Sometimes when a novice begins a recording project they don’t stop to consider the usefulness of recording the performance in bits and pieces and then assembling those pieces together to create the illusion of a live, single take performance. In an ideal world overdubs and multi-tracking would be largely unnecessary because each performance would be perfect on the single live take and all of the levels would fit just right and everything would be fine. In reality there are a few challenges to overcome with tracking a performance for a commercial release.
For starters there’s the room that one is tracking in. While a certain reverberant character might be suitable for tracking drums, it might not work ideally or as well for vocals or guitar and bass. So the engineer finds herself in the predicament of having to put instruments that are supposed to be playing together in separate rooms because of the desire for the ambiance of the performance space to fit the tracking goals for the instrument. While it would be ideal if every recording facility had the option of having many rooms to work with simultaneously, each with a different character that would suit each instrument in any given ensemble, this is not always the case. Along with the performance space being a challenge, there’s also the ability of a performer to remain consistent in their level of performance accuracy and feeling throughout the entire song, which is a difficult feat to achieve. Another issue to contend with is dynamics in a performance. Dynamics, refers to the changes in the perceived volume of a piece. While ideally all dynamics of a song arrangement can be performed in one take, in practice it’s difficult to get it all right at once so for all of these problems we find ourselves separating the parts of a song into sections. I call this specific practice recording in blocks or simply blocking.
Essentially blocking is taking the piece to be recorded and tracking the instruments that have to be captured in a certain way separately from everything else, in their own little arrangement block. Instruments that you want to be captured with a reverberant space are recorded in a reverberant space by themselves. The same goes for other types of room ambiances. Also, you break the song into manageable performance pieces so that the performer doesn’t have to remain consistent from start to finish of the song. They play in sections that allow for them to focus on the difficulties of the particular section at hand until they get it close to perfection. Finally, you break the song arrangement down into the quieter and louder sections so that you can allow for the adjustment of instrument settings and effects. This allows for the dynamics to really jump out at the listener when the need be. It also allows an engineer to keep a better handle on tracking levels, because they can adjust the preamplifier settings for each section.
What blocking does is allow for more control over the song elements. That’s a very good thing when a wide audience is the target. It’s always helpful to be able to tweak each element to the fullest if the need be. What you will end up with is a lot more tracks to mix but that’s generally not a big problem once you get used to it. I have always found that it helps to have the extra tracks to work with when I need it.