Remember the phrase "Less is more"? I sure do...and I think the older I get and the longer I work on music the more I appreciate it. At least once or twice a month I have people send me songs or demos and ask my opinion on their song or their mix, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of the time it is a wall of indistinguishable noise (sorry). Whether it's 20 tracks of electric guitars for one section of a song or a dozen tracks of stereo synths (which is mono BTW-FYI), the art of coming up with a distinguished "part" seems to slowly be fading away. Why is that?
I think that the easy culprit would be technology. The fact we can record so many tracks and keep so many options opens up rabbit holes the 1960s could only dream of. But, not so fast...The more I talk to students and up and coming professionals, I more I feel the real underlying problem is fear and/or insecurity. Every time I give a lecture on music production there is at least one or two people that are amazed I record a guitar track with delay or reverb. Last week, someone was amazed that I would EQ and compress drums before recording them and making that "commitment". "What if you make a mistake"? he asked. "Then I'll re-record it" I said.
When we think of Holy Grail rock records like Sgt. Pepper or Dark Side of the Moon, we have to remember that it was only done on 16 tracks. Sgt. Pepper was actually four tracks bounced back and forth four times. Yes, there are lots of parts, but there aren't tons of redundant tracks. In fact, there isn't any. They had to make a decision (a commitment) and move on. When they got to the next part, they built off what they had committed to previously-not one of 20 options that may or may not make the cut in mixing. That's what recording music was all about.
If you have the privilege of recording an ensemble of musicians like I do on a regular basis, you'll discover that seasoned musicians listen to each other. If the guitar player here's the piano player putting fills around the vocal in the second verse of the song, he might lay out and look for a spot to play over later on-or, better yet, stop and have that conversation with piano player and the producer. "Who's playing fills in the second verse? Piano-great, I'll play on the outro. Cool?" It's synergy. It's serving the song. It's serving the artist. It's producing. Or, by today's standards maybe it's "unproducing". (clever, huh?)
Got a great song? Record it on eight tracks, mix it down and see what people think. If it is a great song, it will shine through on it's own.