Options for tracking your tunes
While for many playing an instrument, and expressing yourself creatively, is the main factor behind being a musician there are times when you might want to record yourself. You may be writing your own original material. Perhaps you want to share your music with others. Whatever your reasons, creating your own recordings is a hugely rewarding experience that can give your playing new impetus.
We do however understand that it’s a world away from musicianship. Typically, producers – for that is what they are – combine existing musical skills with an understanding of technology. Nowadays the majority of recording and audio production happens within the confines of an elaborate computer setup. We do however understand this may be off-putting for some. Here we will highlight some of the different types of multi-track recording to show you that it doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly difficult to get started yourself.
What is multi-track recording?
Put simply, multi-track recording is the process of ‘layering’ different sounds to create a full band mix. Tracks are, in this context, lines of audio. Typically a producer will record separate lines on top of each other, then adjust volume levels to make everything sit together nicely.
The most obvious example would be having a track for drums, a track for bass, a track for guitar and a vocal track. This would create a fairly standard four-track recording. As the need for more flexibility increases, so can the number of tracks. It’s normal in recording studios for individual drum components, e.g. snare, kick, hats, to be recorded onto separate tracks.
Regardless, the basic premise of tracking and multi-tracking is fairly straightforward. So how is it done? Let’s have a look at the options.
Multi-track can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. At the entry-level end, there are different solutions involving small recorders onto which you record your separate audio tracks and then add effects to give them a professional sheen. The Boss BR800 is a great example of one such unit. It allows you to record four separate inputs at the same time, meaning you could have microphones recording vocals, drums and acoustic instruments together. Once recorded, the sound is mixed individually to get the levels right, then the finished work is ready as an audio file to be played on your chosen listening device.
If you need to record more than four audio sources at once, then the Tascam DP24SD enables up to 24 tracks of audio at once. This makes it perfect for recording larger bands or more complex arrangements. These units mirror closely what you’d be likely to see in a professional recording studio, yet are simple enough to get started on. Many people prefer these hardware units for their more tactile approach to recording, as opposed viewing everything on a computer or laptop screen. We look at this subject a bit more in this blog.
Software as a solution
Speaking of computers, it may be that you want to consider using an existing laptop or computer to record on. To do this you’ll need certain software – known as a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) – which acts as the virtual studio into which you’ll record. There are a few options here, each with their own benefits and limitations. You’ll also need an audio interface, which is effectively an external sound card. It translates the information from the instrument or microphone into a format which the computer can then display.
There is a learning curve to using these programmes. But, once you’ve got the basics down, they are extremely intuitive and easy to navigate your way around.
Another alternative is to use a device which you may already have lying around: a tablet. The Apple iPad, for example, makes a superb portable studio. And, being an Apple device, is extremely straightforward and easy to get your head around. Using the iPad with a specialist DAW app – we’d recommend the excellent (and free) Garageband – and a basic audio interface like the Focusrite iTrack you’ll have a fully fledged recording studio you can take anywhere.
Which is best for me?
The best option, as always, is the one which allows you to quickly and efficiently do what you need it to do. If you’re serious about recording, then you should consider investing in a computer setup. The initial outlay may be slightly higher than the other options, and will take some understanding, but the options it gives you are second to none.
Maybe your needs are a bit more basic. If so, a small hardware recorder like the Boss BR800 or the Tascam DP-006 will certainly get you in the right direction. What’s important is to develop an understanding of the different types of multi-track recording. Once you’ve learned the basics you’ll discover recording to be an entirely new, rewarding way to scratch that creative itch.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.