TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 32 – MULTITRACK RECORDING

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 32 Multitrack Recording

Most Home Music Studios today, are built around a computer system of some sort…..whether that system be a software programme, a Studio-In-The-Box or a Digital Audio Workstation. They all provide the facility of being able to record and playback multiple tracks.

Fostex MR-8 MkII 8 Track Digital Recorder, Basic Multitrack But Very Portable.

A basic system might only provide a handful of tracks, whilst a full-blown professional system like Logic or Pro Tools, could provide 100’s of audio and MIDI tracks allowing the most complex projects to be recorded and mixed.

Over the last few weeks we have discussed multitrack system setups and the various points in a signal’s path…..how using session templates can save you time…..setting and monitoring levels through the signal path.

This week we’ll look at the use of EQ, dynamic and effects processing at the record stage, recording that first take, using punch-ins and the importance of saving your work.

There are two schools of thought with regards to using EQ and other processes at the record stage…..we discussed some of the pros and cons in this blog which considered Signal Processing.

For those of you who are just joining us in this series of blogs, the important thing to remember (as I’ve said before), is that if you choose to add any processing to the recorded signal on the same recorded track, it cannot be removed, which could limit your options later on.

Pro Tools – Extremely Versatile, Professional System…Multiple Audio And MIDI Tracks, Routing Options, Plug-Ins. It’s Hard To Beat.

That may be okay if you’re simply using a bit of light compression (dynamic processing) on an instrument, but unacceptable if you’re adding heavy distortion (effect processing) to a guitar, which you then regret at the mix stage. So, if at all possible, record your clean instrument and effect on separate tracks of your recorder. Keep your options open for as long as possible.

We’ll assume you have spent time getting the best mic position and taken care plugging your instruments into your mixer or preamp to get the best sound without extraneous noises, buzzes or hums. It is often wise (at the record stage), to reserve the use of EQ to fix unwanted frequencies you might be picking up. Your aim is to get a good, clean sound from your instrument or vocalist.

Digirack De-Esser.

Maybe, despite having tried several mic positions, your vocalist still sounds very sibilant…..some voices are just more sibilant than others. The use of a De-esser (which is a frequency specific compressor) can be used to target the harsh ”s” sounds in the 6-8kHz frequency range, although you can get sibilance outside this range too. If you were to use just EQ on a track, you need to be aware that the whole vocal sound would be affected.

Or possibly, the bass guitar or kick drum might benefit from cutting some low mid-range frequencies to give a bit more punch and reduce muddiness. They normally work ‘as a team’ in a mix, so you don’t want them to clash or mask one another. You should be able to hear them both whilst enhancing the overall final mix. EQ can help separate the two instruments and let them both shine.

Just remember to check levels going to your recorder if you have made some EQ adjustments, because the levels may have changed.

Once you’re satisfied that you have set up your system for recording and that you have a good signal-to-noise ratio, it’s time to record.

Fourteen Instruments In One – Multitracking Makes It A Lot Easier For Today’s One Man Bands.

Let’s use Pro Tools as our system example again. To keep things simple, we’ll assume you’re a one man band who is going to record yourself singing, playing acoustic guitar and adding various other instruments. The use of a click track is favoured by some. But ultimately, it’s down to personal preference.

Most systems allow you to enter a start or cue point. This will allow you to jump back quickly to the beginning of your track. You will likely record several ‘takes’ of an instrument and/or vocal before you’re happy with a performance. Then you will move into the overdubbing stage, adding more instruments. So having a start point will save you time.

Session With Cue Points.

As you proceed through the track, you will find it useful to add several cue points. For example, first verse, second verse, chorus, middle 8 or solo. This enables you to quickly locate a specific point in your song that needs working on.

Now, arm the track your instrument or voice is routed to, by pressing the track’s record enable button. If you’re using a separate recorder there will be a record button for that too either on the machine itself or on a remote panel. Then, on Pro Tools, hit record on the transport window……on analog multitrack machines, you may need to hold down the record button whilst hitting play.

At this point the track should be recording. If you now sing or play your instrument, you should see level registering on the track meter. In Pro Tools and other similar systems you will see a waveform being produced in the edit page, as you play. If you’re using an analog machine you should see the meter registering level.

When you’re finished playing, hit the stop button and cue back to the start. Disarm the track to make it safe for playback. Make sure the track fader is up so that you can hear your performance. If you don’t like what you hear, you can do another ‘take’ and another….. (you get the idea) …..until you get something you do like.

Pro Tools – You Can Name Your Tracks. Also, Track Types Are Denoted By Different Icons…A Waveform Denotes Audio, A Down Arrow Denotes An Auxiliary Track.

It’s worth naming your tracks prior to recording, so that each audio file recorded on the track gets named something useful eg. El. Guitar 1, Fretless Bass etc, as opposed to simply Audio 01, 02 etc.

In many programmes including Pro Tools, each ‘take’ is saved in your audio files folder and numbered. So if you accidentally record over your first take with a second, that first take would still be accessible on your hard drive.

However, it’s always worthwhile hitting ‘Save’ every few minutes, this will save all the information and settings in your session, not just the audio files. You can also set up an autosave which will save your session every 5, 10,15 minutes…..whatever you set.

Punching in and out is a technique that can be used on analog multitracks as well as digital systems. For example, if a specific guitar phrase is proving problematic, you can ‘punch’ into record just before the phrase and ‘punch’ out after it. It’s also sometimes referred to as dropping in and out of record.

Whilst the track is in play mode you hit the record button at the appropriate point and hit play or stop to punch out.

Pro Tools – Punch In & Out Recording.

With a digital system you can also programme the track to go into record and out at specified points. This can be repeated or looped as many times as you want until you get the performance you’re happy with. Once you’re done just hit stop.

One of the biggest advantages of programming the in and out is that you can concentrate on just the playing. It also allows you to punch in and out over very small passages. From replacing a single bum note, to  a single bad snare hit.

Editing can also help you out in these situations, but we’ll get to that in a week or so.

Be aware, if you use this technique on an analog machine you will destroy the part of the ‘take’ you record over. Pro Tools (and other good systems) is non destructive and will keep all your attempts, so if you decide that punch in 5 was better than final take 8 you can retrieve it and put it back in your track.

So, in our example you now have a guitar or guitar and vocal recorded. This initial recording could end up being a guide for the other tracks to work with, or if the quality is good enough, could be part of the final mix.

Next week we’ll continue by looking at Overdubbing to continue the process.

TCM Music Group & Mastering.

And if you need some music advice, help with production, recording, mixing or mastering, TCM are here to help….. drop them a line or call them to discover some of the great deals on offer at the moment.

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