Fix It In The Mix

I was busy in the studio for most of the week-end. Saturday’s tracking was an interesting experience.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the session on Saturday. I was tracking two electric guitars. The players had little in the way of recording experience.

One player did a fantastic job and the other struggled. And, trying to track both at the same time was very ineffective. No surprise there. Unless you work with first call session players, you have a random chance of being productive in a studio session when doubling up on overdubs. The producer was wanting to get as much done in the time available. It did not happen. We went behind schedule.

For example, we spent almost an hour tracking 20 bars of one single arpeggiated guitar track. Very frustrating. And, I don’t think that guitar track will make it. There were timing issues and issues with tone.

So, overall, a negative impact on our productivity for the day. Between 9:00am and 3:00pm, we had only worked through two songs. The second player was simply not ready to record.

A remarkable contrast all the same. One player was highly talented, prepared and had obviously worked on getting the best sound out of his instrument. The second player was an intermediate talent. He was not prepared and his instrument and amplifier setup delivered poor tone. In my view, part of the issue was also in his hands. He did not seem capable of making the instrument sing.

I bet you can guess which takes sounded better. Capturing a great sound always starts with the player.

I did the best I could with the tracks from the second player and I prepared a dub yesterday. It will be a tough call for this group. I have seen this happen many, many times over. A player might seem okay in a live setting. A recording session quickly uncovers a lot of fundamental issues around tone and technique. And, quite frankly, tone and technique are vital to the overall calibre of musicianship.

I have been asked about how I compensate for sloppy technique when recording guitar. And, for a commercial quality release, the answer is obvious: I don’t. The appropriate counsel is to find someone who can play the part. I have threaded the needle with developing players before and I wind up taking several hours to hobble something together that a good player could lay down in a few minutes. The hobbled part never really sounds good. True, you can process the heck out of a track and try to bury it in the mix. But, like any well crafted work of art, quality is found in the details.

5 replies
  1. Rob
    Rob says:

    Richard, as I previously suspected and commented in your lead artilce about this subject….

    “…Most of them (the components of a successful recording session) are contollable – amp choice, string quality and condition, the condition of electronics however the gremlin that continues to surface is that of ”™sloppy technique’…”

    Despite your detail planning, set up – to produce commercial quality output you need commercial quality input!

    Great overview of the session – and sage advice to those planning to record others – ensure they confront the controllable and hope they have the ability. Rob

  2. richard cleaver
    richard cleaver says:

    Hey Rob,

    I remember a session that I played at when I was relatively young (about 20 years old). The part was literally a 2-bar riff that needed to be played in unison with a flute. And, for whatever reason, it took over 8 hours before the producer would sign off on the take. Sometimes, it is not just the player and the gear.

    In this case, though, performance did rely heavily on ability. A learning experience for the player.

    I am really excited with the project overall. Great songs, and I expect a great result at the end of it all.

  3. richard cleaver
    richard cleaver says:

    Tommy Tedesco. There is a name I haven’t seen in a while. I used to read his columns all the time in Guitar Player magazine.

    I did a lot of session work in my twenties. And, I quickly learned that to be called back meant that I had to be good and fast. All the time.

    Good sight reading, wide range of playing styles, a lot of variety in sound and the ability to nail a track were all important factors back then and hold just as true today.

    Tommy was one of the best.

  4. Rob
    Rob says:

    Tommy was also Larry Carlton’s teacher and mentor – his prodigy obviously does quite well himself as both a solo artist and when called in for session work – last count was the thousands. I have a great Tommy Tedesco publication all about doing sessions and the importance of what you speak – being reliable, versatile and possessing great chops, addressing all musical styles. The gear Tommy took to sessions was unbelievable – imagine nowadays always taking a bouzouki, just in case! That’s Tommy!


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