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Tune first - backing later

Will Fly 09 Aug 16 - 05:31 AM
Pete from seven stars link 09 Aug 16 - 05:59 AM
Will Fly 09 Aug 16 - 06:15 AM
Will Fly 09 Aug 16 - 06:17 AM
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Subject: Tune first - backing later
From: Will Fly
Date: 09 Aug 16 - 05:31 AM

I write a regular monthly blog on my website ( - really a series of hints and tips and ideas about playing and recording. Having just read the thread on home recording which has surfaced recently on Mudcat, I thought I'd add some thoughts on one aspect of multi-tracking - order of tracks - from my July piece:

"When I started doing multi-tracked home recording - many years ago now - the laying down of a backing track was always the first consideration, and the recording of the main tune, song, etc., was a secondary feature. Not always the last thing to be done, but certainly not the first. When doing a complex arrangement with a drum or percussion track, then it's almost inevitable that this track will be the ground work for the rest of the mix. And in the early years, when I was experimenting with fairly complex layers of sound using a Korg N1 synthesiser, I stuck to this pattern of work.

In later years, particularly when creating just a simple two-part arrangement such as a mandolin or tenor guitar lead with a guitar backing, I started to reverse the process. In other words, I recorded the lead tune first, and then applied a backing track. What was the reasoning behind this decision, and what are the implications for the recording process?

When we play a duet with another musician in a lead+backing mode, for example, the more important voice will probably be the lead instrument. As such, the pace, tempo, rhythm, etc. of the whole piece will revolve around the lead, and the accompanying instrument will follow and complement it, and provide a setting for it. If the backing track is laid down first, unless the arrangement is extremely well thought out throughout, there may be little opportunity for variations and nuances here and there in the playing of the tune. Conversely, if the lead track is played first, with no backing, then the player has complete freedom to play at a tempo, rhythm and volume, and with variations, as he or she chooses. The person playing the subsequent accompanying track - in my case, the same person (!) - is then in the position of responding to, and meshing in with the lead. I found, over time, that the whole production seemed to sound more natural with a lead/backing combination than a backing/lead combination, because it seemed to me to mirror the dynamic of a real duo playing together. So I do this now whenever I can.

As far as the recording process is concerned, it is essential that the lead part is played as far as possible at a constant speed and with a consistent rhythm and pace. Long notes should get their full value, for example - rather than being cut off slightly short - and an internal metronome is a useful thing to cultivate. This doesn't mean that nuances of interpretation can't be indulged in here and there - far from it - but planned changes in tempo and rhythm are not the same thing as mistakes! In short, it takes a little practice for the lead and backing to sound 'of a piece' when recorded in this manner - but I believe it's worth it."

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Subject: RE: Tune first - backing later
From: Pete from seven stars link
Date: 09 Aug 16 - 05:59 AM

Internal metronome !. That's the ideal. Mine tends to drift and I can't get on with playing to a metronome unless it's uniform strums on guitar. I usually resort to laying down a very simple drum track, and redo it after the voice and guitar are done. I was reasonably pleased with how my cd turned out, but I am only amateur.

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Subject: RE: Tune first - backing later
From: Will Fly
Date: 09 Aug 16 - 06:15 AM

I also used to use a click track now and then - but the same problem arose of the tune rhythm and feel being slightly constrained. It doesn't matter so much, if you're playing a fairly regular rock'n roll piece or similar music, but when you want to slow ever so slightly here and there (perhaps), or pause to give some depth or reflection to the piece, a strict click/drum track just doesn't allow you to do it.

The alternative, of course, is to lay down a fairly full drum, bass and rhythm track - then play the tune over the top while allowing yourself the freedom to delay and advance the tune over the track as you feel fit. A classic example (to me) of a delay in the tune is the Everly Brothers recording of "Bye Bye Love". They lay the melody right back against the the backing - ever so slightly behind in emphasis - which gives it a great, relaxed feel.

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Subject: RE: Tune first - backing later
From: Will Fly
Date: 09 Aug 16 - 06:17 AM

Whoops - my mistake - not "Bye Bye Love" but "Walk Right Back".

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