rich menga
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"Last Day" additional recording info tips and tricks

This is a song I recorded recently:

I also released a bass and drums only version if you want to play along with it.

Last Day is a song I had recorded and done in about an hour; I'm going to explain how it was done, what gear was used and list some additional info.

The song is 4 tracks. Two lead tracks played with the Fender Modern Player Stratocaster HSS on the 4th position (mid+neck), one with the BOSS DR-3 and the last with the Yamaha RBX170 using the front pickup with the tone rolled all the way down.

I recorded the song to my little laptop and use an ancient copy of Cool Edit Pro which is now known as Adobe Audition. But to be very honest you could use the free Audacity audio multitrack software and get the same job done. I use CEP simply because I'm used to it. If I weren't using CEP I'd be using Audacity or even a standalone digital multitrack recorder like the Tascam DP-008. Seriously, I'm not kidding.

Why I use old-school digital multitracking and hate the new stuff

You have to realize that I started using multitrack recording with the cassette-based Tascam 424 Portastudio (I talk about that machine at at length here). Yes, I was recording on a 4-track tape-based machine. And it worked. And it was easy. And I loved it. But digital is obviously a lot cleaner when recording. However the ever-present problem with modern "pro" recording software is that it is not designed for quick-and-dirty recording. You are slammed with a million options when all you want to do is plug in, hit record and go. In other words, what I'm saying is that the only "progress" that was made with modern multitrack software is that they made it more difficult. All the ease-of-use completely vanished.

Said very bluntly, were it not for the fact a Mac were so expensive, I'd tell everyone to use GarageBand which comes bundled with the Mac. That software is A JOY to use. Nice, easy, powerful, quick-to-learn and just plain good. And it just so happens GarageBand is very similar to the old Cool Edit Pro as the interfaces are very similar. Coincidence? I think not, because the old-style "stacked" interface works the best and there is no better as far as I'm concerned.

How Last Day was recorded

I laid down the first guitar and panned it hard to the left, then laid down the second guitar and panned it hard to the right. The drums were then added in, played manually on the DR-3 (I didn't bother programming it and just played it "live"), panned center. Then the bass was added last, also panned center.

I do typically record this way where it's guitars first, drums second, bass last. You don't have to do it that way, but that's the way I do it.

Whenever I record more than one guitar, I usually make the second guitar play the same chord as the first, but on a different part of the neck. For example, if I play an E-minor at the open/zero fret on track 1, I'll play that same E-minor on track 2 but on the 7th fret instead.

I also typically record bass guitar distorted, mainly because it's so much easier than recording it dry. A huge problem when recording bass guitar is that it's either way too loud or way too quiet, so you either have to play lightly or compress the shit out of it so it doesn't overpower everything else. Fortunately you can "pseudo-compress" a bass just by distorting it. What this does is establish an audio "ceiling" where it's way easier to control in the mix. Distort, turn the bass frequency down a few notches so the midrange can be heard better, roll off the tone so it's not all clacky as shit and, well, that's it.

And yes, bass players hate it when I tell them how I record bass, and immediately spit back that I'm "totally doing it wrong". I don't care. It's my song; my mix; sounds good to me. Deal with it. :) There are thousands upon thousands of recordings from the late 50s, 60s and 70s where the bass is distorted and it sounds great, so that whole notion of "the bass must be pristine clean" is something I don't subscribe to because it just doesn't work for what I do.

Final note about bass guitars: What makes a bass cut through the mix is when it periodically "changes the line it follows", so to speak. In the way I play the bass, I'll follow drums, then switch and follow the guitars, then ditch both those lines and have the bass do its own thing, then back again. I don't follow this pattern precisely all the time, but you'll hear it so I can have the bass cut through the mix without sounding like a lead instrument. Bass is not meant to lead but rather support, so that's the way I approach it. In other words, I play bass like a bass player would.

Separations

For the longest time I've been a huge fan of panning instruments mainly for the reason it makes the recording sound more like an actual band. Most recording guys won't use any panning whatsoever because they're afraid of it. I'm not kidding. The idea of panning anything hard left or hard right ruffles their feathers so much that they avoid it completely. Well, I don't.

A ton of classic songs covering many, many styles of music had instruments that had hard pans in them - including The Beatles who even had the balls to put vocals booming out right-side-only in some songs.

There are guys and gals aplenty on the internet that say that older recordings on vinyl records were the best that ever were. Well, a lot of that has to do with the songs that are on those records, because recording engineers back in the day had the balls to pan things to create a "wide stereo" sound. If you took any modern-day pop song and stuck it on vinyl, it would still suck because everything is centered, pre-digitized and "perfect". So you can't say that vinyl is the cure for all audio problems, because it isn't.

What makes for a bitchin' awesome sound is separation; that's what gives you the wide stereo sound to begin with. Pans are a feast for the ears and I've always known this. And the crazy part is that anyone can do it. Just move the slider left or right in your multitrack editor for any given track and that's it. How hard is that? Not hard at all. In fact it's stupidly easy.

If you mix too much, your song will never get done

Some will say my song is mixed perfectly. Others will say the guitars are too loud. Others will say the bass is too loud. Others will say there's too much bass/treble/mid on a particular instrument. The point is that nobody will hear the song the same way.

Sometimes the worst part of the recording process is the mix. You've got everything recorded and in the multitrack session and just can't decide what mix is proper.

The way I do it is I just get it done as quick as I can and release so I go past The Point Of No Return just so it's out there. If I don't, the song will never get released. It goes out there, mistakes and all.

In my experience, the more you mix, the more everything starts to sound "flat" and ultimately ends up not sounding good at all. The best way to record is through experience. Record something and just throw it out there. Record, mix, master, post to YouTube or SoundCloud or whatever and just do it.

Will some of your stuff suck when you record and publish this way? Yes. But that's how you learn.

** Tip: If the strings you use take too long to break in, try a set of Dunlops.