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Beth DeSombre: Blog

A Simple Steady Beat (Recording Day 2)

Posted on November 24, 2015
This past Friday I was back in the recording studio. As those of you who read my post on my first studio day remember, we initially had recorded guitar for a bunch of tracks, and then experimented at the end with recording live – guitar and vocal together. Even though that was by necessity rough, we liked the way it turned out, and so decided to try recording for real that way.

The big downside with recording guitar and vocal together is that it limits the extent to which you can easily “fix” or “patch” a problematic spot in the recording, so it feels a lot riskier. Although you don’t want a recording that is artificially made to sound better than you naturally sound, it’s likely that you’ll have a great take in which you happen to mispronounce a word, sing a flat note, or miss a guitar strum. It can be handy to just re-record that missed bit and patch it in, something you mostly can’t do when you’re recording both guitar and vocal at the same time. That’s even more true because the person I’m working with believes in recording without a click track.

A click track is a kind of metronome in your headphones that keeps your tempo consistent through a song and multiple takes of a song. It makes it easy to sync up different takes of the same song, because they’re all being done to the same tempo. But my producer doesn’t like using a click track if it’s not absolutely necessary, arguing that it makes the song sound artificially uniform.

In fact, that’s his philosophy about recording live as well – that the best version of a song is the version the way you actually play it: guitar and vocal together, without some external beat you’re trying to match. I agree in principle – it’s easier to play and sing that way, and it does feel and sound more natural to me.

Even with this method of recording, you can join together different parts of two different takes, assuming they match up enough in tempo. So what we’ve been doing is recording several times through each song, listening to pick the one we like best but identify any sections we don’t like as much, and then listening to the others to see if there are better versions of those sections that we could edit in. (For instance, we might start with version 2, but take the guitar intro from version 1, and the third chorus from version 3, except for the second line, which comes from version 1.)

That only works if they really are all the same tempo. And what I’m amazed to discovered (in the words of “Where the Words and Music Meet, one of the songs I just recorded) is that I really do have a “simple steady beat.” So far all three songs we’ve recorded this way have been sufficiently consistent across all of their takes that there hasn’t been a problem at all joining a section of one to the other.

That’s even true with one song we decided to play at a slower tempo for the recording than I’ve been playing it live – despite being unused to the tempo, I was able to hit it consistently throughout all the takes we recorded. Perhaps I missed my calling as a rhythm guitarist!