The Recording Forums

Basic Home Recording VI

Jim Goodman

Part 6 – Introduction to Multitrack Recording

If you are new to recording you may have found the 2 channel 1 track stereo recording of the last installment very lacking in flexibility. It is possible and actually likely that some may have found it adequate for what they are recording. In all honesty I do a lot of 1 track recording in a simple .wav editor, but when I am wanting to work on a song,  ie arrangements, different instrument sounds etc, I use multitracking.

Multitrack simply is as the word describes multiple tracks. In stereo recording you have 2 channels, left and right. So what if you could take those 2 channels and make those useable as 2 inputs, the left channel being input named L and the right channel being a second input named R? Well then a 2 channel stereo recording could be made 2 track if you can recording the left channel as 1 input, play it back (monitoring) so you can then record over it on the right channel with the right input giving 2 independent tracks to record with. Practically lets say you record your guitar on 1 channel called track 1 and your vocal on the right, track 2. This can be expanded to 4 tracks, 8 tracks, 128 tracks what ever your software will support all using the left/right inputs from your  soundcard. Just for clarification your jack into your soundcard is a stereo jack, so the software will identify each channel as an input.

As you no doubt gathered from the above you can only record 2 simultaneous inputs at once ie for either 1 track stereo or 2 tracks mono. There are a variety of items to allow for multiple inputs made up of left/right inputs to allow for as many simultaneous tracks as you would need. Example if you are recording a drum set you may want a track for each of the following mics: kick drum, snare, hi-hat, 2 for high toms, 2 overhead for cymbals, and one on the floor tom. Here you would have 7 mics and you could mix them down with a mixer to stereo and record them to a stereo track or 2 mono tracks, or you could have amazing flexibility with each mic having its own track, in this case you would need 7 tracks. To do this would require a supporting soundcard, breakout box (multi inputs) and software to support the number of tracks.

Back to the 2 track recording. If you followed the example above with the guitar being 1 track and the vocal being number 2 you will notice upon playback each track will have its own speaker, you could change the 2 tracks to mono as most programs allow for stereo-to-mono conversion, but what if the guitar is louder that the vocals or vise-versa? Then the next tool in multitrack recording is the mixer.

The mixer is a part of that process allowing you to mix the levels of each track for either a “mixdown” or to apply to the stereo-to-mono conversion. It can be a mixer that resembles a real mixer or it can be as simple as a left to right slider. If your program supports 2 independent track recording it should also have the ability to mix the 2 mono tracks.

You may have also notice or assumed the guitar and vocal lack dynamics or sound to harsh. You can also add effects to each. track. Lets say the guitar sounds like you are playing in a tin can, you can apply an EQ effect to the track and increase the bass frequencies. Perhaps the vocals sound too in your face you can apply a reverb effect to your vocals to add some space to allow the vocal to “sit in the mix”.

So you can see there is great flexibility to really make your recording sound good. With the right tools and education you can actually make your recording sound very professional.

In the next installment we will look at software and I will post some links to some free software and demo software. This is where we roll up our sleeves and have some real fun as many of these have downloadable demos you can mix and apply effects to. I find you can read about it all day long, but playing with it that is the best learning.