The “Live” Technique

If your band has been playing live for a while and everybody knows the songs pretty well, this is perhaps the best option for you. It will work if you’re not looking into making fifty plus tracks for each song.

You rent a recording studio for a weekend, one that has a live room. (Not all recording studios have them). You arrive early on Friday evening. The first thing you do is set up all your equipment in the live room. This is a large room, about the size of a stage, where you play your songs as though you were on stage – except for the drummer who is normally in a soundproof booth. (Don’t drummers belong in a cage anyway?)

This is where it starts to become a drag. The next morning, you wake up around seven. (Yes, that’s A.M., not P.M., and it’s Saturday.) This is not the time to start boozing or pulling on a joint; you have a long, hard day ahead of you. Since you’re all set up, the sound check has been done the night before. You start playing. You play each song you want on the album five times (You don’t play a set five times; you play one song five times, then the next, etc.)

These are, of course, complete takes. If in the middle of the fourth take you had to stop because the bass player fell down, you have to start that take all over. These takes have to be as near perfection as possible. Remember that, for a ten-song album, you’ll be playing fifty songs, around five hours. You do take breaks, but not long ones; there’s no time!

Once this is done, you listen to each take and select the best one. What are the criteria? Make up your own. Are you looking for musical perfection or for that particular feel? Perhaps halfway between both? It’s up to you. The soundman will recommend his own ideas. Listen to him; he’s a neutral player. He might not even like your music, but he’ll have heard it and have a pretty good idea of what sounds best.

Now that you’ve selected the takes you’re keeping, you have to go over them again. Listen for and find the mistakes. Note them. (There are bound to be a few. It’s only normal.) Also, see where you need to add more tracks. If you’re the only guitarist in the band, it’s rather difficult to play lead and rhythm at the same time. Live, a combination of both will work, but not for someone who’s listening at home.

Finally, now that you’ve been up for almost twenty-four hours, go to sleep. But not for long. The clock is still ticking. Sunday morning, you start dubbing the new tracks and punching. Punching means recording a new sound over an existing one.

For example, suppose that in the first measure of the third verse, you played your first chord half a beat too late. You don’t have to record the whole track over. The soundman will select and isolate only the spot where the error is. In this case he may isolate the first two beats of that measure. Then he’ll rewind the tape to, say, the middle of the previous chorus. You start playing right away and through the mistake. The recorder will record only those two beats. So if you hear a producer say that you’ll have to punch, don’t start making fists. He’s talking about this recording process.

On Sunday afternoon, while you’re collapsing from fatigue, the engineer will mix everything together. Sunday night, after you’ve paid for everything, he’ll hand over to you the tape of your completed album.

This is a cost-effective (read cheap) way of doing an album and works very well if your band has very little studio experience and a lot of live experience.

I don’t recommend this process for a solo artist or for a band that’s not very tight. You might be concerned about the final quality. But it’s possible that several bands whose records you may have at home have used this process without you noticing. As an example, Moist’s first album was done this way. And it sounds great anyway.