I record songs with me playing all the instruments, as well as singing. One problem I have is keeping the timing super tight like The Boxcars or Lo some River Band. When I am just playing fiddle or banjo in a band, I can join right in in the "tightness", but I can't seem to produce it. What can I do to make my recording tight?
Hey i have always found recording harder than playing live as well. Its just different. Different feel, position, headphones on, different mentality. Plus we don't record as much as we play live so its a lack of experience. I have noticed some improvement to my timing lately from practicing with a metronome which i never did in the past. Good luck and I'm sure you'll naturally improve the more you do it!
First, latency checks. Headphone monitoring is set-up to adjust for latency, ideally direct analogue zero-latency monitoring (bypassing the computer processing, or any AD/DA converters). Recording latency, make sure you have your DAW correct for latency; so the multi-tracks are in sync. - it's not always automatic, and good to do calibration tests.
Self recordings can be harsh. The one thing is the realization that your playing is not quite as tight as you thought. General timing might seem okay, when playing with others who sound tight. And playing live in the moment is also a factor, that we might not notice quite so much. Listen back on recording, and realize wasn't quite like you recall.
Tight rhythmic feel is not always just quantitized timing, playing in time. There is also the groove factor. Sometimes might need to push in front of or behind the beat for certain instruments. As well pay for groove, attention to the attack sound as well as how notes end, and separation, idea of white space between. Dynamics. Pay attention too much saturation of sound, which can make the sound a bit muddy, less crisp and tight. If playing guitar backup, pay close attention to the bass note and the sound of the strum. The tone can play a role in how tight. Watch for too much mid-tone build. The microphones and placement can play a role. Of course the mix and balance can play role. Sometimes less is more. Keep in mind, these are the reasons there are studios, great recording engineers, and mixing/mastering engineers.
Again these are things might not notice so much focused in the process of playing... and might even sound passably okay in that moment in a live room. The one thing I found in multitrack recording, is it taught me to listen better playing live, to some of those aspects of note envelope, tone, dynamics, balance, mix... and how it can affect the groove.
Another vote to try click tracks. Recording is really different than playing live. With regard to pushing the beat or playing behind it, if you hear the beat you can judge that a bit better. Anyway, it worked for me and others I know. BanjoAK's ideas are very good things to check.
Here's Big Spike Hammer. This is a small demo of me trying to figure out how to get tighter rhythm while recording. The breaks and backup still have quite a few flaws, and it's mixed horribly, but I feel like accomplished tighter rhythm. I used the click track method.
Compare to Clinch Mtn Backstep, where the rhythm feels a lot looser.
I agree it can be tough to do alone... especially for certain type of music, sound. I certainly have difficult time... (of course some can though)
As multi track technology came into play, numerous bands went into the studio... could lay their tracks down independently on at a time (for engineers ideal) - but found easier, much better cohesion, better feel, if they record in the same room at the same time, even if it has some mic bleed issues; at least for the core rhythm. Then might try and add vocal/breaks or possible fixes later.
Another method is scratch track... capture the live group feel... but then re-record separate tracks to that. I sometimes do that... initial track not worry about clean, just getting the initial right feel.
Using a metronome click also helps to edit, punch-ins, cut and snap things to the time grid.
He's been doing one-man-band stuff for years. Josh went to college to study music and sound engineering. He doesn't like click tracks but uses them for dificult projects.
The linked video does a good job of explaining the mysteries of home recording. Many of his recordings are collaborations with friends here and in Europe. The tracks are recorded and sent to Josh who then puts the pieces together. Here is a good example: