Song Recording Question

Hi SD,

My question today is about the mechanism of recording a song.

Every time I hear a song on the radio, I notice each chorus (the hook) sounds exactly the same as the previous one. Do studios typically copy and paste hooks, to make it easier on the singing artist? I know I’d be under pressure if I had to sing a chorus the exact same way every time, insofar as the listeners probably know the hook the best and thus consistency is important. In a broader context, what kinds of techniques do studios employ to streamline the recording process? I’m sure in a bygone era, it used to be that you’d basically just hit record and hope the performers didn’t screw up.

Please enlighten.



Usually the choruses are sung just as if they were sung live. The guys in the studio know how to make things sound the same (and often, there are differences in the choruses that the casual listener won’t notice).

Of course, these days things aren’t usually recorded “live.” You play the various instruments independently and mix them together. So the drummer might create a beat, the bassist does a bass line to go with it, and the other musicians add on (listening to the existing tracks). That way, if one performer screws up, then that’s the only track that needs to be fixed.

I seem to remember we have some recording engineers on here, so I hope they’ll chime in. Anyhow, while it’s been awhile since I’ve recorded (and have attended recording sessions of several bands), there never was copying and pasting of choruses. You’d play and sing through them. If a chorus or other part didn’t sound right, you’d “punch in” at the appropriate location in the track and re-record that part (tracks usually were one per instruments and vocal part, though drums were usually separated into several tracks so different sounds could be isolated and any EQ, effects, volume control, etc., could be done on them separately.) Punching in and out was done in the analog days, as well.

As for the recording, I’ve seen it done a couple different ways, but most usual for us was to lay down rhythm tracks first: drums or drum & bass recording together on separate tracks, sometimes with a rhythm guitar “scratch track” over it. (A “scratch track” is just a temporary placeholder track. In this case, it helps everyone remember where they are in the song.) Then we’d usually lay down the rest of the backing track (rhythm guitar, keys, horns, etc.), then the melody instruments like the vocals and lead guitar, then the color like backing vocals, sound effects, etc.

But, yes, it is possible to cut & paste whole parts of songs and mix them into a song, if you’d like. I don’t think even today that that’s the most common approach for music with live musicians.

I’ve often wondered about riffs, say on a rhythm guitar. They may be the same bar for all the verses, all the choruses or maybe even all the song. And, they may be prominent at the beginning of the song, but buried in the mix later on.

So, with all those considerations, does it make sense to record one or two good bars and have the recording engineer clone those bars for the rest of the song?

As I understand it, not only do they typically play the whole thing through (and go back and re-record parts that need to be fixed) but they also typically record it all the way through more than once, and lay the other recordings on separate tracks to make the sound more full. The slight variations between subsequent tracks help make the sound “wider.”

I can’t think of any music I listen to where the chorus sounds the same each time. So I question your premise.

If you’re talking about modern pop, read this. It’s a long and engaging article about the sameness of most modern music. It concerns sound engineering more than performance or songwriting, but it is relevant anyway.

Kind of a hijack but I’ve seen this done live. The technique is called looping.

Here’s an example

Watch the guy use his foot to set the breakpoints on the various tracks he makes,
There’s a ton of examples of this on YouTube.
My post was meant to be a reply to K364’s post.

Recording engineer here, although my heyday is not recent. Pulykamell, in post #3, has the process described well.

While it’s possible to lay down one chorus and repeat it electronically, there is the extra effort and time required to do so vs. just continuing to record longer.

All of these concepts are a tradeoff. Do you want to sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? You can either record a large group once, or a single singer 50 times. Or 10 singers 5 times.

Even though the ideal is a perfect recording the first time through, you might be surprised how many tiny tweaks are done electronically – in time, pitch, and processing – to fix a small problem. You make it as good as you can first, then fix what you can’t later.

I recently resurrected a recording I made with friends in 1975 on an 8-track analog recorder. We digitized it in 2014 and went into a modern studio to add drums and prepare a new, final mix. Since some of the performers were dead and the rest unavailable, we were forced to use editing to fix anything necessary. Did the soloist come in a fraction of a second late? Mark Of The Unicorn software can handle that. Was she a little flat or sharp on one note? That can be fixed.

One place had a flaw in the solo. We found an identical phrase elsewhere in the song and pasted it over the flaw. This is how it’s done. I’d go so far to say it’s done in almost every modern recording.

Here’s what the final result of our project sounds like. The background is 4 voices, recorded 6 times, spread into a stereo mix. We couldn’t afford to hire the Mormons!

And the name comes from a pre-digital method of accomplishing that, with a real, closed-loop magnetic tape. I’ve seen loops of tape physically draped around the studio, usually of a drum track.

And there was a tape-based machine called an EchoPlex with about a 3 minute loop tape inside that allowed live performers to do exactly that. Alan O’Day used to use this effectively by recording a live performance on one track, then switching to a second track when the first one came around, and picking up another instrument just then. Synchronizing with the start/end was tricky, but I think he had 4 tracks to play with, plus a live performance, and each track could hold whatever he fed to it – a guitar and vocals, for example. It’s much easier to do it nowdays, and saavy performers often do, but Alan did it in the 1970’s.

I’m not in recording studios much these days, but with so much music having a deliberate “mechanical” feel, I’m pretty sure such loops, done electronically, form the basis of many recordings. It works best when there are no tempo changes. How many rap songs do you know that have tempo changes?

Sorry for the bad link in the previous post. Here’s the correct one:

I’ve fixed your link in that first post, Musicat.

So you punched in and overdubbed the post?