The image above is from a recent recording session of mine. They are lead vocal tracks - different takes - of the exact same verse of this song. Each track was performed in tune, and all the lyrics were sung correctly.

So the question is: Why so many takes?

As many of you have experienced, it doesn’t take that much time to learn how to record a nice clear, undistorted track. In other words, the technical side is just a matter of learning and following a few golden rules and you’ll be rewarded with full bodied recordings.

The mistake people make is when they devote 90% of their effort to the technical side without acknowledging that it is really only half of the process for making a good record. The kind of record that people actually want to hear again and again.

It’s easy to understand why people are so attracted to - and immerse themselves in - the relatively straight lines of the technical side (the process) of recording, and they do everything they can (without even realizing they’re doing it) to avoid the sometimes winding path it takes to create a performance that connects with a listeners in a real and meaningful way.

So let’s ask the question again: “Why so many takes?”

All those vocal takes you see shown above, is typical of my sessions. I know the song very well, so each take is in tune with no “mistakes.” But my goal and absolute first priority is always to achieve a real “performance.” A performance that captures real human emotion and feeling of some kind. It might be cheeky, confident, tragic, exhausted, energized or whatever - depending on the song.

The only thing I can tell you is that you will know it when you hear it. And it often requires multiple takes to get something “special.”

The thing that makes a certain take special, is often not something you can put into words or define. (In one of the takes above, my voice kind of gave out at the end of a note, but it - quite by accident - created the most effective moment. It sounded as though my heart was broken. *actually it was simply due to it being really early in the morning and I was still half asleep when I recorded the take. But the consequence of that gravelly voiced take was just what that verse needed.)

So, beware of the voice in your head that says, “that’s pretty good - I’ll fix everything in the mix.”

Your mix can do a lot of things. But it can’t bring soul to tracks that weren’t performed with any soul.

Here’s a golden rule - at least for me:

The recording process and the mixing process are two separate and distinct jobs and each one has its own responsibilities. You can’t pawn the responsibilities of the recording/performance process onto the mixing process and expect to end up with a record that affects people on some kind of personal/emotional level.

So...
  • don’t shy away from the important work of capturing (recording) performances that carry something special in their dna. Keep trying different approaches and takes until a take makes the hairs stand up on your arm.
 
  • the clock’s not ticking. The song doesn’t really have to be finished today or tomorrow. Don’t rush it. It’s so worth it.
 
  • be the kind of person who refuses to settle for blank or empty performances. If you can do that, something great will happen: You will get better and faster at delivering and recognizing special performances and takes. This will lift your game in a major and very noticeable way and is one of the most dramatic things you can do to set yourself apart.
 
  • let your mix be about mixing not fixing.

Remember why you’re doing this. The songs are meant to leave a mark.

So, do that. Leave a mark.

All my best to you all,
Owen Critchley
loUdtHuD recording artist/producer
creator of The Easy Home Recording Blueprint
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