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Description of the overdubbing process in the recording studio.


When the tension of recording the backing track is over, the overdubbing stage is where the creative ideas flow thick and fast. (In a MIDI-originated recording, I would probably say that when the tedium of dumping the backing tracks to tape is over…). Being creative is fun, fun, fun - as long as the ideas keep coming. It's when the ideas stop flowing that everyone turns to the producer. It's no good calling yourself the leader of the gang and then turning to someone else to ask, "What shall we do now?". Usually, overdubs get off to a good start and things seem to be going well. That's because you and the musicians are using up the stockpile of ideas that has been built up during pre-production and the early part of the recording process. There will come a point however when it is obvious that the recording needs something, but no-one knows quite what that something is. Often it is very difficult to be creative when you know the clock is ticking and you are effectively flushing fifty pound notes down the toilet, but there are strategies you can use to allow the collective creativity of you and the band to shine through. Here are a few ideas:

  • If you have recorded all the backing tracks for the album before starting on the overdubs, then you can skip backwards and forwards according to which song you most feel like working on. If you run out of ideas on one, change over to another one.
  • Equip the band members with cheap cassette multitrackers (they probably have them already) and give them copies of the work in progress. Send them away to work on their ideas instead of hanging around the studio's pool table.
  • Equip the band with multitrackers before any recording starts and let them work with copies of the rough demos. Tell them that you want as many musical ideas as you can get - the crazier the better. You can pick and choose later.
  • Unless you think there might be a clash of egos, let the musicians swap instruments where possible. The guitarist might bash out a simple idea on the keyboard that the keyboard player himself might not have thought of.
  • Encourage an attitude of being receptive to trying things out. It is common for people to jump on an idea and say that it won't work without giving it more than a few seconds consideration. This hardly encourages creativity. Have 'brainstorming' sessions where all you do is think of ideas, and no-one criticises them until later.

You may of course have the opposite problem, where there are too many ideas and you need to refine them down into something that is simple, but exactly right for the song. This is very much more difficult than it sounds, but if you listen closely to successful records you will realise that they are often very simply constructed. Don't underestimate how difficult it is to achieve that simplicity. A successful producer is someone who can encourage the generation of many ideas, and then discard the vast majority of them leaving only the ones that will blend together to create the perfect sound.

By David Mellor Tuesday February 1, 2000

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