilst the whole band are recording, you can’t fix that mistake by overdubbing. The drum microphones will have picked up the mistake too, which means any fix that is done on the guitar track will still conflict with the original mistake in the drum tracks.

 Recording An Acoustic Trio & Vocalist In A Home Studio.

There are good arguments for recording a band as a whole…..the performance will have more of a ‘live’ feel. Band members will take cues from each other whilst playing. One player could take inspiration from another and deliver a great solo. And perhaps the best reason is that, most bands prefer playing as a band! Not as individuals.

However, once that first good track (or tracks in the case of a band) has been recorded, we then move into the Overdubbing Stage. With the technology that is now available to the home musician, it’s a very rare session that does not involve some overdubbing.

In fact musicians can even add tracks to a session if they are in totally different locations. You could start a session in your home studio in the UK and someone else could finish it off in Nashville or Los Angeles.

Les Paul – Recording In His Home Studio.

The overdub technique is pretty straight forward in principle. Whilst listening back (usually on headphones) to the track or tracks that have been recorded, you record another track in sync with the original tracks.

Let’s return to our example used in last week’s blog…..you’re a one man band singing and playing several different instruments. We’ll use Pro Tools again as our system of choice – as it’s a very popular system, it tends to be the choice of many pro studios and space prevents us explaining how every system works.

#1 Suggestion: Unless you’re recording a purely instrumental track, it’s always a good idea to record a ‘guide’ vocal on the initial pass with an instrument if you’re capable of doing the two things simultaneously. First, it may end up being so good you want to keep it. And second, it will help to keep you (or everyone else in a band) together, whilst letting you know if the tempo, key and arrangement is right for the song.

#2 Suggestion: A click track is very useful for keeping the tempo consistent throughout a song – especially if you choose to later overdub drums or edit sections of your song. But many musicians do not like to use them and some songs are written without a regular tempo. So you need to decide if it will help or hinder.

Recording Vocal & Acoustic Guitar In Home Studio.

So you’ve recorded a vocal and/or acoustic guitar with or without a click track. You’re happy with the result, now you want to add more tracks.

Of course, you may eventually decide to replace your original vocal and/or guitar once more tracks have been added. You may feel by the time your song is sounding more full and produced that you could do a better vocal or guitar. This is the beauty of overdubbing at home, you can tweak and perfect your song until you think you have the best possible performance.

Note: Overdubbing, is probably the stage that is abused more than any other. If you have a hundred audio tracks and more MIDI tracks at your disposal, there is great temptation to use too many of them. Use only what the song needs.

Pro Tools Showing The Record Enable Button & Level Registering On The Track Meter.

Connect your instrument or mic and route it to your track, so that you can see level registering in Pro Tools (or in your DAW). Setup and signal paths were discussed in this blog, but always refer to your DAW manual for specific instructions.

Depending on your setup (see Part 29 for examples), connect a pair of headphones to your mixer or preamp headphone out. Make sure the tracks already recorded are made safe. Cue the session to the start of the song.

Hit play and adjust the already recorded track level(s) coming out of Pro Tools or the DAW, so that you can hear the track(s) you want to add to in the headphones. You will also want to hear yourself…..that is, the instrument or vocal you’re adding as the overdub.

If the levels seem okay, cue back to the beginning and go for it. Hit record. If you make a mistake, no problem, stop and try again.

Overdubbing Horns & Drums.

Some musicians take to overdubbing like a ‘duck to water’ and have no problems. Others need a little practice playing, whilst listening to previously recorded tracks. Setting up a good mix in your headphones is very important and makes overdubbing a lot easier (see this article for more details on setting up a headphone mix).

Take time setting the levels of various tracks. You will need the click track or an instrument track which provides a good tempo and rhythm in order to overdub in sync and with proper timing.

Often turning down the level of certain tracks can help with the recording of the overdub. For example, if an electric guitar is too loud, strident or very syncopated it can make it very difficult to play the new part, so try turning the level of the guitar down or removing it completely from the headphone mix.

Overdubbing Electric Guitar.

Take a look at the 24 tracks to the left. It shows how quick you can fill up tracks with just a few instrument overdubs. Some effects (eg. guitar reverb, piano flange) may be recorded to tracks. This can ease the strain on your computer’s processor. Other effects eg. reverb on vocals, may be just added in the monitor mix fed back into the headphones. Remember, running too many plug-ins on too many tracks can often slow your processor down or even choke it completely.

Once you’re happy with the first overdub, the process is basically the same for subsequent ones. You don’t need to listen to all the tracks that have been recorded to do your overdubs, but you should check what they all sound like together, after you have successfully added another overdub track.

What you want to try to avoid is too many instruments playing the same phrase or recording an instrument out of tune or out of tempo with the rest of the tracks. So keep a watchful ‘ear’ on the progress of your song as the number of tracks increases.

The track layout above illustrates an important point…..planning. It’s useful to consider the number and types of instruments that will be used in a song. And when recording them in your DAW, group similar instruments next to each other. For example, by placing all the backing vocals together or the drums, you will find it easier to visually monitor their levels. And by setting multiple channel outputs to a common bus, the signals can be controlled by one aux fader.

Tuning The Piano & Other Instruments To Concert Pitch Before A Session Will Save Problems Later.

#3 Suggestion: You always want to ensure that all instruments are in tune with each other. Normally in today’s Western music, everything is tuned to concert pitch, A (above middle C) 440Hz. For an interesting look at how concert pitch has changed over the centuries, click here.

The overdub process is similar for MIDI instruments. And you need to make the same considerations with regards to phrasing, tuning and tempo. We will cover all aspects of MIDI in later blogs…..coming soon.

Next week we’ll look at Editing your music tracks. Followed by Mixing and Mastering.

If you have any questions regarding the recording or overdub process, drop us a line. Our contact details are here. We love to hear from you.

And don’t forget, TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group provide a professional, fast and affordable service to musicians of all genres.

So if you have some songs that need producing, recording, mixing or mastering contact us for details on our rates and some incredible recording packages.

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