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Should you make decisions as you record, or keep your options open until later?

A post by David Mellor
Monday September 28, 2015
There are so many decisions to be made during the process of recording. Should you make them one at a time as you go along, or let them pile up so that you have a mass of decisions to make in the mix?
Should you make decisions as you record, or keep your options open until later?

The Universal Audio Twin Finity tube/transistor mic preamp combines a transistor preamp and a vacuum tube preamp into a single output. Blend the two preamps to taste.

As I remarked in a previous article, I think that it would be better to have two separate outputs that could be recorded onto separate tracks for later blending, thus keeping one's options open as recording progresses.

Devon Graves disagrees...

"Admittedly two outputs (as an option to a blended output) would be slick, but can you imagine the mix stage how things are going? Now two tracks of lead vocal, or maybe one with eq and compression and one without (times 2), guitar cab close mic, sm57, Royer R122 and maybe a condenser to capture the highs, a distant room mic, back cabinet mic,

"Or how about a Boogie for the bottom and a Marshall for the top end... a Vox AC 30 for midrange, How about a POD as well.,and don't forget the direct channel to re-amp later. Double that for stereo,.Bass DI, Amp RE20, D112 and an sm7 to choose from in the mix, Drums spot mics Overheads; Ribbons and small diaphragms condensers to choose from, room mics, ambient mics... Now lets Drummagog that.

"Did I forget anything? Oh, how about solid state and tube versions of all that? API for the snare, SSL for the toms and 1072s for the overheads. Choices are great but decisions are better. I say, limit your options as a rule."

Clearly, although options are good, too many options can be confusing. So let me expand...

I have heard many, many, many recordings of individual vocals and instruments, and their mixes. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the biggest potential problem area is the sound of the lead vocal. A clean lead vocal can be processed in any way you like later on, but it's bland and possibly less than inspiring to work with. A warm lead vocal through a mellow mic and preamp can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. But an overcooked lead vocal recording? I've heard far too many.

I know from what I've heard many times over that there is a zone where a vocal is warm and just warm enough. Once you go beyond that in a recording, it is difficult and usually impossible to clean up the sound.

So I would say that keeping your options open on the lead vocal is a fantastic thing to do. In fact, I might go so far as to say that double miking a lead vocal track with a clean mic and a clean preamp, as well as your preferred tube mic and maybe tube preamp, will bring ample rewards over time when the clean track can be used to cover moments of overly harsh tonal quality, as and when they occur.

Other options

Moving away from the Twin Finity there are other areas of recording where options are useful...

  • Double-miking the snare drum is the most classic example. One mic on the top, and another for the bottom to pick up the rattle of the snare wires (don't forget to flip the phase of the bottom mic). You could premix them, but it's more normal in these track-rich days to record the two mics separately.
  • Double miking the kick. Select and position one mic to get the click of the beater against the batter head; another to get the overall 'oomph' of the drum.
  • Re-amping an important guitar. Get the very best sound from the amp that you can, but record a DI as well so you have options for later.

For other instruments, it is probably better to make your decisions as you go. You don't really need options on the cowbell, for instance, although there might be some other instrument that is important in your track where you would like to keep some options for later rather than try and achieve everything in the heat of the session.

So in short, Devon's comment is exactly right. Too many options can be confusing. But I would say that there are some important areas where options are good to have.

A post by David Mellor
Monday September 28, 2015
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)