In a world where bling is king, amassingmore stuff than your neighbor is the surest path to celebrity. But domore tracks ensure more-betterrecordings? Layering sounds is atime-honored technique in the studio,and scores of popular albums arestuffed to near bursting with stacksupon stacks of MIDI and audio tracks.The technique is so established, infact, that many recording peepswouldn't even consider something asmad-crazy as releasing a track populated with just a single guitar, keyboard,or vocal.
And yet, have you ever askedyourself whether an audio productionreally needs the equivalent of 13 diamondrings crammed onto ten stubby fingers? Are the gaudy gold baublespurchased at a mall jewelry shop obscuring the elegant and beautifulglow of a bona fide Tiffany design?
Metaphors aside, the test here iswhether you’re actually thinking about your sonic spectrum, or automatically defaulting to methodologies you read about in magazines such asthis one. Overdubs, sweetening elements,textures, layers, doubles,counterpoint lines, and so on canabsolutely add interest and vibe to arecording. But that doesn’t mean these tasty morsels of aural candy arerequired ingredients of any musicalproduction. Heck, that approach is notmuch different than believing the sentialrock-guitar sound is always a LesPaul through a cranked-up Marshall.
A curious engineer/producershould constantly seek to discoverwhich performances, tones, andarrangements bring a song to life. Inthis creative arena, there is no “default.”What worked on one song, might notbe the best initiative to foist on another. And avoiding safe, conventionalpractices should not be a process limitedto musical parts. It should alsoinform mic selection, mic placement,signal processing, and every otheraspect of life in the home studio.
After I finished basic tracks on arecent studio project, the band’s talentedand inventive guitarist was desperateto over dub counterpoint linesand noises under a rhythm riff thatabsolutely ruled all by itself. The tonewas fat and sassy, the part was memorableand propulsive, and the overallgroove was Led Zeppelin good. Sowhy did this artist feel the part neededso much more support? Well, Iasked him. And he had no answer. Nooverdubs were tracked. Happy ending.
The “takeaway” on this point isthat I was around to ask the critical question and demand a reasonable answer. It’s obvious the artist wouldnot have forced such a conceptual confrontation on his own—he was tooabsorbed in the idea of laying downtextures. As a result, there was zero consideration of whether those over dubswould truly pump up the impactof the track, or serve to needlesslyobscure the kick-ass lick that wasalready front-and-center.
Of course, enforcing productivedebate is one of the producer’s jobs,and it’s easier when the producer is anoutside party who is solely evaluatingthe quality of the recording. But if youare the decision maker, then you haveto train yourself to ask and answer anycritica...