Recording your first demo can be an overwhelming experience. You have probably practiced and mastered your guitars for hours, weeks, months. You have probably rented the studio for a couple of hours and are eager to start recording. Your songs are all ready. All you need to create that epic demo is to play, but the sound is different here and the song is not hitting as hard as it should. You have most likely fallen into one of the most common guitar recording mistakes that most players make.
The recording process can be a brutal art that requires a healthy mix of technical skills, talent and production experience. While learning from your mistakes is always a good thing, it shouldn’t be as expensive as the rent for the recording studio. It’s a fact that mixing a well-recorded tracking session can take up to a day to get to commercial level quality, whereas that number almost triples for poorly recorded sessions. In this article, we have compiled together a list of the most common guitar recording mistakes.
1. Power of Tuning
It may seem glaringly evident, but one can never underestimate the value of tuning. Also, accepting that every single sound issue can rapidly and effectively be “fixed” later, because of the advancements in recording studio technology, is probably the greatest misstep a novice can make. And quite frankly you are not doing your producer any favor by showing up and playing an instrument that hasn’t been tuned in 3 months. Now we have had some experience with players that show a bit more passion while playing the guitar i.e. squeezing the guitar strings a bit too hard which causes the tuning to go a bit haywire. We would recommend following the Boy Scout’s Motto – ‘Be Prepared’.
2. Preparing a Guide Track
One of the most common guitar recording mistakes made by new players is not utilizing a demo track, or more commonly, a guide track. A guide track helps provide a path for the sound engineers and musicians to follow and understand the direction the session will be heading in. If you can invest some time preparing and putting together a great guide track, the whole session becomes more organized and fun. This can also help cut down studio costs for newer artists.
Essentials of the Demo/Guide Track:
- A demo of the instrumental tune
- A demo of the vocals
- Mapping the song structure
- A click track that matches the tempo
- All of this can be included in a demo file that can be pulled up on a DAW
As we mentioned earlier, being prepared can really help a novice musician. Being able to avoid chaos allows you to deliver a focused and relaxed performance.
3. Recording Too Many Takes
As you get more comfortable in a studio behind the Mic, your performance starts getting better and better. Depending on the music you play, your relaxed mind can help evolve your music into something your future audience can connect to. As novice guitarists record more takes and re-record their music, there’s a point in which additional recordings provide diminishing returns.
One of the primary reasons for the multiple takes is the tiny differences between the different recordings created to get a take that’s better than the last. Unfortunately, most young musicians don’t account for the decision fatigue that comes with selecting the perfect take for 20-30 similar-sounding takes. Rather than allowing for options, the overload of different takes can cause you to lose perspective.
We recommend to keep recording until you feel the groove of the music and then do just one more. This allows you to pick the version that you are most pleased with. If you feel that both takes have no significant differences, it’s time to take a break and come back to the session with fresh ears.
4. Picking the Right Microphone at the Right Distance
Picking the right microphone may be the next most crucial thing. Microphones fit for recording can be divided into three main categories, each with their unique flavor and personality.
- Condenser Mics – these microphones are some of the priciest options in the market and can be more complex than the other two options. Condenser mics are perfect for vocals, acoustic guitars, and pianos. They do a great job of fully capturing the frequency of an instrument.
- Dynamic Ribbon Mics – these microphones contain ribbon elements that are thinner than human hairs. They are perfect for recording guitar amps and recording hand percussions.
- Dynamic Moving Coils Mics – These microphones are great at absorbing sound pressure. This makes them perfect to be placed near drums and guitar amps.
Placing the Microphone
One of the most common places people place the microphone on an acoustic guitar is near the soundhole. This area of the guitar is where the lower frequency tends to build up and it can be difficult to mix later on. The phenomenon is called proximity effect.
Learn how to utilize what you have, explore different positions and angles for the microphone, and find a way to change your distance for a superior sound. These core principles can improve your tracking sessions drastically.
5. Avoid Leakages
These days, many bands try really hard to capture the sound, energy, and sync of live music. However, under most circumstances, each instrument is recorded separately and played on top of each other during the tracking session. Afterwards, they are mixed to improve the sound quality.
In the case of a ‘live’ performance, the entire band performs together in the same room with multiple mics all facing and positioned in an optimized way to capture all of the sounds. The reason why this setup works great is that it allows bands to experiment and riff off each other. They get to finetune adjustments and have fun with the nerve-wracking process. One of the biggest problems that come with this particular performance is the inherent problem with leakage. For instance, leakage will happen if there is nothing blocking the sound of a guitar amp being picked up by an overhead mic near the drums. One way to combat the problem has been using a go-between barrier that can help isolate the more powerful and louder instruments.
As you can see, the tips in this article are focused on those tiny details. These little errors can really affect the quality of the recording session. To create an amazing soundtrack and make the mixing process more organic, you need to absolutely make sure that you are able to record the best possible source.
For additional recording tips, read our article ‘Common Vocal Recording Mistakes‘.