What is Overdubbing?
Overdubbing, sometimes called “sweetening”, is a process that allows performances to be recorded synchronously with pre recorded material. Imagine recording your band where each instrument has a dedicated track or series of tracks. If each performer is isolated acoustically from the others, they can be rerecorded at will without affecting the other musicians’ performances.
The benefits of overdubbing are tremendous. It means that a single bad musician in a band will not ruin the whole recording, because their part can be replaced. In the days of mono and early stereo recording, everybody was in the same room and recorded together. The inability of the singer to perform well might mean that the band would have to play the song over and over again till the vocalist got their performance right.
In the professional recording world this was the music production process until the invention of Sel/Sync recording in the 60’s. Sel/Sync stands for Selective Synchronization. A multitrack recorder with Sel/Sync capabilities would allow additional tracks to be recorded synchronously with the original performance on the same tape machine. Later, those performances would be mixed into mono or stereo for the commercial release.
The invention of isolation booths in recording studios soon followed, and allowed individual musicians to be recorded with a minimum of bleed into the mikes of the other instruments. If one person’s performance was lacking, it could be easily be rerecorded without affecting the other musician’s performances. It also allowed more flexibility with processing during the mixdown session.
Over the years, the number of tracks available to record on steadily increased allowing music productions to get larger and more sophisticated. Overdubbing became the norm for almost all music productions. Although some feel this has degraded the quality of music, very few artists record without overdubbing.