Focusing on the Purpose of Your Track
“For me, interesting music has a lot of counterpoint,” he said, “so I’ve always been very adamant that the other musicians don’t play what I’m playing. Particularly in a trio setting, having three different parts interlocking makes for a much bigger, and more interesting sound.”
Bingo! Duh! News flash!
Summers wasn’t necessarily discussing recording, but his comment definitely offers the promise of a solution for anyone disappointed in the, ahem, less-than-mammoth stature of their recorded works in general, and their guitar tracks in particular. Too often, we shrink the impact of our mixes by piling on overdubs, effects, and textures. The temptation of the “more is better” approach can be great, but if “more” means more things doing relatively the same things, or more elements enhancing similar frequency ranges, then all the layers you’re adding may just be creating something more worse.
In these instances, the guiding premise of Mr. Summers’ strategy is brilliantly simple: Do not record anything that apes, mimics, clones, or mirrors a part that already exists in your mix. By devising different, rather than similar and supportive elements, you just might churn out guitar tracks that sound as big as all Montana.
Obviously, this theorem doesn’t work for all styles — ’70s-style punk comes to mind — but, purely as an experiment that might lead you to new discoveries about arrangement, engineering, and production, let’s approach Andy’s mandate in three easy steps.
STEP ONE: SET THE STAGE
Do you ever ask yourself exactly what your track is trying to achieve? Is it sad, happy, full of bravado, aggressive, sensual, bombastic, or light? It’s good to know, because focusing on the end result can help lead you to decisions about appropriate tones, signal processing, and the placement of elements in the final mix. When I do recording seminars, I often find that musicians tend to develop a gaggle of cool tracks, and then try to fit everything together.
This is not a Summers-approved tactic. Summers and his Police mates work extremely hard to craft parts that enhance the meaning of the song. In this experiment, start by limiting yourself to the minimum number of parts required to effectively deliver your message. I recommend tipping your hat to the Police by using drums, bass, a couple of guitar parts, a lead vocal, and a few background vocals.
STEP TWO: FIND YOUR PLACE
Drums, bass, and guitar fill up a ton of sonic space, and the punch factor is going to be more intense if those instruments aren’t fighting each other for breathing room. Think about making space, rather than filling it. First, employ the Summers Mandate by ensuring your drum and bass parts — and tones — aren’t colliding with each other. Have the bass play off the drums, and don’t EQ the kick drum and bass to sit in the same frequency range.
Work with the guitar the same way. Look for a rhythm part that drops into the holes, and watch your tone. Don’t dial in low mids that obscure th...
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