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In a rock band situation, I have drums, bass, keyboard, guitar and a vocalist. My plan is to track each instrument separately instead of a live performance style recording.

Which instrument is easiest to start with?

Do you use a metronome every time when doing this? I found it's hard to guess where the beat is going to fall if you track the first instrument without a metronome and try to record other instruments on top of it... and I'm kind of a perfectionist. I hate the sound of the crash and kick being out of time with the guitar stab etc.

EDIT

Sorry I didn't mention this, I am the guitarist, bassist, drummer, pianist and vocalist, otherwise I would track all at once...

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    I'm going to migrate this over to Music.SE - I think there is a good set of answers, but it may be on the edge of opinion based. – Doktor Mayhem Feb 25 '17 at 10:06
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That extra info makes it make sense! It will depend on your recording equipment to some extent, but I always put the drums down first. As a guide track to rhythm. With or without click - I think music sounds best without the relentless spot on tempo, unless there's an absolute need for that.

With a lot of recorders, drum breaks can be edited in later. Then bass, and any other rhythm section, such as rhythm guitar and piano, if it's doing the accompaniment. Then vox, as you'll need that prominent, so that any guitar/piano fills put in later don't go over the main vocals.

Effects for gtr, etc can be put on when the instrument is played, but leave reverb until after it's all been mixed down, unless you only want that on vox. Going back to recording equipment, there really need to be several spare tracks for other takes by the instruments, which can be bounced about when you're getting close to final mix.

  • Great answer! I think you're right about not soloing before the vocals. I've hard to redo songs entirely because I didn't know the structure entirely before hand :( – Kolob Canyon Feb 25 '17 at 16:54
  • "Spare tracks for other takes"? Depending on the software, it's usually more powerful to use the built-in take system for grouping, editing, and comping on the same tracks. – Todd Wilcox Feb 25 '17 at 18:32
  • @ToddWilcox - in fairness I haven't a clue what recording facilities the OP has access to... I still use real time stuff. – Tim Feb 25 '17 at 20:31
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This type of recording typically starts with a click track. If the drums are used instead, he will doubtless shout or play a 'count in' so that subsequent players know where to start.

There are some reasons to record in this way. There are lots of reasons not to. Do me a favour? After coaching all the players into playing their part seperately and recording the individual tracks - that is, when everyone is well practiced at playing the song - try a couple of 'all together' takes.

Make sure you're recording seperately for good technical reasons, not because the band is ill-prepared and CAN'T play their parts correctly all together! (OK, sometimes the job is what the job is. Polish the turd if you must. But it's still a turd.)

  • Maybe should have mentioned that I am the guitarist drummer bassist and vocalist... otherwise I would track all at once :) – Kolob Canyon Feb 25 '17 at 16:22
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Just to add to, and agree with, Laurence and Todd's good answers, my recommendation would be to have everyone play the song through together, but achieve the track separation by careful mic placement, acoustic screens, etc. Then you can add additional parts - guitar solos, harmony vox etc - as required. If you are trying to get everyone to do their parts completely independantly then IMO you are creating unnecessary problems for yourselves.

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Aside from our live recordings, we always record all parts separately:

a click track is used to ensure the drummer is exactly on time then:

  • Drums are recorded first
  • Synths
  • Bass
  • Rhythm Guitars
  • Vocals
  • Lead Guitars
  • Backing Vocals

Of course we may go back later and redo a particular part, but that's the basic process. It means we can record in any location - eg I can do my guitar parts while in a different country if needed. So rather than have to fit in with location dependencies, we can just record quickly.

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I am a songwriter and use a multi track recorder to make demos of my original songs in my home studio. I track each instrument separately because (like you) I am the only musician. However I use programmed drum samples for the drums because I am not a drummer.

The first thing I do is decide the tempo and then select a drum sample that fits the time of the song (4 - 4 or 3 - 4 etc) and provides the right groove or feel. To do that I sing along with the drum track to see how it matches the feel of the song.

Then I use that drum track as a click track. I find that a drum track provides a better groove to play guitar to than a stale click track. The initial drum track selected is just for timing purposes and I might edit it or use a different track altogether on the final mix.

Once I have a beat to play to, I play the rhythm guitar part while listening to the beat - and record that to a separate track. I need to be able to hear the pitch when I sing the vocals so I need some music in the mix to keep me in key when I sing the vocals. The guitar chords provide me with that musical reference I need to keep the vocals on pitch.

The next step is vocals. I like to put the vocals in as soon as possible because that establishes the melody. I don't want to play the melody on an instrument because then I have to try to sing each note the way I played it so I prefer establishing the melody with vocals first so I can concentrate on good singing instead of focusing on remembering which exact note comes next.

I sing and record the lead vocals while monitoring the drums and rhythm guitar with headphones. If I want harmony vocals I can add them on a separate track.

Now I have a beat, rhythm guitar as accompaniment music, and the vocals to establish the melody. So then I can add bass guitar which further establishes the rhythmic feel of the song and then lead guitar which may occur during a solo "break" in the song.

If I had a live drummer, I would then go back and add live drums on a new track. To be sure the drummer is in sync with the beat the other tracks were recorded to - I would "click him/her in" by allowing the drum track to play for the first few measures. Once the drummer was in sync with the rest of the music the drum track could drop out so the drummer could react to the other instruments and vocals and overall vibe of the song without being influenced by the canned track that was used to establish a common tempo for all the tracks.

A good drummer can actually follow the other musicians even when they speed up the tempo gradually and accidentally as the song progresses which happens in a live setting sometimes. But since in a studio environment you recorded everything to an exact tempo established by the "click track" or drum track, the drummer will not have to worry about adjusting the tempo mid song.

But since the live drum might be just a little off, the end result will sound more natural and more realistic than a programmed drum track that stays exactly perfect and sounds artificial.

This is what works for me and I've explained the logic behind using the order that I use. I suggest you try it and see if it works for you. But if you find that something else works better for you - there are no absolute rules. But having a "click track" (or drum track as a substitute) to record each track to makes it much easier to keep all parts in sync.

Good luck and have fun with your music.

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Personally, I tend to start with one take with the instrument I feel "drives" the song the most (for me this is usually the piano), without a click track. I then go into my DAW and find out what the tempo was - for some tracks it's just picking a single tempo, but for more acoustic stuff I might actually create a tempo envelope that roughly fits what I did, in order to keep the ebb and flow of the music.

I then delete that take, set up a click track that follows the discovered tempo, and work against that. Which instruments go first from then on depends on the music, but I will sometimes pull the same "placeholder" trick again (e.g. do a joint piano/voice combo take against the click track, then add drums, then remove the piano/voice and re-record separately).

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Edit:

The fact that you are playing all of the instruments is pretty critical to this question, so obviously my answer makes a lot less sense in that light. If I were doing that, I would definitely use a click track and I would track the drums first, but only you can know which instrument(s) you are playing have the best connection to the groove that you want for the song.

By that I mean that if there's an important rhythmic component in the bass track that doesn't come out so much in the drum track (for example), then you might want to track the bass first to get that groove down and then follow the bass track with the drums. So there's still not one answer to the question.


There's no one answer to this. If you're a perfectionist then you need crackerjack musicians with impeccable timing. The order you track in has no effect on the quality of the musicians.

If you want the best feel and timing, then you should completely give up on tracking separately. I have no idea why one would want to track separately because the advantages of tracking together are so amazing.

Perhaps your best option is a hybrid solution. Pick the instrument you want to track first, and when you run it down, have the other musicians playing along at the same time. Use your best mics on the instrument you're recording but grab scratch tracks for the other instruments. Keep making takes until you get the best performance of the first instrument.

Then do overdubs of higher quality recordings of each other instrument. First focus on replacing the scratch track, then add any other layers you want.

Be open to keeping any excellent takes of a scratch tracks. A quality performance always trumps sound quality. It's about emotion, not technical perfection, so when the vibe is there, keep it.

Most musicians follow the drummer so often the drums are laid down first with scratch tracks for the rest. Depending on the drummer and the music, you may or may not want a click track the drummer records with.

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