Now that I’m about to embark on a new, full-ledged solo album, I am faced with many of the usual decisions that one has to make. The way in which we record really ahs so much to do with the final outcome that it really must be paid very close attention to. For example, if you are a lead guitarist, such as I am, it’s important to go for the most spontaneous and “real” performances as possible. You can certainly just cut rhythm tracks and then overdub the leads over them later; always a popular option, but if you want the most out of your other “players” on the tracks, such as the bassist and drummer, you should plan to have them record to your lead playing or singing, at least as a “reference”. This will bring the best out of them, and they will give you the most supportive backing possible. So, if done in this manner, the track will have the proper emotional content you’ll need to play over at a later time, OR in fact, you may really have the take you want from your lead or vocal on the reference itself!
This is a very important option, as I’ve said before, since the first take, or spontaneous approach really often times, yields something that is intangibly magic, and may be just what you’re really needing!
If you are playing the lead as a reference for the entire band, you better make sure the amp is completely isolated, so as not to have any “bleeding” of the guitar part into the other mics. In the same way, if you’re playing an acoustic, or singing, you must be isolated so the rest of the band is not being bled into the mic you happen to be using! If you’re singing, you may just get a little “headphone leakage,” especially if you like to take off one earphone as many singers do. I know that I made a slight mistake with this “leakage” problem with my lead guitar on the “Toolin’ Around Woodstock” project I just did with Levon Helm, since I was so excited to be cutting the tracks with everyone, they had my amp in the open room of Levon’s barn studio, all live with everyone else! They put goboes around my amp to isolate it, but at the levels I was cranking those notes out, it was still creating a fairly large amount of leakage! What this resulted in was a fairly unfortunate situation of having to deal with “ghost” notes that were there in Levon’s drum microphones, or the upright bass, which were also in the big, open room.
You can only isolate instruments from each other so much, and after all, we were also going for that very “live” big-room kind of sound, as opposed to the close-mic’d very dry “studio” sound. I t all really depends on what you’re after, but I feel that it’s important to get the drums as “big” as possible, with as little leakage into the drum’s mics as possible. If you’re playing a lead guitar reference part or a reference lead vocal, make sure you give it your all, since you never know…the “magic” may be right there from the “get-go”, and you surely don’t want to miss that opportunity! If you want to step back from the music a bit, and later get the best performances possible, you can always overdub in such a way that you don’t have any accidental “ghost notes” making your job even harder! Best of luck to you, and wish me luck too!