I hate tracking, and I think if I never had to do it again I wouldn’t complain. In CLA’s exact words… I hated it, it was brutal and punishing to sit and have to mash the record button 50 million times (or something like that). I don’t mind sitting behind the piano or the B3 in someone else’s studio, but the opposite side of the glass is the last place I want to be. I also don’t even like the idea of being an M.E. I’m glad there are other people out there who love to do that work, because if I had to in order to make money, I’d probably go get another job. I don’t mind doing implementation work which many others wouldn’t want to (probably…I assume). I guess what I love about mixing is that I get to complete someone else painting without having to go through the insane task of planning it and starting it. The oil is already on the canvas. All I have to do is make it look better
I think part of it is psychology and talents. Of course, the repetition and boredom could become a factor over time too. I’d liken it to comparing a field researcher collecting biological samples, and then handing them off to the laboratory technician who examines the intricate organic elements (with a microscope etc). Tracking used to be the main avenue to gain access to the profession, now anyone who wants to dabble in audio can set up a DAW and download tons of mix files from the internet and go to town.
There is a creative aspect to capturing a performance, to placing mics and using spaces, that can be fun and cool at times. There is also setting up mics, mic stands, running cables, tuning and sound-checking the drum kit, fiddling with temperamental vocalists - and the occasional dropped $5000 mic.
But yeah, being able to jump in and get creative with someone else’s creation has appeal. A bunch of the work has been done, so there’s some instant gratification there. And probably the tracks are fresh and new (to you) so there’s not so much of the boring repetition, at least not until you’ve had to listen to the tracks hundreds of times over and over. Plugins can be lots of fun, even editing can be rewarding at times when you make something work better (i.e. the problem solving area of the brain).
Pretty much all of it comes down to brain chemicals and neural pathways - what makes you feel good and what makes you feel not so good. And I might note that one involves dealing with groups of people … and the other lets an introvert spend lots of time alone.
The tracking stage can be particularly painstaking.
Even before you start tracking it’s important to have a well defined blueprint for the song. Like an architect planning a building construct. If you don’t have a plan, you’re leaving the results of the song to chance, but if you know you have a good song and it’s well conceptualized, then you’ve won more than half the battle…The next step is just the labour that is required for seeing your vision through. Of course you’ll still be adding some or many creative ideas to the strong formative plan that you already have, but that will be mostly icing on the cake…, but occasionally an idea that really improves the song.
I almost always do all the tracking and mixing by myself as a one man band. That means, tuning guitars and other instruments, writing the songs, creating song arrangements (which usually takes a lot of time and effort), etc. I’m only using a 2 channel USB interface, so I have just 2 inputs for instruments and mics. That means I have to unplug my guitar after I’m finished recording guitars and then plug in my vocal mic and set up the boom stand and pop filter when I’m ready to sing… I also don’t have much space, so I have to keep one instrument out at a time. Then I have to reset the preamp gain knobs every time I change an instrument. Setting up to record acoustic guitar is the biggest PIA…,along with acoustic drums. I really dislike the preparation it requires just to start recording. And, if you’re not well rehearsed it’s easy to screw up your tracks. Timing has to be tight, and you have to know the arrangements really well, otherwise there will be slight hesitations in your performance. Then you have to do the whole take over again. Less preparation means more screw ups and more takes.
I sometimes think the tracking is more important than the mixing, but a great mix gives the music additional impact, and a bad mix can suck the life out of the music. For me, mixing is more fun lately. Probably because I’m learning a lot of new techniques and seeing how this can improve my music. I say mixing is more fun but I still feel like it’s a lot of work. Seems like everything that you want to be great at requires endless hours of hard work. There just aren’t any short cuts. No substitute for blood, sweat and tears.
I’m also a one-man operation and have the exact same situation that @Wicked does.
This is always my biggest challenge, the hurdle I really struggle with. I’ve written at length here before so won’t recap all that, but the bottom line is I don’t find I have something to say musically very often at all. And this is why I write so few originals (although that situation has improved a lot in recent years). I really envy the folks here who can just toss off ideas in seemingly effortless fashion. Not something that comes naturally to me.
But I would say tracking and the performance are all-important, because if one hasn’t captured an excellent performance well, no amount of mixing can salvage it, there’s no making a silk purse out of that sow’s ear. I have no experience tracking anyone but myself (except a couple of guest vocal shots from visitors, like my niece that time) so can’t really relate to what @Jonathan is describing. At least in the one-man-band mode, you know that everything you have to do is necessary and you’ll see the outcome right off.
One-man-band too here and I almost do the complete opposite. I start tracking with only one or two riffs that sound solid (at least to my ears), then write the rest as I record. Being able to listen back to the ideas really help me decide what the next part should be. I guess I like tracking more than mixing because that’s when I get to play instruments and be creative. Not that mixing isn’t a creative process, it’s just less rewarding for me.
I hate tracking. I like writing, so when I’m doing my own stuff, I try to do both at the same time so that there’s never a “tracking” stage.
But bringing in people to track stuff is soooooooooo boring. I feel like I’m a professional space bar pusher. I would love to be able to say “Look, when you are ready to record, push this button. When you are done, push it again.” But there’s that 5% of the time where you actually have to do something other than push a space bar that you can’t offload. It sucks, and I hate it.
But it’s a lot better when you have good musicians. At least then you are concentrating on getting the best take instead of trying to get at least one passable take.
One time I had a singer in, and between space bar pushing, I started to fall asleep at my chair. He belted something and I did the whole wake up jump thing. I unsuccessfully tried to play it off.
The last time @Chordwainer sent me a track to shoot B3 over…I totally do not mind that. Its a whole different ballgame when you can move at your own pace and are ultimately responsible for your own time.
I can still get excited about going with a client to a to an amazing live room and having input on the tracking process in that phase. I think the biggest difference is walking in on the back-end of the organization and planning that has taken place before anyone gets near a room that rents for $1500/day. But that’s not every day (for me anyway).
And I really do love working with certain session players that have mind blowing resumes. Thinking about this some more, its the painstaking tediousness of sessions that just don’t seem to move forward and feel like a total waste of time that kills me more than tracking itself per se.
For low key local stuff, I’ve been trying to recruit other engineers and splitting the rent with them if they need my vocal room. I’m at the point where I tell independent artist to find a producer and have a well thought out list of reasons why I’m happy to mix their project but I’m not a good match for the producer chair. There’s only a small handful of stuff where I feel adequate and willing to be in the drivers seat these days.
I come from a teaching background so tracking is very fun for me in moderation and with the right talent. I have developed a pretty slick work method that works for me. I love pre-production. Everything is about writing and developing the sonic signature. If I am going to be mixing the project I need to keep perspective and being in on the minutia makes me lose that. I have an assistant engineer that works for me on big projects. I will set the sounds by placing mics etc and then leave him to track core instruments. I will track instruments that define the song. Lead vocals, solos or whatever I feel I need to be invested in. The assistant will do the rest.
When I teach my engineering students I engrain in them that their job is not to hit R and Spacebar. Their job is to pull the very best out of the client. When you get invested in the game and the outcome it is super fun. When your going for magic takes with a stellar musician it is a blast. When you’re going for adequate takes with a musician that didn’t put the work in I hate it. If one of the latter comes in the studio my assistant will complete the job.
That’s another thing I’m not real great at…which for me is another reason its in the clients best interest that someone else does this for them. This goes for both the producing and the tracking work I suppose.
Totally agree. If your assistant can handle the tasks you don’t get as much enjoyment/fulfillment from, and that helps the performer nail the material, and then you get to do the part you do most enjoy at the mixing and production stage, then everybody wins. Your assistant gets a front-row seat to everything too, and s/he gets to have a development opportunity. Everybody has been put in a position to succeed, best of all worlds.
I’ve written like that occasionally. It can be a fun way to write.
I’ve been writing songs for over 3 decades. Back in the 80’s and 90’s I usually didn’t have the luxury of building a song that way. I had a 4 track Fostex cassette recorder in the mid 80’s (well, my older brother owned it, but I had access to it), that I used for laying down my songs, but I’d already had the songs written before committing them to tape. I remember having to plan my songs real well in order to bounce tracks/ ping pong, so that I could put together a full rock band (drums, guitar, bass, vocals) Now days it’s not a problem building songs on a DAW, but I still usually approach writing with a vocal melody/ vocal rhythm and/or a guitar, bass, piano or drum groove that I create before ever booting up the computer.
I don’t find I have something to say musically very often at all.
Yep. I’m a middle class white guy with great kids, a stable job, good health and good friends living in a great town in a great country. I find it hard to find what to lyrically write about. I am not one to spout holier than thou political, environmental and other such topical…topics.
I have taken a different approach for my latest project that I am working on. I have decided to not force any style at all and stick to all the things I love and know I can pull off at a reasonable level.
I am working on a heavy, stoner, riff rock based music with half time, driving drums, softer vocals (as I cannot do the aggressive vocal thing), vocoder vocals (cos I love that sound!) and orchestral elements with more story based-ish lyrics (Tom Waits, Springsteen influenced in terms of ideas).
At this stage, with 2 out of 5 songs completed and the other 3 not far away, I am VERY pleased with my results and for the first time in a long time, I am actually enjoying tracking again.
I think you know you are enjoying tracking when you have recorded a decent take, but you do another 1+ because it was so damn fun to play!
It’s interesting that many people who don’t like tracking view it as a simple on/off process. For me, tracking is an element of producing, you can’t have one without the other. With new clients, I always ask if they want me to get involved with producing, as opposed to simply engineering. Nobody has ever said no, so I conclude that virtually everybody wants to be produced.
I couldn’t just purely engineer, knowing that the person who would ultimately have to deal with it all in the mix is myself. I also think I would be doing the client a disservice if I didn’t do everything in my power to get the best possible end result. For me the most important part of tracking is not mic choice, mic placement or room treatment, it’s about the working relationship between the artist and me.
So for those who regard tracking as simply hitting the record button, I am intrigued to know: what happens when the take is not good, and you know exactly why it wasn’t good? Don’t you feel the urge to get involved and help the artist, to extract the maximum performance possible? Don’t you feel a loss of control by not getting involved, and thus ‘allowing’ the artist to make sub-standard takes?
I love both. Tracking allows the creativity to flow and as another one man band, that’s important. But I love the mix process too, so much so that I find penciling in accurate automation a joy.
So I’m weird, but I guessed you guessed that by now.
First, I feel everything you stated before this was fair and understandable. So I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said.
I think I get what you’re saying. My take on this is that the tracking (which I was referring to purely as the operator side of the DAW), the producing, the performance coaching/consulting, the editing, and pre-production, and arranging are elements that occur before a record is at is mixing stage any official sense of the term. And ones capacity in each varies from project to project. So again, I agree with you that its best not to regard it the process of track it/mix it.
What I really was saying was that I really don’t have much desire to be involved in any of any of that. The only time I consider stepping in is when its clear I’m the only around who can possibly fill this roll of the client because of certain logistical constraints.
I never track projects anymore without a producer present. I don’t care if they’re on Skype, Source Connect, or streaming in over the Avid Cloud. When I approach a client with a producer, the two of us are in the same room (or conferencing on Skype), and we offer the price quote and service as a package. So far I’ve never had a producer bail on me and try to stick me with the job they’re getting paid for.
To answer your question, each producer is different. There are a few producers that are so exceptional with the vocal coaching aspect they literally have no need for my opinions there. Its not that they’re not interested, its that I don’t have anything else meaningful to offer. If the producer defers to me I’m happy to offer input if I’m in the room (or somewhere in the building) while they’re tracking but the producer doesn’t want to be tracking substandard takes anymore than I want to be mixing them!