By Doug Young
When you are confident that you’re capturing a good sound, you’re ready to record. There are many ways to approach the actual recording, depending on the type of music. If you’re overdubbing or playing to a click track, you will need to use headphones. Experiment with levels until you feel comfortable and can hear the click or the tracks you’re overdubbing to as well as your guitar. Make sure the headphones aren’t so loud that they bleed into the microphones.
Everyone would prefer to record a song perfectly in one take, but most recordings involve multiple takes, which are often edited or combined to fix mistakes. It helps to have a strategy to make editing easier. Here are a couple approaches.
Back up and Try Again
If you aren’t playing along with other instruments, one way to deal with mistakes is to stop, back up a few bars, and keep going. Once you make it to the end of the tune, you can use your audio editing software to cut out the bad parts. Most modern editing software can automatically “crossfade” the good parts, creating a seamless join that no one will notice. It takes some time to learn to edit—and each editing system is slightly different—but the process becomes easier with practice. With this approach, you need to be able to stop and resume the song with the same volume, tempo, and feel, and try to avoid moving or changing your location relative to the mics—even a slight difference can create tell-tale signs at the edit point.
Compositing Multiple Takes
Another approach is to record the entire tune multiple times and then piece together the best parts of each performance. With this approach, it’s best to keep playing, even if you make a mistake. Once you finish a take, record again on a new track, repeating until you think you have played each part correctly, somewhere, in at least one take.
Different editors support this process in a variety of ways. Nearly all will allow you to cut sections from one track and paste them into another. Some editors have more sophisticated functions, letting you select regions from different takes and automatically compiling them into a single performance.
It takes experience to find the right balance between obsessively fixing every little thing and letting small issues go. If you find yourself needing to make a lot of edits to get an acceptable recording, you should consider whether your time would be better spent practicing the tune. The beauty of home recording is that you’re not “on the clock,” and you can do as many takes as you need to—or take a break and try again another day.
Mix, Master, and Publish Your Recording
Once you have completed a track, you’re ready to mix and get it ready for release. Mixing is an art in itself, and beyond the scope of this article. If your recording is simple, like solo guitar or guitar plus voice, mixing will mostly consist of setting levels, adjusting the EQ, and adding a little reverb. Full band arrangements can get much more complex. One option is to record and edit your basic tracks at home and then go to a professional studio for mixing. A pro studio may have better monitors, better reverbs or other effects, and most of all, experienced mixing engineers.
Once your tracks are mixed, they can be prepared for release. Tracks meant for a CD are often sent to a mastering engineer, who performs some final tweaks, assembles the tunes in the desired sequence, adjusts levels between tracks, and generally makes sure everything sounds its best.
When you record at home, you wear multiple hats—performer, engineer, producer, etc.—and recording yourself can be a lot of work. It’s likely that you will learn a lot, not only about recording, but about your music and performance along the way. Relax and enjoy the process, knowing that in the end, you’ll have captured a performance you can be proud of.
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Recording with Pickups
Most people find that microphones capture the sound of their guitar more realistically than pickups, but pickups can be effective in some recording situations. If you simply can’t create a quiet environment for recording, pickups may be your only choice.
Using a pickup can make it easier to record guitar and vocals, or even another instrument, at the same time without worrying about a mic picking up other sounds on the guitar track. Some contemporary guitarists blend a pickup with mics to get a more direct and larger-than-life sound. As long as you have an extra input for the pickup, you can always record multiple tracks using mics and a pickup and then experiment with blending the tracks.
Soundboard transducers (such as K&K’s Pure Mini or the L.R. Baggs iBeam) often sound quite realistic on recordings, and undersaddle pickups (such as the D-TAR WaveLength, Fishman Matrix Infinity, or L.R. Baggs Element) can add a punchy sound to a recording. Magnetic pickups tend to sound a bit electric but can add a deep bass when blended with a microphone.
Another option is to use a processor like the Fishman Aura, which can make an undersaddle pickup sound more like a microphone. And of course, internal microphones like the L.R. Baggs Lyric may also help eliminate some external noises.