Recording Tips: Keep it Simple

When I record a song, I have a tendency to layer many instruments on top of one another. Like, millions of instruments. OK, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but I do tend to get carried away. Sometimes I’ll program a drum part that I think sounds pretty cool, but to beef it up I’ll double it on another kit. And then another. And maybe even a fourth.

Then I’ll play a guitar part. And maybe I’ll add a lead guitar line. I might even want to add a third guitar to harmonize. And of course, guitars always sound better doubled, right? So I’ll double the parts, lay down a bass, and think “hey, this song would sound great with a keyboard!” So off I go, recording a Rhodes and then laying down an organ bed to fill out the holes.

Finally it’ll be ready for my vocals. Maybe I’ll double the lead vocal because my voice isn’t super powerful. Then I’ll add a harmony part or two, and some four-part background “oohs” to take it all up one more notch.

Before I know it, I have 21 tracks of audio adding up to one huge wall of sound.

It sort of sounds cool sometimes, but mostly it just sounds a little confusing. With all these sounds, which is the one I’m supposed to be listening to at any given time? With the whole frequency spectrum being filled up by instruments, how can any guitar tone, kick drum, or vocal melody stand out amongst the blurry mess of sound that is my mix?

I’ve ignored a fundamental rule of recording, arranging and mixing, and one of the best recording tips out there: the “K.I.S.S.” rule, or “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”

Some people prefer the less harsh “Keep It Simple, Silly,” but I like the old fashioned way of saying it, personally. I find it to be a stronger reminder of something that I so often overlook. The fact is, the Phil Spector “wall of sound” recording style went out of fashion with the introduction of stereo. These days, demo recordings sound much cleaner and crisper, and the arrangements and mixes should be created accordingly.

I mentioned in a previous blog post how minimalist arrangements can make for maximum impact for a hit song. This post is directly related to that idea.

Adding more instruments and doubling parts is fine, as long as one or two things stand out as being the most important part of any given section in your song.

The listener wants to know what they should be listening to. Yes, every element of your song is important to the overall experience of your demo, but there should always be something that stands out as being the most important. Once you establish what that is, you can mix and arrange accordingly.

Double the guitar line when it’s the melody of the intro. Beef up your vocals during the chorus. But remember to keep it simple.

When I’m recording a song, I don’t always have an objective person telling me what sounds good, and that can make it a challenge. But that’s where Studio Pros becomes very helpful. We have a team of professional musicians and producers who can give you input on your music, as if you were recording right in a Los Angeles recording studio. You’ve got the music, we’ve got the perspective. Let us help you take your songs to a professional level. Start a production today!

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