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Mix Blog Studio: Together or Separately?

With two simultaneous recording projects in the works, Mike Levine finds himself working in two very different manners, both of which work just fine for him.

I am currently involved in some studio projects in which almost everyone is working independently in their home setups, recording their tracks and sharing them with each other. For many recording musicians, this has become the new normal.

In one of the projects, we recorded basic tracks in a commercial studio and have been doing all the overdubs in our home setups. In the other, the process for each song begins with the drummer recording his parts along with a click and reference track. Then he shares the drum tracks with the other musicians in the group, who add their instrument parts in their studios. We’re doing all the file-sharing through a DropBox folder, and it’s all working very smoothly.

Admittedly, some musical styles are not as conducive to such a compartmentalized method of recording. The more organic the genre, the more likely musicians will want to track together. It’s harder to imagine, say, a bluegrass band or jazz ensemble recording like this. Conversely, for electronic styles, layering all the tracks via overdubs is pretty standard, so the fact that a song was recorded in layers in several different studios by musicians working alone would probably not harm the final product.

It’s quite practical to record this way. Everyone works in the comfort of their own studios and doesn’t have anywhere near the psychic pressure or time constraints that they would when doing overdubs, old-style, with everyone watching from the control room.

While I don’t have any problem playing in a studio full of people, I do like being able to craft my parts by myself on my own time. I tend to work a lot by trial and error and experimentation; I wouldn’t be as comfortable if my every note were being scrutinized in real-time by a producer, engineer or other musicians. For most types of projects, working alone helps me come up with the best possible parts.

Sure, this approach does have its down sides. Without the benefit of somebody else’s perspective, you can end up going down major rabbit holes. Another problem is the tendency to want to record too many parts, where one would do fine. “Hey, why don’t I layer my rhythm guitar parts with high-strung doubles? Maybe a baritone guitar part, too.”

But as long as you have some discipline, and some decent gear to record through, the individual, solitary paradigm can be quite productive. Is it better than recording together with other musicians? No, it’s just different. But it sure is convenient.