How To Record Guide Tracks For Your Songs

Man, oh, man did I enjoy making this video! Before I get into what a guide track is, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my own personal experience with creating guide tracks.

This might be a weird analogy but, you know when you go to the beach, and you are getting ready to dive into the sea? As you reach the part where the beach meets the water and you begin to think “oh, the water is a bit chilly...”. So you go ahead and spend about 5 hours (yes, I know, I’m exaggerating) - ok, you spend 15 minutes slowly walking into the sea letting the water reach only your knees. Well this is what I call the Guide Track phase.

For me, the guide track phase of producing a song is, basically, testing the waters. Along with the reasons why you should have them, which we’ll talk about later, the recording process of your guide tracks, is the best time to experiment and learn about your DAW and how to go about recording your ideas. Furthermore, its also a good opportunity to see whether the arrangement you’ve come up with works, and if not make any tweaks necessary.

This is how I learned a lot of recording techniques and mixing techniques - I hope you do to!

So, what is a guide track? To put it simply, its a demo recording of your song which can consist of vocals and a rhythmic instrument (if you a songwriter) or just a rhythmic instrument (if you are an instrumentalist). The reason why you would want a guide track is to have examples of your songs to send to musicians that will be playing with you and/or when you head into the studio to record your songs, your other bandmates can record over it. For this reason, you want your guide tracks to show case the three following things: Tempo, Song Form and Dynamics & Transitions.

Let’s break each one down...

The tempo of your song is measured in Beats Per Minute, mostly referred to with its acronyms BPM. You can set the BPM within your DAW when you create a new project. What this will do is adjust the grids in your works space that out line the measures, as well as, set your metronome to click at that specific tempo. Recording your guide track to a metronome will help the musician you’re are giving it to, to practice in time and get the over pace and groove of the song.

The song form is basically the map of your song. It’s the order in which your verses, choruses, bridge, intstrumental section etc are put in. As a result, you want to make sure that you record the exact amount of measures for each section as you would perform it live. This will help your musicians learn the structure of your song a lot faster and easier.

This may sound like a “DUH!?” Point put you want to make sure that the sections you want to be soft are recorded that why and the same goes for your louder parts of your song. Make sure the transitions between two dynamically different sections are smooth - wether it be a build up or a sudden change in dynamics. Basic right? But effective ;)

Good practices when recording:

  1. Save project as soon as you create it

  2. Set Tempo

  3. Record rhythm instrument

  4. Set markers for quick transportation

  5. Make any additional tweaks to your rhythm track

  6. Record vocals (if any)

  7. Mix tracks using DAW presets (have fun with it)

  8. Master tracks - using presets

Step 7 and 8 are not necessary at this point. Just make sure that the levels are balanced if you’ve got vocals and guitar so that one is not overpowering the other.

TIP: Try panning the guitar to the left or duplicate the guitar track and pan one all the way to the left and one all the way to the right, leaving the vocals dead centre. If you are recording piano instead, try using a spreader, this will allow you to "spread" your piano across the stereo spectrum, leaving your vocals to sit nicely in the centre.

Overall GUIDE TRACKS are AWESOME, and you will be even awesomer (???) if you have them available for rehearsals and recording sessions. Your musicians will love you cause you’ve saved them a lot of time learning songs.