In part 1 of this post we discussed how it’s possible to record a full band production 7 song EP in just two short days. This was predicated on a lot of intentionality and prep, but that goes without saying. I record band’s EPs in this 2 day time frame a lot so today I wanted to give you more of the practical side of how I tend to work and make it happen in such a short time.
Via Rudolf Schuba Flickr
Day 1 – Drums, Bass, Core Instruments
Assuming we have our guide tracks in place for each song and the band is ready (see part 1 of this post), I like to start with drums. As the both the foundation of the song instrumentally and the most complex instrument to track well, I prefer to get this out of the way. Here is how a typical Day 1 breaks down…
- 8:00AM – Setup gear/drums in location. This assumes you are location recording drums, for more space perhaps.
- 9:00 – Begin mic placement and “get sounds.” This the most crucial point of finding what is the best way to capture this kit in the given environment and with your microphones.
- 10:00 – Start tracking drums. Once we have a great drum sound it’s time to simply let the drummer play. I prefer to have the drummer record two passes through the song without interruption. I can pick and choose the best parts later. This part goes quickly, roughly 15 to 20 minutes per song.
- 12:00PM – Break for lunch. You need food and your ears need a break after tracking drums. Pat yourself on the back, the hard part is really out of the way.
- 1:00 – To start the afternoon, I like to move on to bass guitar. The drums will be fresh in everyone’s mind and that bodes well for a tight bass performance. Whether running direct or miking an amp, bass usually goes quickly. I let the bass player run through the song twice. No more. Just get two solid takes in the books.
- 3:00 – Before dinner I like to get the main instrument in place. This is typically the rhythm guitars or keys. If there are two guitar players, just pick one and record him. Mic an amp, or pick an amp model. Whatever you do, commit to one guitar sound and then rock it out. None of this 4 mics on a cabinet thing.
- 6:00 – Break for dinner. You will likely be loosing your mind at this point. It’s time to walk away and feast.
- 7:00 – It’s time for lead guitar, or your second core instrument. You should have a nice idea of how the songs are coming together so you will know what the lead instrument needs to add (and not add). This can take while since you are making arrangement decisions along the way. Give it the time it needs.
- 10:00 – If you are feeling caffeinated enough, fire up a keyboard controller and lay down any extra virtual instrument ideas you might have. Get them recorded before you forget, even if they actually don’t work when you revisit the song tomorrow.
- 12:00AM – Go to bed! You’ve been at it for too long at this point. Don’t count on anything genius being recorded past midnight.
Day 2 – Vocals, Percussion, Final Pieces
I like to cram as much of the “no brainer” stuff into Day 1 for 2 reasons: It gives us a lot more breathing room on Day 2 so vocals aren’t rushed, plus we can listen back with fresh ears and re-do anything that seems out of place. That separation of a good night’s sleep is so helpful. Here is how I break down Day 2…
- 8:00AM – Start with any other virtual instrument or lead parts from last night that didn’t get finished. This will give your vocalist a chance to warm up his/her voice before hitting it hard.
- 9:00 – Start tracking lead vocals. Pick a solid microphone/preamp for your vocalist (try a couple out of you’re not sure what sounds best) and then stick with it. Much like the drums and bass, I like to get at least 2 solid takes of the lead vocal all the way through. Any more than 3 takes and you are wasting your time. I find that letting vocalists sing all the way through the song without interruption helps so much to capture the energy and performance that is most natural. You can always comp the takes together or pitch correct a stray note if need be, but you can’t add emotion or performance after the fact.
- 12:00PM – Break for lunch. You don’t want to rush the lead vocals. Singers can benefit from taking a few 10 minute breaks in between every other song. They also may want to go back to the first song once they are a bit more warmed up. You never know. So allot most of the morning vocals.
- 1:00 – With lead vocals done it’s time to track harmonies and back up vocals. This can be relatively straightforward to be sure, but give yourself enough time to think of creative vocal ideas and rethink your curent ones. Great backup vocals and harmonies go a long way to making a great mix later on!
- 3:00 – Lay down any percussion tracks that might fill in some holes in the arrangement. You would be surprised just how much hand percussion is in modern productions. It goes a long way to creating a vibe and energy at different points in a song. Even a simple salt shaker can give a song that missing ingredient (no pun intended).
- 4:00 – Anything else you can think of. Are there any random sounds or parts that you wanted to try out if time allowed? This is your time. Anything goes.
- 5:00 (or after dinner) – Final listen through. Whenever you are officially done, it is wise to sit down as a band and listen through each song from start to finish and make sure the arrangement has no glaring holes or omissions. You might discover that one section just is a bit too repetitive and is in need of a last minute vocal descant or lead guitar riff. Mic it up and hit record. Now is as good a time as any!
And that is it my friends! It goes quick and you must stay focused, but if you follow this time table it is totally doable. Inevitably you will hit a snag where one instrument is taking longer than you would have liked, don’t panic. Just work quickly, commit to a sound and push through. You don’t want to over think things.
So What About You?
Are you going to record your band’s next EP over a weekend? You could! Why not make it a goal? Set some dates in your calendar, rehearse with the band like crazy, and have a game plan. You could very well come out of the experience with some of your best recorded tracks and you’ll be ready to edit and mix right away! What’s stopping you?!