Is it better for a band to record everything at once or to overdub each part (track-by-track)?
This is a common question that's usually asked during an initial phone conversation or studio visit.
"Is it better for the entire band to set up and perform all (or most) of the parts at once or is it better to record one thing at a time and overdub each part?"
Recording "all at once" means the entire band all plays at the same time - just like you'd do at rehearsal or at a gig. The other extreme is each person in the band records their parts alone - one thing at a time. There's a third option which involves the band breaking down into smaller clusters (for example, the rhythm section, then the vocals, etc). Whichever direction you go it's still a multi-track recording. Each instrument or musical element is going to be recorded to it's own track. So whether you record everything at once, or individually, there's no difference as far as the number of tracks are required.
I've done a lot of sessions with solo artists who are multi-instrumentalists. They record all (or most of) the parts themselves. So obviously, someone like that is going to be recording each individual element and building the songs up track-by-track.
I'll offer up some viewpoints and observations and let you decide.
* Recording as a group might be your only option if you have a limited budget or schedule. How much money you can afford to spend, and how much time the band can afford to devote to the project, are going to trump any other considerations. A lot of cover bands just want to get in and get out with a decent sounding mix for the purpose of getting gigs. Sort of like a snapshot of how they sound live.
* Performing as a group allows the musicians to "feed" off each other. Real-time visual and musical cues can help drive the song.
* Performing as a group allows the music to breathe and swing a bit more. I would consider that kind of important for certain styles of music such as blues or jazz.
* Recording a song one track at a time allows you to concentrate on each element, thereby making sure each element is as good as it can be.
* Recording a song one track at a time allows a band more flexibility in terms of scheduling sessions. Someone might have to work that day or be out of town. Not everyone has to be there in order to get work done.
* The number of band members will have a bearing. I can only accommodate 5-6 band members performing at the same time due to limitations with headphone feeds and recording channels and just the physical size of the studio.
Most of the bands that come in here to record use a hybrid approach: the basic rhythm tracks first - along with a scratch vocal. Then they overdub lead guitars, acoustic instruments, percussion, etc. Then finally the lead and backing vocals. The reason for doing it like that is so the lead guitarist and lead vocalist can record as many takes as needed to get the perfect performance. Any acoustic or softer instruments should usually always be recorded separately so there's no bleed from the other instruments. That's especially true with the vocals too because if I have to use auto-tune to correct any pitch problems, I need a perfectly quiet background.
Another concept or question that comes up a lot is: in what order should we record things? Should we lay down a rhythm guitar first, or the drums, or what exactly?
I've seen it done a lot of different ways. I guess there's no right way or wrong way to approach it. I can't really give you an informed opinion until I hear the song arrangement and types of instruments used. I generally think the drums should always come first because if you have a perfect drum track then all the rest of the instruments can be added on top of that pretty easily. The reverse isn't necessarily true. Sort of like building a house from the bottom up or the top down. It's usually better to build it from the ground up. The drums are your foundation. Most bands will record the rhythm and bass and drums first and if necessary, ditch the guitars and start over once the drum foundation is ready.