I want to record a song, and I have no clue which is the better choice:

  1. Recording of each instrument/vocal separately (by several band members) or
  2. all together in one room, well separated, and do the recording together.

Some say the second one is better because of groove and communication. Others say the first is a better choice, because you are all at the same timing on the time/beat.

What could be the best way for 2 guitars, 1 bass, 1 drumset/cajon and vocals?

I have tried this both ways that you suggest. Here's what I found:

  • With a band, all playing together means the 'guts' of the song usually comes across better. We play rock and groovy pop + indie, so a performance with some mojo (intangible and yet so important) is really what we're after. This works best as a band.

  • Recording things individually can work but is more time-consuming: If you have 1 x track for each instrument (drums = 1 instrument although it might be over several tracks), then the time taken to record, say, a 4 minoute song is 4 x 5 instruments (in your case) + any time for vocals. This becomes significant if you're recording a whole album.

  • If recording vocals live in the studio while playing, it's quite difficult, even impossible to get good separation from the instruments, especially for the drummer. you end up with bass and drum bleeding all over the vocal mics.

  • While recording my own stuff, so it's just me as a musician, obviously I have to play everything individually. It's GREAT for experimenting because you can just wipe a track and try again, without anyone else having to wait about or play the sng with you again. However I've found it's a bit harder to get the 'glue' that makes a great sounding rock band.

  • If recording everything individually, remember that someone has to go "first".. drums, I guess? Then the bass, but they have to imagine the rest of the band with them because it hasn't happened yet. For both of these instruments, it's a tough call to get an emotive performance from such an empty space. (Edit: To get around this, you could record a 'pilot track' just for a guide, which doesn't make it into the final mix- although I think that might be confusing and is yet more recording. It'd be better than nothing though. Thanks for the comment, Richard Mtzler)

With my band, we've found the best combination is to record the 'backline' (drums bass guitars) all in one go (but of course on separate tracks), then add the vocals later so that you get good separation and of course you get several chances at a good take. I'd suggest this as a way forward for a band scenario.

I've referred to that 'intangible Mojo' and 'guts' when playing (effectively) live: It's hard to define this as it may be change in different scenarios, but there's an element of live interaction that happens when musicicans play together and can communicate visually, or react quickly to hearing whatever else is going on.

It's related, I think, to the timing of the drums and bass (a human charactarestic which might not go out of time with a metronome, but might subconciously accentuate parts of the music)- or if you're not using a metronome, the tempo may change which adds to the tension of a tune. If this sounds odd, have a listen to Brown Sugar by the Stones and clock the tempo change after the intro- also Honky Tonk Women, and Common People by Pulp. Doens't harm the song, in fact it adds to it - that's definitely some humans in a room getting excitable about what they're playing :-)

There's also the sneaky licks and tweaks that might be added at whim while playing together, but when recording just that single instrument, perhaps the inspiraiton to do this isn't there, or is different.

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    'Intangible mojo' = 'in the pocket'? – Tim Oct 22 at 10:55
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    As for the problem who goes first, it's not unheard of to do a "pilot track" with all instruments playing live together (with a click for the drummer if you want), and then record the individual instruments (starting with drums). The pilot is not used in the final mix, but it gives everyone an idea of the context as they play their lines. – Richard Metzler Oct 22 at 11:24
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    With my band, we've found the best combination is to record the 'backline' (drums bass guitars) all in one go (but of course on separate tracks), then add the vocals later - Definitely this. Of course, it's often not just vocals that are overdubbed later - guitar solos, double tracking, acoustic instruments, etc. I mainly focus on getting a good drum take with the whole band playing together, and then you can always overdub/punch in guitar and bass parts to get a better groove with the "live" takes used as a guide track. – Todd Wilcox Oct 22 at 14:15
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    @Tim not Todd obviously, but what I've done is baffle the drums as much as possible, and just accept some bleed. Also measure the distances between mics and all other sources and use multiples (as much as possible, which isn't always everything) to minimize phasing. – Aethenosity Oct 22 at 15:38
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    @Tim A few options: 1) You don't - a little bleed isn't that bad. 2) Put each instrument in a separate room. 3) DI the guitars and bass and use headphones. I have used 3) many times in the past with the plan to overdub the scratch tracks after getting a good drum take and it really helps to get the right groove for the drums, and sometimes a "scratch" guitar or bass take is so good you keep it and maybe re-amp it later. – Todd Wilcox Oct 22 at 15:39

Well-experienced players will record separately with only the headphones to hear the previously recorded tracks, newcomers will often find it difficult, timing wise. Same playing to a click track.

All playing together will keep things together, especially when eye contact is easy, certainly better than each being in a separate booth.

It will also be very dependant as to how the recording is done. Using mics will tend to have instrument sounds bleed into each other, which creates problems when mistakes are made, so DI would be a better way to go, where each instrument has its own discrete track. Difficult with drums, though... And how to do the vocals? Everything else played by everyone else will be picked up through the vox mics. Better to lay down all instruments first, then, using cans, record vocals separately.

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