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Why You Should Let Your Recordings Bleed

There was a time when music was a conglomeration of sounds. It was the sum of all parts and the recordings documented the space that the performances took place in.

As technology evolved, we became more inclined to dismantle sound and reassemble it. We put everything under a microscope.

Sure, we’re always trying to progress past limitations, but have we become afraid of the very elements that were originally compelling about many recordings?

The Times They Are a Changin’

Change is nothing new. Times change. Fads change. There is fun in changing with the times.

But that doesn’t mean we need to throw out methods of the past. There will always be moments where those dusty techniques are appropriate.

There’s a lot of talk about which microphone and preamp were used on what instruments for classic recordings. Rarely is the natural bleed of instruments in the room discussed.

Modern Science

There’s a modern belief that you must isolate everything. Audio quarantine if you will. You must have complete control in mixing. We go to the extent that we don’t even like drums bleeding into other drum mics.

Now, this has its place. This method is as valid as any, but I’m simply looking to discuss why bleed isn’t the enemy.

To my ears there is magic in the bleed. A guitar amp that bleeds into the drum mics adds an ambience I really like.

19th Nervous Breakdown

Right now, I’m sure some readers are biting their nails in fear. What if you need to punch in? Well, when you have bleed it means you have to get it right the first time.

You may have to practice the part before you play it. Now, this shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve done your pre-production and you’re working with great musicians. This means everyone needs to practice their … craft!

Obviously, the level of musicianship is going to dictate some of your choices. The better the musicians, the more choices you can make since you’re not working against a limitation.

Ebb and Flow

Think about how bleed works. When the drums are being hit, you’ll hear less bleed than between the notes. To some degree this is ducking the natural “reverb” on the guitar.

So, while the drums are cranking you won’t hear very much. When the drums have a break you get this real natural ambience. It’s not the same as adding room verb later.

It adds a dimension that can’t be added after the fact. Listen to “My Guitar Gently Weeps” and you’ll understand. The guitar and bass bleed really make that track work. There is a lovely roundness to it. The song sounds huge.

This is my preferred method for recording every Fife & Drom record.

Balanced

It’s not simply a matter of setting the band up and letting them rip. You may have to move amps to different parts of the room to limit the amount of bleed. You may have to use gobos. The point here is not to stop all the bleed, but to adjust and control it.

This is all the more reason to spend time treating your live room.

All About That Bass

One of my pet peeves of recording is when all the instruments are in a room playing live, but the bass is DI. Most often that doesn’t have a lot of life in the headphones.

Place an amp in the room and it gets exciting. This definitely takes some trial and error. Practice.

Marvin’s Room

Your room itself is an instrument. If you get a band to balance themselves well in a room, it’s going to be much easier to record. After all, great musicians will mix themselves.

When bands like The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded, Tom Dowd set the up in a room just like they were on stage.

He was aware of the importance of the band playing together and the cohesiveness of the whole sound.

This wasn’t really a new idea. It’s where recording started. Check out those Otis Rush records from the 50’s. There’s some excellent examples of guitar bleed on there.

Just a Phase

To be really effective at this, you should really understand phase. This is where experience as an engineer is important.

You have to make decisions about where you accept bleed. Hi-hat into a bass mic isn’t going to be great. Cymbals into a vocal mic isn’t going to make anyone warm and fuzzy.

In fact, even though I like bleed, I still prefer to isolate the vocal mic. That is, unless I’m recording something where it’s essential to have the vocalist in the live room. This happens from time to time and in these cases I usually use a dynamic mic on the vocalist.

Trial and Error

I don’t recommend trying to learn the fundamentals of bleed on an important session. Get some friends to come over and jam. Buy them a few beers and let them play.

This way there is no pressure. If you mess something up, no loss. But, buy some good craft beer. May I recommend Abita?

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Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at guitaristmarkmarshall.com


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  • marvinforte

    Ahem, Marvin’s room? Indeed. Nice article.

  • AMEN! Great article! I really think you hit home in the paragraph about the bass. Music is very much about emotions. If the bass player, or any other instrumentalist for that matter, doesn’t really get’s excited when he or she plays. You can make your bass sound “sonically perfect” from an engineer/producer perspective, but if the bass player doesn’t gett excited the music will suffer from lack of emotion.

    • … good point. This is why Steely Dan’s music is completely uninteresting to me.

  • T-Bone Burnett, one of the most sought after producers in the biz (Oh Brother Where Art Thou and Crazy Heart soundtracks), has carved somewhat of a niche for himself by creating ambient space with bleed. He actually records stuff with everyone in the same room for the most part. Check out the Crazy Heart soundtrack.

  • john beech

    We just recorded a 12 track Cd in a 30ft x 15ft carpeted room with no drums ,double bass ,two ac guitars, dobro and mandolin. the mics and recording gear took till 12.30 to set up ,we had a sandwich and a drink at 3 and we were finished at 5.30 . Get the songs right first and you will sound the same out gigging as you do recording .

  • Paul Linden

    here’s a piece on how chess records engineer did this in the golden era (pp80-85): http://www.meiea.org/Journal/Vol.13/Linden-MEIEA_Journal_vol_13_no_1_2013-p75.pdf

  • Ricardo Riquier

    mind your spelling, mate 🙂

  • Bob Cipnic

    Good article, and yes, Abita is an excellent choice !

  • hellojeffreyjames

    I think the cons outweigh the pros.

  • Korg8242

    I’ve been a classical recording engineer for 30+ years. I make my living with recording that bleed.

  • Jack Grochmal

    When you scan all the greatest recording that push most people’s emotional buttons, chances are they were made in a space where everyone was in that space at one time getting the job done. This stacking of the tracks is all fun & games but the real feel happens when literally everyone is in on it simultaneously.

  • Brown Wayde

    A good example of the differences in sound is to first listen to some early Creedence Clearwater Revival music and then listen to John Fogerty’s solo albums in the 70’s and 80’s. He mostly overdubbed all the instruments when he went solo, and CCR recorded many of their parts live inside a studio. CCR’s music sounds very lively and full while his solo stuff, although nearly technically perfect, was missing some of that punch.

  • Look our live studio session, produced by EverybodyOnTheShore and powered by Bantamu, an hub of audio and video professionals, that combine old technique with new!At the end of the video a short tutorial on how we recorded! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6xXD6gFRkHi9JJ5cST_FtA

  • Alex Blanco

    Thought it was a great article until I got to the line about craft beer. Now I’m not sure whether I can trust the rest (or myself, as I actually agree with everything else in the article… )

  • kevin combs

    Daniel Lanois has produced some of our very finest records utilizing group performance and room ambience in many environments- Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Robbie Robertson, the Nevilles, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, U2, Neil Young, his own work, on and on. It’s practically his trademark to facilitate an off-the-floor, yet arranged performance. On another subject, Abita Beer is owned by some extreme right-wing characters with antiquated Louisiana ideas about very serious matters, and I have decided not to support them in any form.

    • Mark Marshall

      What? No way! I didn’t know about Abita. Can you point me to some info about how they’re backwards? Guess I’ll have to find a new beer.

    • kevin combs

      You may know that Abita Springs, home of the beer, is north of New Orleans, across Lake Ponchartrain. In the 40s and 50s the area became a magnet for whites fleeing Crescent City integration, including gated communities, banks red-lining loans to minorities, the whole prejudiced white superiority deal. The wealthy Blossman family, big partners (if not majority owners) of the brewery have dominated banking and other economic aspects of the parish for some time. i have seen Klan connections declared repeatedly online by one of this family, along with strong threats pointed toward our President. They are now pushing for fracking permits on these lakeside landscapes, to their profit and the habitat’s loss, of course. Makes absolutely no sense considering that a selling point of their product is that they use the pure spring water the place and the beer are named after. I won’t drink their stuff, ever.

    • RM

      Listen to the music. Does it sound good? Then it IS good.
      Taste the beer. Does it taste good? Then it IS good.

      Leave your faacking political leanings at the door. It IS what’s wrong with our Nation.

    • Mark Marshall

      No, what’s wrong with this country is the wlliningness of some eye to turn a blind eye to the suffering that certain entities have forced upon people. Racism is no joke. Many not only have to deal with it everyday, but many have also died at the hands of the KKK. People are getting sick from fracking and dying. There is nothing more important than the safety of OUR people. Its not politics, it’s human decency. I will not be drinking Abita anymore.

    • RM

      The suffering that you speak of is, these days, largely imaginary. There are no longer any Klan lynchings and if you think that by not drinking a certain beer because some half wit says that he “read about some racism on the web” will change the feelings of folks who are racist (and DONT lynch anyone) you are living in a fantasy land.

      Shocking also that you would temper your choice of beverage based on a completely unsubstantiated accusation. The gullability and naïveté of drones like you and your fellow beer-bashers and the I’ll-informed, knee-jerk reactions that you make are certainly far more dangerous than some folks who quietly hate white people or hate black people or, etc.

      Don’t fret though, I’ll be enjoying enough Abita for the lot of you. Cheers!

    • Mark Marshall

      It’s interesting to hear that you seem to be under the impression that hate crimes don’t exist anymore. Not sure where you get your news, but people still get killed for the color of their skin in this country. There is also other issues regarding racism that aren’t just about lynching.

      Yes, claims have to be substantiated. But, that’s not what you said initially. Nor did you show any evidence to counter the accusations. You simply implied it didn’t matter. And it does matter a whole lot.

    • Daniel Hunt

      Huh…so having connections to a democrat-created group, (the KKK) is having far-right leanings now? I guess down is up now too!

  • hangemall123

    Good article. I wish he had explained more clearly how he isolates the vocalist while recording. I’ve had everyone wear headphones so that the vocalist is not in the room monitors and it allows him to overdub a new track. I’ve had good luck with both live and isolated tracks but definitely there is more spirit in the playing when it’s done in a live room. The only problem is in adding effects to the vocalist. It changes the sounds of everything else especially if you try to add a slap back echo…Sometimes I have to keep the vocals drier than I would otherwise just to keep the drums from sounding like they are in a cave.

    • Marcin Skibiński

      If it is possible I like to put some speakers in the room and let vocalist sing with band so it will bleed to other instruments. But the vocalist him self would be in separate room. Then i have dry signal of his voice and some “doubletracking” from bleeds. If i do not have two rooms i will just record once again vocal.

  • Bill Dung

    Very nice piece.
    I am very inspired by the recording techniques from the 40s to the 60s where the while band or Orchestra are placed appropriately around the mic in a live situation, so the “mix” is actually more controlled by how far from the mic each musician needs to be.

    I round this helpful as a player too when in acoustic irish tune sessions in which you sit with other musicians round a table in a pub, on the one hand you are “playing” the room, and on the other your mind and ear become in effect a mixing desk in the sense that, for eg, me drumming in these acoustic sessions if I can’t hear the other musicians clearly them I am too loud. And so on.

    The way I like to record, I am always aware of this and try not to let the recording process get in the way of that.
    Some types of music are ruined by “modern” production in that, for eg, the style and approach or the engineer/producer can completely destroy the thing that makes a good live group special.

    And if that group is indeed already a good live act, then why not find a way to get that band recording as if live, and play in that rather than take it apart.

    Examples being modern rockabilly.
    It’s mostly sterile over compressed rubbish verging on over tidy country and western with none of the raw dynamics you expect from what should be aggressive rock n roll/r&b.

    And same with that authentic punk sound.

    I think sometimes we use our list of techniques to inform us more than our ears.

    Best advice?
    GET A PAIR OF EARS!

    Bleeding is something I like to try to become conscientious about.
    Nice info on this page.
    Loving it.

  • Keith MacQueen

    Just recorded an EP live to tape (4 track) – bleed and all. The only overdubs were vocals and some extra percussion. See attached cover for pictures – the middle one has a shot of us all in the studio together, with bass amp! Did similar for the album we’d recorded prior to the EP and just about to be released. All backing stracks live in the studio then only as few overdubs as possible (8 track reel-to-reel for that one so we has a little more to play with). In these days of perfect recordings as you mention in the discussion, this was something outside all our experiences, and it took a bit to get to love the inaccuracies of the process, but now i’ve let that thought sink in i really dig how it made us play as a band. I fully understand what you’re saying.

  • John Hesser

    Morning for the Mourning. Killer Otis record! The band in the room. This is how I approached the CRB record this year. Some of my favorite parts are the piano and drums bleeding from 25 feet away. Or the drum Juju that comes thru the acoustic C12 stations.

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