Recording A Singer/Guitarist
Capture the guitar and the voice at their best—at the same time
Many years ago, I learned I was going to have to find a way to reliably record a performance of a singer/guitarist playing and singing at the same time. There are a lot of singer/songwriter clients out there looking to record their songs, and even the most complex rock arrangements often begin life with a vocal and acoustic guitar performance, with other sounds overdubbed later in the production process. Not only that, but many singer/guitarists deliver the most compelling performance when playing and singing at the same time, a lesson learned after recording guitar and vocal parts separately didn’t go so well with some performers.
Recording two instruments (acoustic guitar and voice in this case) in close proximity to one another presents a challenge. We usually want to record the parts with multiple mics to give us more control in the mix, but of course there are always bleed issues to contend with. This bleed complicates the mix; if it is too loud, there can be phasing issues and the problems associated with that—comb filtering, for instance, resulting in a thin sound—not to mention the fact that processing done on one track will affect both sounds.
One way to overcome these challenges is to simply use one microphone, or a stereo pair of microphones, to capture the performance as a whole. This approach can work well, but it requires careful mic placement to get a good balance of the instruments. As always, having a great room helps a lot, since the mics will likely be a bit further from one of the sources (usually the voice) than we’d like for best tone. When the mics are further away, poor rooms become more evident in the resulting recording, often with that giveaway “bedroom tone” if it is recorded in a small, untreated room.
While some great recordings have been made with this “purist” approach, everything from the performance to the room to the mic technique has to be near-perfect for it to work well. It’s not as flexible or forgiving.