Cover of “That Thing You Do” – Record a Rock Song on Your Computer

Record a Song

I just recorded a cover of the song, That Thing You Do, (written by Adam Schlesinger). And I recorded it from scratch on my computer-based home recording studio right here in a spare bedroom.  The band consisted of me, me, me, me, me and me:-P. The reason I did it, besides just loving the song and always wanting to, was to demonstrate what kind of thing can be done in a very modest home recording studio.

Before I talk about how I did it and what equipment I used, take a listen to how it came out!

I intend to follow up with a more complete step-by-step how-to, along with a video tutorial later this week.  But here are the basics.

Sound Sources

  • Voices – All me (a twisted version of narcissism?).  I double-tracked the lead vocal to get that Beatlesque sound.  I also sang the two harmony parts and double-tracked each of them.  So there are 6 voice tracks in all.
  • Guitars – Carvin DC200, 1985 model.  I used this same guitar for both guitar parts.  If I had vintage Rickenbackers I would have used those, but you work with what you’ve got.
  • Bass – A Samick LB-11 4-string bass guitar I bought used in 1995.
  • Drums – All sampled drum sounds (meaning “I don’t have a drum kit”) from an acoustic kit in the virtual instrument software package called StormDrum, by EastWest.

How Was It Recorded?

I used Reaper software to record it all.  I started with the drum track.  I created a MIDI track and loaded StormDrum onto it as a virtual instrument.  Then I listened very carefully to the original recording of the song from the movie soundtrack. That allowed me to build the drum part hit-by-hit using the MIDI editor in Reaper.

Next, I recorded the bass track by plugging my Samick into a Line 6 POD Studio GX, which is a little box you can plug electric guitars and basses into.  The POD then attaches to your computer via USB, and you use the Line 6 software to choose amps and effects to get the right sound.

Then I recorded the electric guitar parts the same way as the bass.  I recorded 2 parts/tracks, one panned to the left and played as the “rhythm guitar” part.  The other guitar was panned to the right and played with the little riff happening during the verses.

And Finally…

Last but not least, I recorded the lead vocal.  As I mentioned, I sang it once on one track, and then recorded it again (listening to the 1st in the headphones) on a second track to get that double-tracked sound.  I did the same thing with the low harmony part and panned it to the left, and the high harmony part, panned to the right.  All vocals were recorded with the Rode NT2-A microphone hooked up to the computer via a USB audio interface – the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface box.

You can get started with a bundle I created for B&H Audio called The Home Recording Musician’s Starter Kit.

Then I mixed and panned everything to make sure the sounds could all be heard and rendered (mixed down) the result into one audio file, which is what you heard above.

Check back here in a few days and you should find a bit more detail and a video.

Now go forth and record your own pop or rock songs!



28 comments on “Cover of “That Thing You Do” – Record a Rock Song on Your Computer”

  1. I get a very Englishy rock era feeling about this. If one bloke did it is brilliant and way better in content and quality than I and many others I have heard produced.

    I can only say that I am somewhat relieved that the author does not live next door to me.
    Why? you may ask.

    Because I would find it hard not to want to spend time with him and gig and share and go knocking on his door from dawn ’til dusk. As a result, my own musical work and aspirations would likely never be realised.

    Congratulations! I give it my thumbs up and 20/10…..but then those who know me would say that just what they expected to feel and think about it!

  2. Love it! This is a great song and you did a great rendition of it. I know you used Reaper to track it, are you running on a PC or Mac based machine? I have Reaper and both a PC and Mac. The Mac, unfortunately, is a PPC so I can’t do much in the way of doing softsynths to it. On the PC I have plenty of softsynths from when I had a license for Sonar. Looking to upgrade but not sure to which platform.

    1. Thanks Brian! I’m running a PC (a rather feeble one at that:)). It’s an i3 (32-bit) running XP. I have less trouble with soft synths when using the Windows 7 install (on a separate drive of the same computer). I hope that helps.



  3. I am blown away ! Great work Ken. I get you email updates (have been for a while now) and you always have something interesting for a newbie like me,, But this is fantastic! Thanks for posting and for all hard work that goes into explaining the techniques .. Please keep em coming!

    All the Best,

  4. Hi Key
    I love this song & movie & I must say you hit it out of the park
    it just amazes me of your talent to play all of the instruments & vocals & put this all together. & I really love how you were able to put each part into the video Great Work!
    you are just totally amazing!!!

  5. Wow, Ken that is so cool! That’s just the kind of thing that I’d love to be able to do. I do like using my little Boss Br-800 recorder and then maybe mix/master with Reaper; I guess I would have sort of a hybrid home studio. But either way, that’s exactly what I’d really like to work on. I have the gear, I just need to keep watching your tutorials to learn how to better use what I have. Oh ya, I’m also missing one tiny detail that you seem to have… talent!
    Anyway, thanks for the help and keep those vids comin’

    Morro Bay, CA

    1. Thanks Ross! Good luck with your efforts. And let me know if you have any particular questions about how I recorded that.



  6. Great song and performance!
    Love that movie!
    IF you do another video like this you should change shirt for every instrument : )
    Do you have any guitar amp plugins you recommend for reaper? I just started using it!

  7. That is fantastic. I don’t even know the song sadly, but it sounds amazing. And to think you did this with a minimal team?! That’s crazy.

  8. Hi Ken – a wonderful cover from my favourite film. This is something I am trying to achieve myself but I can’t get the guitar sound right. What effects are you using? Cheers.

    1. Thanks Robert. I really didn’t use any effects at all, per se. I plugged my Carvin into a Line 6 PodStudio interface and picked an amp simulator from PodFarm. At the time, Line 6 had an excellent site that is sadly no longer around called GuitarPort On-line. They used to have cover song performances and would tell you exactly what settings those songs used. They had a recording of All My Lovin’ by The Beatles. And you could download the tone into your PodFarm. So I downloaded the “All My Lovin'” tone and used that. But you can probably just play around with amplifiers from the 60s and dial in different tones until you get something you like. Hope that helps.

  9. Hi, Ken. I found your website while skimming YT to learn how to play this song after the untimely passing of Adam Schlesinger. Great job with a great song!

    Do you make available the MIDI tracks you create when you cover songs like this? I’d be interested in purchasing it as creating rhythm tracks is a big gap in my audio production knowledge.


    1. Hi Joe. And thanks! I don’t actually know where that MIDI file might be, since this was quite a few years ago. But I’ll look for it.

      The thing about the file, though, might be that it may not trigger the same drums on your drum program. These things aren’t really completely standard anymore. I used a keyboard to generate some of the notes on the corresponding drums in StormDrum – quite an old program. Then I went back and forth manually entering hits with my mouse in Reaper’s MIDI editor and using the keyboard for some riffs. The OTHER thing that would be a problem is that I may have used 3-4 MIDI tracks with different drums in order to get the right sound. For instance, if I had a 60s or 80s kit in StormDrum, I might not have liked the sound of the toms at the beginning. So I may have used a different load from SD like “Toms only” to get that intro sound. Then I rendered those to audio and imported them back into the project. What I’m saying is that even if I send you a MIDI file, it might not give you the result you expect. Does that make sense? Still, I’ll see if I can find some of the MIDI I used and sent it to you.

    1. I liked them. But I don’t remember saying that anywhere :-P. Did I say something about XTC?

  10. I appreciate anything you come up with. I can map the MIDI channels to as drum instrument, I’m just terrible at working out the drum patterns! Thanks again for whatever you find.

  11. The shirt you’re wearing is of the Uffington white horse, which XTC used as the cover of their album English Settlement. I’ve never seen one on someone who wasn’t wearing it for that reason!

    1. Aha! Well actually no. We lived in England for 4 years and I’ve been a fan of the horse and its history for many years. I found this t-shirt a few years ago and had to have it. Nothing to do with XTC :-).

  12. Wow! Awesome recording of one of my favorite songs…one of my favorite movies, too. Excellent job! Thank you for the tutorial on recording harmonies. Never attempted anything like that, but definitely something I’d like to try, and you make it seem do-able.

    1. Thanks Stacey! It’s totally doable. Go for it. I’d love to see/hear what you come up with.

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