Recording.... it's time to screw up!

Guys I can play a tune 1000 times and not really mess up but whenever I hit the record button and play to the click it’s like I lockup and mess up a lot. It’s been a problem for twenty years and it really makes recording a good performance and polishing a song a major drag. I also noticed that I get rather over critical on my own materal. Like when I hear it back it doesn’t “feel” right. Then if I walk away from it for a week or so I think “what the heck were you thinking.! It’s fine!” It makes the recording process almost stressful and overly time consuming. I see lots of guys doing Youtube tutorials (like Dom) and it’s like breathing to them. Do any of you suffer from the same issues and have you found a solution?
Thanks guys

Pf. Where to start.

There is a multitude of reasons why things can go south. There are completely different things at play, and they all intermingle.

  1. Material: It is very easy to have a very difficult time when writing music from scratch. Original music, orchestration, not based on a specific genre from where we can draw a reference. It’s experimentation, and experiments can go wrong.

  2. Flow: When I’m 1 hour into a gig, I don’t think, I just play. That’s good, and very bad at the same time. Good because I play what I want to play, with confidence, without prohibition. I just listen to what the others do, I do some myself. Bad, because my ears may be fatigued, and I’m playing too much, or I’m not listening to the others and I’m having a parallel monologue instead of a conversation, or I’m overdoing it, or my sound’s crap due to fatigue.

  3. Sound from an engineering perspective: If I don’t have good monitoring, I can’t get into it. Bad monitoring is not being able to hear my instrument enough, or hearing too much of it and not enough of the others, too dry, too processed, we all know that feeling.

Now, all these 3 things can and regularly do happen when I’m trying to record something. The greatest problem is flow, because if I’m trying to sketch up an idea, I am forced to record snippets, small phrases, maybe a bar or 2 at a time. That’s a problem, because I don’t have the time to get into the music. Other times, I sketch out the whole song using MIDI, and then I start bringing over real instruments. Which brings us to the problem of…


Depending on the song, and what randomization / humanization gymnastics I’ve treated MIDI to, playing to stuff SMACK on the grid can range from “ah the most natural thing in the world” to “this is crap music, no room for expression”.

I could say much much more, but I will not. Rants are tiresome! I’ll just say that playing a song in real time with a band and capturing the recording is waaaaay easier for me than trying to recreate it track by track in Cubase.

Edit: By the way, don’t let youtube videos get you down. You don’t know how much effort has gone into a 3 second clip that looks and sounds effortless. Don’t be harsh on yourself. Allow your music to have things in common with other music. I say this so that I first can take heed, as I feel at times that I must unfurl a musical cosmogony during the first bar of music. No. The only thing this accomplishes is fill me with discomfort and anxiety. It’s as if I’m trying to strike up conversation but for some reason I don’t want to use any words that have already been said. :joy: :exploding_head:


Oh, I know that too good… even parts that are simple suddenly become complicated when recording, and as soon as “the tape is running” I tend to get stressed.
I haven’t really found a solution, but I think the key is to be less strict with yourself (I am, too). Allow yourself mistakes. I sometimes say to myself “Ok, the next take is just for fun, if i f*** it up, who cares”. The pressure to not make mistakes is most likely what produces stress, and that is not helpful.
Sometimes focusing on breathing can be helpful. Notice if you maybe stop breathing during takes, and try to breathe regularly.


Not to discredit Dom’s skills, but a large part of why the videos make it seem like breathing for him is because they are, after all, recordings.

There’s no info on how many times he makes mistakes while recording those videos, he just goes at it over and over again until the end result is professional looking.


You should try playing a drum part from beginning to end without a single mistake or late/early beat!
The good news is you can use comping and you can edit afterwards/warp. I can actually do the drums but my keyboard parts I’m exactly like you. I practice it and get it right but then cock up lol.

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Ha! I just had a revelation! This feeling I mostly get when I’m trying to record guitar (which is not my instrument). And I just figured out why! It’s because when I’m holding a guitar, I just WON’T SHUT UP, I’m noodling all the time! So when I hit record, those 2 seconds of silence fill me with dread and demoralize me!

:rofl: :rofl: :rofl:


This is why I prefer to use punch in and play along to the previous few bars of music… you’re right, those two bars of metronome click can stress you


Just get used to recording all the time.
Set it to loop, record and play your instrument as long as you can.
I had to desensitize myself this way, or I would get that knot in my stomach, when i hit record.
Just playing/recording something simple and try for each lane to change how I would feel the beat.
Being On beat, then slightly behind, and then slightly early until I had recorded for an hour.
I did that every day for a week, that fixed me.

Well I play my best with a major hangover, but I can’t be drunk every other day :-@


It’s difficult to break out of habits when we’ve been playing an instrument for a lot of years. I would suggest spending some time recording things that are much simpler and easier to play. During the process allow yourself to make mistakes but focus on what issue are causing the mistakes. Muscle tension, technique etc. If you can see what the issue might be, then focus on improving that. You’ve been recording for a lot of years so spending a few weeks in “training” as it were might be time well spent. Before recording think about where there is a natural pause so you know at that point you could punch in and this might take the pressure off . Look up something like breathing techniques for performing on the internet. It’s hard not be over critical but if you’ve got a recording that captures the energy or emotion you want but might not be 100% perfect then why not use it?


maybe you can use ‘comping’. first take bad because of that ticky thing but second one should be more natural. just a suggestion :wink:

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Yeah buddy, we all have this from time to time, and we all have those moments where impostor syndrome is kicking in high gear, and as the metronome starts counting, you think “I can’t do this, I’m not cut out for this… What if i screw this up? I mean… I’M RECORDING FOR GOODNESS SAKE!” When this happens, you’ve just gotta take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you aren’t spending thousands of dollars in studio time to lay down a recording directly to vinyl or tape or something equally expensive and non-reusable. You play music for a reason, and you just have to keep that reason in mind, whether the red light is on or not. Cycle recording is worth giving a shot too, if you aren’t having to deal with turning multiple pages back or something that could make it difficult to get back to the top when it’s time.

It’s easy to get too much in our heads, and out of the groove when we artificially raise the stakes of what we’re doing, by pressing that button. Just realize that the stakes are no higher when you record, and if it’s the click that destroys you, turn it off. There’s always the time warp tool if you drifted too much.

As for listening back to your music, I still find that things I wrote a year ago or two years ago are incredibly cringeworthy–and if you’re growing as a musician, they should be in some respects. To this point–John Williams doesn’t go back and listen to soundtracks or watch the films he’s worked on after the premieres. It’s over and done for him, and time to move on to something new and better, taking what he learned from his last project and applying it forward, constantly learning from his challenges. I like this approach quite a bit, because it leaves room for improvement and also helps from digging into a rut too deeply. There’s having a voice, and then there’s having all your music sound the same. Also, if you’re listening back after an hour or more wearing cans, or even using reference monitors, your ears are probably fatigued when you play what you recorded back, and that can make for some bad mix/eq decisions that bring the “what was i thinking?” trope around quite often. So at that point, i’d put down the instrument, turn off your monitor, stretch, and go for a 30 minute walk. Just get out and away from the studio, and approach it fresh in half an hour. You’ll be amazed at what that can do, even for your performances while recording.

Sorry if this rambled on a bit. Hope something in it was helpful though!


What a great post, thanks for sharing.

As the many responses above show, “red light syndrome” is not uncommon. I definitely suffer but not to a large extent: it’s more of an embuggerance.

Here are my suggestions, that come with the caveat that this is a highly personal issue. They work for me but might not be right for everyone:

  1. Use the loop button (as previously mentioned). What I tend to is to record musical phrases and don’t make them too long. I then record each two or three times using the loop function and them pause and critically listen to each one in turn. I throw a lot away but it does also desensitise you.

  2. Don’t set too much store by Utube tutorials. They can be very useful for some things (like fixing a vacuum cleaner) but less so for others. Recording music can be a very personal business and everyone’s approach will vary. I echo the points made by others above.

  3. Be kind to yourself and learn to meditate!

Very much appreciate you sending this post, a real “not just me then” moment. I don’t know if it helps but Phil Spectre was famous for making his session musicians play for hours until he finally made abrecording. I’m sure an element of this was to desensitise them.

Good luck.

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I just set loop recording, then play through whatever I’m trying to record, be it the whole song for that one instrument or just a section of it, several times, trying not to judge it as I play. Especially if I’m trying to make up the parts as I go (usually the case), I’ll tend to get more solid on what I want after a few takes, but I can also experiment more. Then I go back and comp things later.

For lead vocals, I typically do 9 times straight through the song, in sets of 3 takes (with a little rest in between). For background vocals, for which I’m much less likely to know what I want ahead of time, it could be anywhere from about 4 to 12 takes (trying to get to doubles of each part), depending on how close I am to knowing what I want (or how long it takes me to get there) and how exposed the parts will be. For instrumental parts, I most typically do exactly 6 takes. Somehow that seems to be a magic number that gets me enough raw material to get what I need while figuring out what I want along the way.

Of course, in any of these cases, I can do whatever editing I need later on, such as soft quantizing to tighten things somewhat against the groove from my drums, tweaking individual notes if I’ve got the feel but change my mind on the note, etc. The result is I rarely need to go back and do parts over. (That’s especially important on the vocals due to the hassles of setting up a microphone, turning off speakers, warming up a preamp, etc.)

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Too bad we can’t report our own inadequacies as bugs to Steinberg and hope they’ll be fixed in the next maintenance release :grin:
Maybe they can implement a function where on record start they’ll blend in a window with “Don’t Panic” written in large friendly letters…



That’s kind of like someone screaming at you, “Calm down!!!”.



You guys are great! Really. It’s nice to hear that others go through this too. I truly apprecate all of the advise and will try everything suggested. Part of the issue is I’m not yet comfortable or decent at the editing side of things. I have found that quantizing a decent performance has in many cases ruined the feel of the song. I’m still trying to understand the best approach to quantizing. In all the videos I’ve seen so far in quantizing midi tracks I’ve never seen anyone have the trouble that I’m having. Since I suck right now at the editing process I’m trying to do a better performance and that is of course adding even more pressure. I can’t tell you guys how many times I’ve side in front of the piano…blast out a tune and did a bang on perfect job and say “now why can’t I do this while recording!!?” It happens way too often. I’ve been playing for almost 40 years and I have almost nothing to show for it yet. I’m dedicated to learning Cubase very well but so far it’s been a very bumpy experience. I’ll get it - but sometimes I sit down and bang things out and find myself distracted just trying to fix a simple mistake in editing. So far a lot of this has been in midi quantizing.
Chopping up the track to quantize sections must be necessary because no one setting works for this particular song. The song isn’t complex but between the “red light” syndrome and my lack of editing skills sometimes I just want to crawl under a rock and think “I’m struggling this much to do one song!! How am I doing the 20 to 30 others that need to be recorded?!” This one tune that I’m working on now will be a year old this June. The song is arranged (at least the lead piano part) and all the lyrics are complete but I’m still scrambling to be efficient in my editing and recording a decent take. I honestly can’t believe I’m still working on this song and I haven’t even got the main piano part recorded…yikes.

One of the other things I found is driving me nuts is do I sing while recording the piano or shut up and just play and record the piano? If I sing I play slightly differntly because I’m phrasing my playing with my vocals…so it seems more natural to do it this way but I noticed that my playing isn’t quite as dynamic when I sing…ahhhhhh! I asked myself "why does everything I do become so complex?! I drive myself nuts.

Guys this is the reason why I don’t/haven’t played live…ever. I’m consistently inconsistent and scared to death of having a brain fart while playing something.

I’ll figured it out…I always do but wow is this a humbling experience so far.
Thanks again guys for all that commented and advice. I wish I could hang out with you guys.

Thanks for the info and advice. I HATE the click but I feel like I need to get comfortable with it. I have a song that changes tempos a total of six times. From 125 at the beginning to up 135 at it’s fastest and eventually back to 125bpm. I tried many many times to record the tune with a single tempo but it’s just not possible. It’s the click that makes me mess up because I’m trying to keep the natural feel but stay on tempo. I haven’t mastered quantize editing yet as no one setting works for the song so I’m chopping it up and learning how to use this tool. I would love to be able to not use the click in one particular section of the song but I haven’t yet worked with warping so I guess that’s next. Progress is very very slow. Thank you for your help.

Hi Rickpaul,
I’m trying the comp track method with loop recording but the song is 4 min 30 seconds so there is ample time to screw up. I think it might be better try record the song in sections so I don’t run into the issue about mid way through the song where I’m numb to it and mess up from fatigue.

Retrospective recording has been a game changer for me. It takes off the pressure of “red light syndrome”, and I can just sit there and play around with musical ideas without stress or pressure, perhaps playing along to a track to “try things out”. More often than not, one of those takes will be great, and I just use retrospective recording to get that MIDI performance!


It’s really whatever makes you most comfortable. It’s rare for me to do a song in sections (other than background vocals), because it can feel disjointed, whereas I’m used to playing whole songs live. And the comping process means it doesn’t really matter much if some section gets screwed up on one of the takes since it might be fine on another one.

With respect to quantizing, my instrumental tracks are all MIDI, so I’m not dealing with audio quantizing (and I don’t quantize vocals, other than using VocAlign Ultra to tighten background vocals against a lead (or possibly one of the other background vocals when the phrasing is different from the lead). But the iterative quantize in Cubase (I’m usually starting out with 25%) is really helpful. I’m not looking to make something super quantized, just tighter. Also, I don’t use a normal grid. Rather, after setting up my drums part (usually Superior Drummer-based MIDI loops), I make a quantization groove from the drums. Thus, the quantization is like tightening against the drummer, rather than a rigid grid. And you can just select notes in the key editor to only quantize bits you feel need it, rather than everything. Even if it ends up not working, but you don’t figure out until many steps later, Cubase keeps track of the original timing, so you can always revert to unquantized for selected notes (or even everything) down the line.

As for clicks, I hate them. I usually try to find a drum groove to track an initial/scratch piano part against, then I’ll go back and build a real drum part (usually based on the same basic set of loops, but not just one), then I’ll go back and do a revised scratch piano part, this time tracked against more worked out drums (e.g. different feels in verses and choruses), then build some other parts, then do another keeper piano part once more of the arrangement is fleshed out (because I’ll overplay if I’m just tracking the piano by itself). I usually sing while I’m tracking the scratch piano part, but I don’t record the singing, only the MIDI from the piano. I’m just more comfortable singing and playing at the same time, especially to get a basic feel for how I want the song to go. (Most of my live performances are piano/vocal, though some with other musicians.)

I do take a very long time on my recordings – usually at least 2 weeks on a single song, but sometimes over a month of elapsed time, or even starting it at one point then finishing it a few decades later. :slight_smile: I’m currently working on my 6th album. While some of the tracks on this one are brand new songs and recordings, others are songs I wrote decades ago and just recorded newly, while others are songs that I started as demos a decade or more ago but refined for the album. The bottom line is no one will know how long you took to make a specific recording, unless you tell them (and they probably won’t care, even then).

Of course, if you have access to other musicians, you can always bring them in to do the things you don’t do well, but sometimes it’s just masochistic fun to keep plugging away doing everything until you get it to a point where you actually like it. :slight_smile:

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