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In sound engineering, an overdub is a sound recording that is later mixed into an existing recording ( playback ). The corresponding recording process in the recording studio is called overdubbing .


Overdubs are a characteristic recording process. z. B. in pop music , but are also used in projects for studio recordings of classical music, especially film music . In general, it doesn't matter whether it is played live or in the studio, the procedure is similar.

In pop music, sound recordings are usually recorded track by track, usually starting with the music and rhythm track, and then put together by mixing and editing to form a master tape, which later appears on the sound carrier . Strictly speaking, the completion of the music and rhythm track with vocals is an overdubbing, but is rarely referred to as such in technical jargon.

When recording film music, on the other hand, there are two main methods, both of which are used, in particular with string instruments, but sometimes also with wind instruments:

  • Overlay of two recordings made of material with the same content (similar to the double tracking process explained later). A passage is played in by the instruments and then recorded again in the second take with exactly the same sheet music. Later both recordings will be superimposed. This technique is often used when a more voluminous sound is desired, or when only a small group of musicians is available and you want to get a greater impact in the final music version.
  • Overlay of two recordings made of different material. For example, a string orchestra in the first take could Staccato - Ostinato play, while the strings, playing in the second take completely different notes such as long-drawn melody lines. Then, as in the above procedure, both recordings are mixed together. Of course you could (as with traditional scores) just as z. For example, let the first and second violins play the drawn out melody motif and assign the staccato ostinato to the violas, which would then only require one take, but the overall sound would be less intense.

Since several takes are usually recorded with film music, which are then edited into the final version of a piece, this option is particularly useful here. It is also not uncommon here not to work with live overdubs, but with sampled overdubs, that is, played in by VST instruments. Strictly speaking, this is the third form of overdubbing, which takes place alternatively, but of course also through (individual) live recordings.

History of origin

Even if the overdubbing technique is used far more frequently in pop music today, the first overdubbing in music history was probably a classic song. In the film The Cuban Love Song (US premiere: December 5, 1931; German: The girl from Havana ), baritone Lawrence Tibbett sings the title song, later on December 10, 1931, his tenor voice is added to the record for the record . The record label Victor Red Seal # 1550 (side A) reads: Lawrence Tibbett (baritone) with orchestra. Mr. Tibbett also sings tenor.

Sidney Bechet wrote music history in jazz when, on April 18, 1941, he played clarinet, soprano saxaphone, tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums one after the other and had them mixed together in the studio for Sheik of Araby . The professional world is largely in agreement that the overdubbing technique in pop music for the first time on 3 December 1947 when recording Confess by Patti Page was used. Due to the strike, no background choir was available, so studio owner Bill Putnam decided to record Page's voice several times and partially superimpose it in response style. It should be borne in mind that at that time no tape recordings were possible, but direct pressing on records took place. Les Paul has developed overdubbing, because his lover (When You're Near Me) from December 1947 (published in February 1948) brought together 8 different guitar recordings of him. Only the multi-track tape technology made easier overdubbing possible because both tracks are recorded one after the other and can be placed on the same sound carrier without one of the tracks being deleted. Usually the entire track is not re-recorded, but individual passages are overwritten by overdubbing.


Technically, an existing sound track is supplemented by another sound track. At least two takes are required for overdubbing . A distinction is made between voice and instrumental overdubs. With voice overdubs, at least two voices (possibly from the same artist) are superimposed one after the other in order to achieve a close harmony or choral effect or to make the voice appear more voluminous. Instrumental overdubs aim to add missing instruments to the actual recording session. In combination with punch-in and punch-out , overdubbing is also used to stamp out unsuccessful passages in audio tracks. Punch-in means that a wrong note or passage is sung or played again and subsequently inserted into the existing sound track by overdubbing; this avoids a complete new recording. Correspondingly, punch-out is the removal of the faulty passage.

Double tracking

A subtype of overdub is double tracking . Two identical sound tracks ("tracks") are recorded in parallel or with a time shift ( delay ) on top of each other and create a more voluminous, echo-like or sound-filling effect on voices or instruments. Buddy Holly's piece Words of Love , recorded on April 8, 1957, is considered the first rock & roll double-tracking . Holly wanted to include two guitar parts in the song, which required two takes that were subsequently superimposed in mono. Holly had his voice doubled in this way from time to time and then sounded in Close Harmony style like the contemporary Everly Brothers .

The automatic or artificial double-tracking (ADT) was developed on April 7, 1966 in Abbey Road Studios for Beatles recordings by sound engineer Ken Townsend during the recordings for the LP Revolver . Here, a sound signal is taken from a sound track and transferred to another tape with a variable oscillator . The soundtrack changed in this way is transferred back to the original soundtrack. The Beatles later used this technique extensively. In particular, John Lennon did not like his voice particularly like to hear, wishing an intense double-tracking. The first Beatles hit with ADT was Paperback Writer, recorded on April 14, 1966 .

Subsequent processing of live concerts

The subsequent processing of live concerts for the purpose of publishing them on live albums in the recording studio is also known as overdubbing in the professional world. The point here is to edit and eliminate vocal or instrumental deficiencies that occur at pop concerts in the studio or to eliminate disturbing effects (such as feedback ).

A famous example of this is the Beatles performance on August 15, 1965 at New York's Shea Stadium . It was subsequently improved with overdubs on January 5, 1966 in the CTS (Cine Tele Sound) Studios London by Beatles producer George Martin , because the mobile recording technology on site fell well short of the quality standards of the time. A new bass guitar and organ were added to the live recordings afterwards. I Feel Fine and Help! were even re-recorded and provided with atmospheric noises from the gig on August 30, 1965 in the Hollywood Bowl (!).

In some cases, such live performances were subsequently reworked considerably in the recording studio in order to achieve the perfecting of studio recordings while simulating a concert situation. By shortening songs, adding instruments or vocal performances, which were often played in the studio, as well as adding applause, the actual concert recordings were sometimes drastically changed in order to make the albums acoustically more attractive. There are even supposed "live albums" by well-known rock groups that were completely recorded in a studio and then mixed with audience reactions from the tape. The Beatles concept album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (released June 1, 1967) also belongs in this category. The live double album by the American group Eagles (July 7, 1980) is , according to the Rolling Stone Record Guide (1983 edition), possibly the most reworked concert album of all.

These sometimes considerable interventions in the original concert recordings have led to the fact that some artists expressly point out that their live album does not contain any overdubs. This insurance is included on the LP Absolutely Live der Doors (July 1970), for example, as well as on the concert album Live ... auf ana long finster'n Stroß'n by Wolfgang Ambros (recorded during the Germany tour in April 1979) and the Double live album Everything Louder than Everyone Else by Motörhead (March 19, 1999).

On the other hand, the live album Tin Can by the punk band Terrorgruppe (January 2002) is an example of a satire on post-processed live recordings. Through rough cuts you can clearly hear that several concert recordings from different locations have been mixed up; there are samples installed foreign announcements live albums in the pieces, and a whole orchestra is even recorded a song during which the live concept deliberately absurd results.

Today's sound quality with the many possibilities offered by studio technology often makes it difficult for performers to reproduce these “clinically pure” recordings in front of an audience. Occasionally, however, performers do not have sufficient vocal and / or instrumental skills, so that their studio recordings have to be improved with overdubbing. This may also apply to their live performances. Since there are far fewer technical possibilities for improving the sound quality, there is often only the alternative of studio post-processing.


  • Roland Enders: The home recording manual. 3rd edition, Carstensen Verlag, Munich, 2003, ISBN 3-910098-25-8

Individual evidence

  1. SoundonSound from January 2007, Classic Tracks: Les Paul & Mary Ford 'How High the Moon'
  2. SoundonSound from April 2009, Double-tracking Vocals
  3. Simon Frith / Andrew Goodwin, On Record: Rock, Pop, And the Written Word , 1990, p. 284
  4. ^ John Gribbin, Not Fade Away: The Life and Music of Buddy Holly , 2009, pp. 83 f.
  5. SoundonSound from April 2009, Double-tracking Vocals
  6. this oscillator allows you to change the speed of the tape
  7. ^ Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions , 1988, p. 70