Recording Effects: Add Them in the Mix or Play Them Live?

Hey, any Rush fans out there?

A few years ago, I had the unique opportunity to do something really cool, something a Rush fan would definitely freak out over. My band, Collective Soul, had recently recorded a live concert DVD called Home, and the director invited us to his post-production studio to talk about the project.

Well, one of his other big projects included archiving all of the old Rush master tapes to digital hard drives for safe storage. He asked if we were fans and if we were interested in hearing any of that stuff, to which we replied, “Are you kidding? Hell yes and hell YES!”

They had just finished “Limelight,” and there it was in all its glory on this little Pro Tools session. We were given free reign to goof around, soloing up tracks and just listening to this masterpiece. It’s musicianship like this that makes you feel completely inspired and at the same time, completely inadequate, you know?

I just remember looking at the faders, and they were all set to “0,” not a plug-in in sight, either, and when I hit the space bar, it sounded like the damn record! I’m pretty sure it was just a 24-track session as well; if not, it wasn’t more than 48.

One thing that really hit home with me was how so many of those sounds and effects were committed to tape. I mean this song sounded mixed already. We also got to listen to “Red Barchetta,” complete with Geddy Lee’s funny commentary during Alex’s solo that remains forever hidden via the mute button.

Anyway, this brings me to my thoughts on recording effects and the theory of adding the effects in the mix versus doing it yourself with your favorite pedals, thus committing it to “tape,” as it were.

Basically, for me, it always comes down to the old adage, “If it sounds good, then it is good,” and sometimes you have to just trust your instincts. If you think the delay pedal you’re using has a special “thing” that you like and it’s making you play the part better, then don’t hesitate to use it. The engineer or producer may present the argument that they have better delay plug-ins, etc., and they would like to have more options at mix time; well, this is a valid point, but take my word for it: You know and I know it ain’t gonna be the same.

I will say the delay stuff is probably the one thing that can be a little tricky, though. I do believe that you should trust your instincts, but you also have to be mature enough as a musician to know how it fits within the song. The delay repeats almost always need to be in time with the music, and I tend to be a little more reserved on the actual level of effect.

Usually in mix down, I’ll use a plug-in to add a little more “goo” if it needs it, and everything always works out fine. As far as chorus, phase and pitch effects, I almost always print it with my stompboxes and gadgets. The stuff you can do with plug-ins is cool, but it always sounds a little too pristine or hi-fi to me. That being said, always refer to the “If it sounds good” theory, and you’ll be OK.

So just for fun, here are a few clips demonstrating some of my favorite effect combinations I committed to “tape” and didn’t look back. The first clip is from a song from Collective Soul’s record Afterwords. The track is one I wrote called “I Don’t Need Anymore Friends.” It’s very keyboard sounding, and that’s why I like it.

The signal chain was a P90-equipped MJ guitar through an Aphex compressor through a whammy pedal through an Option 5 Leslie pedal through a Line 6 delay pedal and then through my homemade amp set fairly clean. At the beginning of the first chord, I rocked the whammy pedal that was on the octave up-down setting.

“I Don’t Need Anymore Friends”

The second track is from that same record, and it's called “Good Morning After All." It’s an example of using an e-bow to get string quartet sounds. The real trick is using the whammy pedal on what would be the first and second violin parts to help get closer to the timbre of those instruments. The whammy was set to the octave up-down position again.

“Good Morning After All"

The third clip is from my solo record, Fight Years, and it’s a keyboard-sounding thing that happens on the song “Sunrise.” It’s basically the same setup as the first clip, but I use a reverse delay setting.


Joel Kosche is the lead guitarist for Collective Soul. Prior to joining the group in 2001, he was a fixture in the Atlanta music scene, playing in local bands and working part time as a guitar tech for various artists, including Steve Winwood. When he’s not on tour or in the studio, Joel, a self-professed "gearhead" and “tinkerer,” enjoys building and modifying guitars and tube-based amps. Outside of his duties with Collective Soul, he has appeared on numerous recordings, including the epic Shadowman from Kansas lead singer Steve Walsh. Most recently, Joel released his first solo record, Fight Years, a self-produced effort recorded mainly in his home studio (Flame Under Heel Studios) and released in June 2010.

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