The goal when you record a song in-studio is to have a realistic and natural-sounding result that sounds like the band played smoothly together in one take. It’s not usually possible to record all instruments at the same time as you’ll get find the sound from one instrument will bleed into the mics of another – making it much harder to mix the song later. (E.g. the sound from a guitar amp bleeding into drum mics).
Also – if one musician makes a mistake on the take, the whole take may need to be discarded.
A better way is to record each instrument individually – getting two or three good takes each time, then blending all the tracks together in the mixing phase.
So… Which instrument should you record first? Is It Better To Record Drums or Guitar First?
Is It Better To Record Drums or Guitar First?
Recording drums first is better because you create a solid foundation of groove and feel for the other instruments to play on top of. It is easier for the other musicians to record their parts when the drum track is recorded first.
First record a scratch track with the whole band playing together (including drums) Then mute the drum parts and the drummer can play along with the other scratch instrument tracks to get the feel and structure for the song.
The scratch tracks will come into use for the other musicians as well when recording their parts. Once all the instruments have been tracked individually, you can delete all the scratch tracks.
Keep reading to find out why many producers swear by the drums-first recording order, what happens when you record guitar first, and what the best way to record each option is.
The Recording Order
Back when bands first started recording their music for records there was no such thing as recording one instrument at a time, every record was recorded like a live set. These days, things have become much more complicated. However, recording one instrument at a time comes with its advantages and allows for a much more fine-tuned result.
The recording order of a song is merely the order in which you record your instruments and vocals. If you record your song in a bad recording order, you could end up with muddiness, or a rhythmically challenged drum beat.
A good recording order will help your song gel together seamlessly and make for a much smoother editing process. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and you are free to experiment and see what works better for you. However, there is a tried and tested order that works best most of the time that you could try.
A Good Recording Order
Although there is no set rule when it comes to a perfect recording order, there are some guidelines that you could follow to give you a headstart to a successfully recorded song.
Let’s go through what a good recording order looks like and why each instrument is placed where. This order is a great place to start for any music genre and will give your track better fluidity for a more natural sound.
- Record Drums First
The drums drive the rhythm of the track and help the other band members stay on-beat when they record to it. When you record drums first, the other instruments and vocals follow the feel, hits, stops and subtle quirks of the drumbeat.
- Record Guitars Next
Once the drums are recorded, you can let the band and your preferences guide which instrument you record next. If you aren’t sure which one to choose then guitars are a good option. You can choose between recording the bass guitar first or the other guitars, either way, it will work fine.
When choosing whether the bass or guitars should go first, it may be helpful to record the guitar chords first to give the bassist a bigger spectrum of chords to follow and work from.
- Record Other Instruments
If you recorded the guitars straight after the drums, you can record the other instruments in whichever order works better for you. You can also let the band choose which order they are most comfortable with for the best result.
The other instruments include any other instruments the band may have in the song including percussion, keyboard, and synths.
- Record Vocals Last
When you record your lead vocalist, he or she will need much more to go off than any other band member. The lead vocals need to naturally adjust to any changes in the song which happened during the recording process and need to fit perfectly between every instrument.
Once you have your lead vocals down, the last thing you need to record is any vocal harmonies, or back-up vocals accompanying the lead vocals.
With this order, there should be less chance of instruments competing in the mix, and everything should flow together smoothly. If you are fairly new to a recording order like this, over time you will find your own recording style that works for you and the bands you work with.
Why Is It Good To Record Drums First?
Recording drums before any other instrument is generally better to establish a good rhythm for the song. When you record drums first, every other instrument you record next can follow the rhythm and base their playing style on the drums for a more consistent flow.
Think of your drumbeat as the spine of the song, then as you add each instrument one at a time you start to slowly unfold the beautiful bigger picture. Starting with the drums allows you to focus on achieving the groove and feel that you look for in a great song, one that moves you without anything else on top of it.
The Best Tip To Recording Drums First
The trick to getting a great drum recording to base your whole track off of is to supply your drummer with a good scratch track. Many recording artists and bands will expect their drummer to be able to record their set with only a metronome or click-track. While this is a good skill to have, it isn’t as easy to get caught up in the moment and emotion of the song with only a metronome.
A good scratch track will give the drummer something more real to listen to and play with. You can put together a scratch track pretty simply in one of two ways. One way is to record a basic track of the guitar and vocals together playing to a tempo. Another way is to use a pre-recorded demo of the whole song.
If you don’t have a full pre-recorded demo and you want to prepare a scratch track before the band arrives, have the singer and the main guitarist of the band send you a basic demo playing to a metronome or click track. Put the demo in your DAW and fix up the tempo as needed so you have something on hand for the drummer to listen to while he or she plays.
Note that it is important for the tempo to be accurate in your scratch track – make sure it exactly matches the click track, so it doesn’t throw the drummer off time and create a weird feel that will affect the whole song!
When to Record Guitar First
Not much in music is set in stone, there is always room for creativity and personal preference to come into play. You don’t necessarily have to follow any recording order rules. You can record guitar first to achieve a certain effect, or you can record it first when circumstances lead you to have no other choice, either way, you can make it work.
What Happens If You Record Guitar Before Drums?
If drums drive the rhythm of the track, you may be wondering what happens when you record the guitars before them?
When you record either the bass guitar or any other guitars before drums this can sometimes enhance the style of music you may be going for. The effect from recording this way around creates a more wavy, experimental feel.
Recording guitars first often works well for more atmospheric styles of music or off-kilter genres with glitchy timing like trip-hop. However, this method is difficult to achieve and takes a skilled drummer to pull it off right and get the feel, while still keeping the tempo consistent.
Tips To Record Guitar First
The most effective way to recording guitar first is to use a metronome or click track to help you stay on rhythm. You can record any instrument on its own effectively this way to help you keep time and rhythm in place of drums. This is the same method used to record a scratch track without drums and it works like a charm!
The only catch to using a metronome, or a click track, to record is that you have to make sure you play as tightly to the track as possible. This will help the parts of the song stay together nicely, even without recording drums first.
Overall, it is generally better to record drums before you record guitar and any other instruments. You want your song to flow nicely together and sound natural as if the band recorded it at the same time.
Although recording drums first is better and there is a commonly used recording order that many recording artists follow, make sure to always listen to each band member and how they would prefer to play. For example, if the song is more keyboard driven, you may decide to record keyboard before guitar.
Each band will be different, so take each recording session in your stride and see where it takes you! As long as it sounds good to you and the band, there is no “right” or “wrong.”
How do you record guitar and drums at the same time?
If you want to record drums and guitar at the same time, you will have to mic up the drum kit with a close mic set-up. You’ll want to record the guitar in a separate room (or at least place the amp in a separate room if possible) to minimize bleed from either instrument.
Generally, it is not advised to record these two at the same time, unless you have a full recording studio with the right room, because no matter how well you mic up your kit, there will inevitably be bleed from the drums in your guitar track if you record them together.
To avoid bleed, you can also record your guitar directly using a DI Box into your audio interface, then re-amp the signal later out to an amp if you need to. The disadvantage of this is that the guitarist will be relying on the guitar tone that they are used to from their amp, so they’ll find it difficult to get the right feel.
How do you record a band in a home studio?
As we’ve talked about, your biggest enemy in a home studio is bleed! To overcome this, record each instrument individually to a click track or metronome and slowly build up all the parts of the song this way.
In what order should you record instruments?
As a general rule, you should record drums first, then guitars and bass, then keyboard, then vocals last
The process starts with making a good scratch track, or demo track, for each member to play along with. The tighter the track, the better the overall recording will be.
The next step is to record the drums and finishing laying them down in the mix. You want the drums to be laid down so that the rest of the band can play with the drum track to get the tightest, smoothest recording. Record guitar and other instruments next, and the vocals last.
You can record the other instruments in any order that the band prefers. As for the vocals, always record the lead vocals first, followed by the backup, and harmonies.
Tim Wells is an experienced drummer, producer and recording engineer. He has toured professionally through over 12 countries as the drummer for The Luminous Sky. He now produces music from his recording studio based in Nelson, New Zealand.