I played last night at the Cutting Room (www.thecuttingroomnyc.com) on 24th St in New York City and in the bar got to talking to someone about recording techniques and specifically composite recording. This is when you do a number of takes of the same thing, say lead vocal and then you listen to each take and you extract the word, phrase or line that you like from each take and you put them all together on one track.
This is a godsend for people who are not reliable vocalists or musicians for any number of reasons (pitch, phrasing, rhythm, illness, etc), because they needn’t come up with a flawless performance for the recording. They can do as many passes as it takes to assemble a complete performance, while not actually having to be so proficient that they could actually do a complete professional performance in one or two takes.
The downside is, of course, if you ever have to perform this live. If you can’t deliver the complete take in the studio, you are probably not going to be able to deliver it live. Many acts that you have all seen will support this observation. They sound better in the studio than live.
Though, I have heard rumors of the Eagles doing dozens and dozens of takes and choosing just the word or phrase that they like from each of the takes to produce those flawless recordings of theirs. Having seen them live many times, I can tell you that they also deliver the goods on the stage, which is just as, if not more important than getting what you want on tape.
But this post is about how you do the assembled, composite recording. For a lead vocal, this is the way it is done with an analog recorder. You have a lyric sheet which has the lyrics on only the left half of the page. Across the right side you draw horizontal lines between each line of lyric, then you draw perpendicular (vertical) lines down the page across the horizontal lines. You provide as many columns as there are takes and you corresponde the numbers of the takes with the track number on the recorder.
Then you listen to each take completely and you mark which lines or phrases or words you liked in the appropriate column which corresponds with that track.
After you have listened to all the takes, and have marked which take has which performance you like, you go to an empty track on the recorder and you bounce (re record) the chosen performances from each take to this new track. When it is done, you have one track on which you have combined all the best words, phrases and lines from all the takes on all the tracks.
This can be tricky because the performance of one line may not match the next line of the song. For instrumentals or solos, this is not so much of a problem, but still one of which you must be aware.
If you are recording on computer or some kind of Digital Audio Workstation, then this process becomes much easier.
You line up all the performances of, say the lead vocal, and then you mute all but the first one and listen to it. You cut the parts that you like out by simply snipping and peeling back the part of the performance that you don’t like. When you finish with that take, there will be places where there is no vocal and places where a performance of the chosen part of the vocal appears.
You do that to each of the tracks one at a time and if you are lucky, at the end of the process you have the desired performance of each line on at least one of the tracks. Then you simply combine those tracks by either that function (if your program offers it) or click and drag each part to just one of the tracks and mute the other tracks of that take.
Email me at James@jamesleestanley.com if any of this isn’t clear to you.
I am going to the North East Regional Folk Alliance tomorrow and will give you a report on Friday and then again on Monday when I am back in Los Angeles.