There are many ways to approach a multi-track recording, a lot of them being quite effective.
The average session in Nashville would run like this:
The band, or at least the rhythm section, would record all at once with a guide vocal that is not intended to be the final lead vocal. Each musician would overdub and change his or her part. Then on to the next song.
So as you sing your "scratch" vocals, do the best you can and don't worry about mistakes. What you're trying to do here is merely help the rhythm section capture the feel, groove, mood and spirit of the song and your performance. For different reasons, Chet Atkins use to say that if you make a mistake, wait until that part comes back around again and play the exact same thing. If they want it changed, they'll tell you, if not . . .
At the end of this session, the tracks would be ready for lead vocals, any additional lead or rhythm instruments, background vocals, and mixing. This can take anywhere from two sessions a song, to as many as six or more sessions per song for master quality work.
What is the most important element of the session? Feel. Listen to hits, all the rules get broken eventually, but they all have a good "feel" to them.
The vocal performance is, perhaps, the second most important element of the recording. A great vocal can make a song. Harmonies are also important. Most hit records have well done harmonies.
Another extremely important element is the groove. The groove is the interplay of rhythms played by the drummer, bass player, and others that give the song its rhythmic character.
And, also important, is the lead instrument. It should advance the song and fit in with its character.
A good rule of thumb in recording is that if you can't hear every word in the lyrics, you're playing too much. If you can't hear all of the other instruments, you're playing too loud!
To get ready for your first session.
If you are singing, know your songs completely. Be able to sing them without mistakes, preferably "a capella" several times each day before the session date. Donít strain your voice. If youíre not used to singing, donít sing more than three or four songs total each day. Increase one song a day weekly. Start well ahead of your session.
If you are recording with members of your band, make sure youíve rehearsed well enough. The studio can be a more difficult place to play than the stage. Know your material as well as you can, youíll save time and money.
Get plenty of sleep the night before. Donít be hung-over, drunk or drugged. Under these conditions the only person you'll sound good to is yourself and eventually you'll be sober and find that "tape doesn't lie and there's no hype on tape".
Have a copy of the words ready no matter how well you know the song. It may be useful to the producer and the musicians as well. The lyrics tell of the character, the scene and the mood and you're looking for your musicians to capture this and bring it to life.
If possible, spend what is called: "pre-production" time with your producer. You will outline the way the session will run, and generally, save time at the session.
Make sure you have done your homework. Be sure youíve shopped well. By the day of the session, you should have listened to several demos and/or masters by the producer. You should have talked to some of their clients. You should know who the engineer is, you should know who the core rhythm section players are. Know how much your demo or recording will cost in total. Cheap demos arenít always bad; itís just more likely that they will be. Knowledge like this can help you reach a comfort zone, which in turn, will lead you to a better recording.
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