How to Multi-Track

If you have never done a multi-track before, you may be extremely confused about how to go about it. Don’t worry; although it does require some level of expertise and skill, it’s not as complicated as you may be thinking. Once you understand what to do, you will be making tons of multi-tracks in no time.

Before we go any further, let us look at what the term multi-tracking really means. A multi-track recording contains 2 or more musical instruments that have been recorded on individual channels or tracks. When you are doing multi-tracking, you have the option of recording each instrument at the same time or simultaneously. When the recording is done simultaneously, it is referred to as multi-channel recording.

Now that you know exactly what you will be doing, let’s look at why and how you would go about doing it. But why would you want to multi-track in the first place?

Advantages of multi-tracking

Perhaps the greatest advantage of multi-track recording is that you won’t necessarily have to start the entire recording all over if one musician makes an error. It doesn’t matter if you are recording the musical instruments simultaneously or all at once.

Another advantage is the ability to create better sounds since you can enhance each instrument individually before you place all the recordings on a single track. If need be, you can also delete one or several tracks before you put all the sounds together.

If the musicians that you will be recording are not all available at once, you can record them individually and then put the recordings together afterwards. This is very good because it can save the time and stress of finding a time that everyone is available at on.

The final advantage is the ability to record an endless number of instruments based on the space that you have available on your system. Although this may increase complexity, it can definitely add different dimensions to your track to produce a more unique sound.

What do you need to multi-track?

You only need 2 things to be able to multi-track, that is, apart from the musical instruments or the source of your sound.

You will need multi-track recording software. One of the most commonly used software is Reaper, which is highly recommended; however, if you prefer to use other software, that is up to you.

You also need a digital audio recording (DAW) system. If you are doing a digital recording, your PC will be your DAW system. Make sure that your audio interface will allow you to record more than 2 tracks on each input.

The multi-track recording process

You don’t have to spend forever just to record musicians or more than one artist on a song in order to get the perfect finished product. A multi-track recording can save a lot of time and stress during the recording process. But there are two ways that you can record a multi-track—all at once or simultaneously.

You may be wondering how a simultaneous multi-track recording can save time when you have to record the musicians one at a time; however, it is simple. The more musicians you record, the more the chances of one of them making an error at some point of the recording process. Instead of starting the recording from the top again, you can simply re-record that individual musician.

In fact, it is generally recommended that you simultaneously record a multi-track if you have a band performing together. If a musician makes an error and you need to re-record that instrument, it is definitely more efficient to record only that instrument for the re-take.

Simultaneous multi-track recording

Here are some general steps that you should follow in order to get that perfect multi-track recording when you record simultaneously.

Before you do anything, make sure that you determine which instruments will be assigned to the inputs that are in your audio interface. This is extremely important as it will help you to carry out the remainder of the process smoothly.

Decide how many tracks you will need to create. Remember, depending on your software and PC space, you may be able to create as many tracks as you like. The more tracks you create, the greater your chances of enhancing the sound in greater detail.

Not sure how many tracks you should create? The general rule of thumb is that the number of tracks that you create should be equal to the number of microphones that you will be using for the recording. You can also use the number of musical instruments being recorded to determine the number of tracks that you will need.

Don’t forget to properly label your tracks once you have determined which instruments correspond with the tracks that you have created. This is a very important step; if you forget to properly label your tracks, you may end up with lost tracks and have to repeat your recording session.

Recording a multi-track one at a time

It is less tedious to record the musical instruments one at a time. Of course, this means that you will only create 1 track at a time and only one instrument will be connected to your DAW software. This tends to be much more time consuming than recording simultaneously, so make sure you and your musicians get it right the first time.

Here’s a general recommendation for the order in which you should record, if you are recording the instruments one at a time.

  • The drums (they set the foundation and pace for the other instruments)
  • Guitars
  • Bass

Once you have the instruments recorded, don’t forget to have the recordings pre-panned. Pre-panning helps when you record the vocals. After recording the vocals, make sure that the recordings are not altered. Once you have done that, you can start mixing the audio.

If you are new to multi-track recording, it may take a few tries before you get used to the entire process. It may be even more challenging if are new to the entire recording process. However, the more you practice, the better you will become at it.


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