Guide tracks are usually needed if you’re doing multi-track or ‘overdub’ style recording. It’s a really good idea to get your guide track recorded yourself using whatever means you have available to you before going into the studio to record, as this can save you considerable time, and therefore cash!

What is a guide track?

A guide track is a rough recording of a song that allows musicians (particularly the drummer since he’s usually the first person to record) to play along to the song whilst laying down their takes. It might feature just one guitar and the main vocal, but the important things are:

  • that it is set at the tempo you want to record the song at – this is so you can send it to the engineer in charge of your session at the studio and they can then import it into the computer ready for the drummer to drum along with the song. To keep the song in time, use a metronome (this could be an app on your phone or a hardware metronome) and make sure you’re bang on the beat all the way through as far as you can. It doesn’t matter if the metronome gets picked up by the mic. 
  • the structure is as you want the final recording to be.  The structure has to be right for musicians to use it as a guide!

If you can nail those two things, and give a reasonably good performance, that will help whoever has to record first – as I said, usually the drummer. It’s always the poor old drummer who has to deal with click tracks and very little else, so it’s good for him or her, if they have something to play to that doesn’t suck!

How Should You Record Your Guide Track?

Well, this should be fairly easy since most people now have smartphones that are at least capable of recording at reasonable quality through their built in mics. If you have some recording software and one or two mics, you could just record the guitar and vocal parts in one take. It isn’t important how good the quality is – it just has to be good enough to hear both parts to get a feel of where in the song you are when listening back.

If you’ve recorded the song on your phone, it probably is already compressed and ready to be emailed or sent to Dropbox. If you recorded on your computer, see if your software has the ability to export the recording as an mp3 so that it’s not a huge file – you can then upload it to Dropbox or send it directly to the engineer at the studio.

Recording a guide track doesn’t take long – it doesn’t have to be perfect, or even sound that good, but it can save you considerable time in the studio, particularly as it’s the drummer who has to go first, so it means concentrating on setting up his kit and mics instead of worrying about recording a guitarist and vocalist as well.