Multitrack recording

From Academic Kids

Multitrack recording is a method of sound recording that allows for the recording and re-recording of multiple sound sources, independent of time. This is probably the most common method of recording popular music: Musicians or singers can be recorded separately, then these performances can be edited together to create a cohesive result. It is also called 'multitracking' or just 'tracking' for short.

During multitracking, multiple musical instruments and vocalists are recorded, either one at a time, or simaltaneously, with the key being that they are all recorded onto individual tracks, so that their sounds thus recorded, are able to be individually accessed, processed and manipulated for a desired effect by the recording artist. For example, after tracking a new song with his band, an artist could then play it back, and listen to only the guitar part. He would do so, by 'muting' all the other tracks, except the track on which the guitar part was recorded. If he then wanted to listen to just the vocals that were recorded, he would do so by muting all the tracks, except the vocals track. If he wanted to now listen to the entire song, he could do so by unmuting all the tracks. If he did not like the guitar part or found there was a mistake in it, and wanted to replace it, he could do so by re-recording only the guitar part, and not the entire song all over again. This kind of editng freedom is one of the biggest benefits of tracking.

Multitrack recording devices are available with varying capacities (number of simultaneous tracks available for recording). When recording a segment of audio, which is also known as a track, audio engineers and musicians may select which track or tracks on the device will be used.

Each of the tracks available on the recording device may be set to record or to play back. For example, a musician may record onto track 2 and listen on track 1 at the same time. This allows the musician to sing or to play a duet in harmony with a performance already recorded on track 1.

Both performances can then be played back perfectly synchronised, as if they had been played together. This is a type of overdubbing and can be repeated until all of the tracks are used up.

When recording is completed, the many tracks may be (and usually are) "mixed down" through a mixing console to a 2 track stereo recorder in a format which may then be duplicated and distributed. The records, CD's and cassettes commercially available in a music store, are all such mixed down recordings, usually that have been originally recorded on multiple tracks.


The first musician to use multitrack technology was guitarist Les Paul, and Ampex, an American audio company, released commercial multi-track recorders in 1955, naming the process "Sel-Sync" (Selective Synchronous Recording). The earliest multitrack recorders were analog magnetic tape recorders with 2 or 3 tracks.

The artistic potential of the multitrack recorder came to the attention of the public in the 1960's, when artists such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys began to use multitrack recording extensively, and from then on virtually all popular music was recorded in this manner. The technology developed very rapidly during this time -- at the start of their career in 1963, The Beatles recorded in mono on 2-track machines; by 1965 they were using 4-track to create pop music of unprecendented complexity. In the late Sixties they progressed rapidly through 8-track and 16-track recorders, and their final album Abbey Road in 1969, was recorded on one of the first 24-track machines.

Today multitracks can be analog or digital, and are available with many more tracks. Analog multitracks can have up to 24 tracks and use magnetic tape which is up to 2 inches wide. Digital multitracks can have an almost unlimited number of simultanious tracks and can record to and play back from a number of media and formats including digital tape, hard disk, and optical disk.

Starting around 1995, a revolution in multitracking began, with the arrival of cheap digital multitrack recorders, which were either based on recording sounds on a computer hard drive, a digital tape format, or in some case mini-discs. As time went on, their prices kept steadily dropping further. At the same time, with the power of the personal computer increasing, multitracking software was written for it, so that today, an average home computer is sufficiently powerful to act as a complete multitrack recorder, using cheaply available hardware and software (under US $1000.00). This is a far cry from the days when multitrack recorders used to cost thousands of dollars and few people could afford them. Today, a sufficiently dedicated and talented artist can literally produce a million selling album in his own bedroom, using only his personal computer as a professional tracking machine. This has been done by many artists already.

Some of the leading providers of multitrackers are Tascam (hard drive based), Alesis (ADAT digital tape based), Roland (hard drive based), Fostex (hard drive based) and Yamaha (hard drive based), among others. Some of the leading providers of multitracking software for a personal computer are Digidesign (software called ProTools), Cakewalk (software called SONAR) and Emagic (software called Logic Audio). ProTools is regarded the king of multitracking software, and is a standard in most recording studios in the US.

Multitrack Recording Gives Complete Creative Freedom to the Artist in the Final Mixdown phase

If all the voices (including human and instrumental voices) in a recording are individually recorded on distinct tracks, then the artist is able to retain complete control over the final sculpting of the song, during the mixdown (re-recording to two stereo tracks for mass consumption) phase.

If the artist wanted to apply one effect to, for example, a synthesizer part on track 3, and a different effect to a guitar part on track 7, while applying a 'chorused reverb' effect to the lead vocals on track 2, and different effects to all the drums and percussion instruments, occupying tracks 12-24, he couldn't do so, if they had been all been originally recorded together onto the same track.

But if they had been individually 'tracked' onto separate tracks, then the artist could blend the different voices that the song is comprised of, according to his vision, with complete freedom.

Multitracking a song, also leaves open the possibilities of remixes by future artists, such as DJ's. If the song was not available in a multitrack format recording, the job of the remixing artist could be anywhere from very difficult to impossible. Because once the voices have been recorded together during the mixdown phase, they are inseparable. Theoretically, one could use frequency selective filters for this, but in reality this has not been done to any great degree of success, possibly because of the multi-harmonic (having many frequencies) nature of many musical multipiste


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