Is that next track you’re about to lay down actually going to help the song? That’s the question I find myself asking almost every time I hit the “record” button in a session. You see the problem many of us have is this: we assume more tracks lead to better, fuller recordings. Sadly that’s not always the case.


TRR132 Only Record What Serves The Song

Via Flickr

Serve The Song

Every recording decision you make should be filtered through this one question: “Does this serve the song or not?” When I say “serve” the song I mean just that, cater to the song, take care of the song’s needs, make the song be the best it can be. Unfortunately in recording sessions, many of us don’t think like this.

We tend to think about recording techniques, tones, and interesting parts. While those elements are critical to a good recording, thinking solely on them is akin to me viewing my beautiful wife as merely a nice dress, elegant hair, and classy makeup. Those things are definitely part of what makes up her beauty, but they are not her. The clothing, hair style, and makeup only exist to serve her and her beauty.

We Create A Jumbled Mess

In making this mistake of recording just to record and not to serve the song we simply create a mess of things. We might lay down 10 guitar tracks for a simple rock tune, or 15 tracks of drums for an acoustic folk tune. Or maybe we keep writing and recording parts to make our arrangements as brilliant as possible.

What happens then is we have too much sonic material to sift through when listening that we lose the heart of the song. Usually I’m guilty of this when I feel the song is missing something. It just sounds boring, so I’ll rush to record more parts, more tracks, more takes. It only digs me into a deeper hole.

Is It Worth Recording?

In reality, we need to stop and assess what it is that truly makes this song worth recording. Is it the lyric, the melody, the performer? What is it that the audience is going to connect with? What is it about the song that YOU the engineer (or even the artist) resonate with? Focus on that and record only the parts that bring that out in the song.

I’m continually blown away by the quality and creativity of artists like Ari Hest, who recorded a 5 song EP in his apartment on a laptop, using only garageband, a $100 USB audio interface, and an SM-57. Not only are the songs well written, but the recordings are fantastic. But they are so simple and tasteful. Being unaware about how he was “supposed” to do, he recorded only what served his songs and brought out the best in them.

What about you? Have you fallen into the trap of over recording and being left with excess tracks in your sessions that don’t help the song? What recordings are you working on now that could use some “fat trimming” and refocus?