PC MULTI-TRACK RECORDING
by Will Landrum
MAN! Technology is great! Personal Computers...How did we ever get along without them?
I have recently had the pleasure of talking with a very talented recording engineer named Beto Cruz here in the Washington DC area. He guided me through some obstacles I was encountering with recording.
I was an advocate of Cubase VST for a while there...but I realized that although Cubase is an awesome recording software, it was really too much for what I wanted to do plus I was having some hardware compatibility issues. You can check out Cubase at http://www.steinberg.net
Beto turned me on to CoolEdit Pro (CEP). I had tried CEP in the past, but for some reason passed up on it for Cubase. Well, Beto changed my viewpoint quickly.
My main problem was how to get my drum voices all on separate audio tracks. I don't have the gear to physically input more than 4 sources at a time. With Cubase I was trying to trigger the drum machine via midi and have it go right back into Cubase to be recorded as audio. The whole concept never seemed very "clean". Timing is the issue. Beto said "Just create your arrangement on the drum machine and play back one voice at a time, each getting it's own track. Put the SAME click intro at the beginning of each track and align them up manually after they're recorded."
I thought Beto was nuts. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get it right. I was wrong! I quickly jumped on the CEP bandwagon. You can check out CoolEdit Pro's new version with a new name Adobe Audition, at http://www.adobe.com/products/audition.html
This is way cool software! I also always thought "Why in the world do I need 64 or more tracks?" Again, Beto had some answers. Because you have so many tracks at your disposal, you can do three guitar solos and pick the one you like best, or cut and paste parts of those three solos into one solo! The editing in CEP is very powerful!
Also, and this is one of my favorites...you can mix tracks together to get a different sound. I use this especially with my drum machine. For instance, I record the kick drum three times each on it's own track and each out of tune with each other. (Yeah... you can tune drums) Track 1 will have the normal drum, track 2 will have the flatted drum and track 3 will have the sharped drum.
Now playing these back with the volumes mixed properly gives you a kick drum that sounds like a huge cannon! This is the sound I personally am looking for since I like to play heavy music. I did this with the snare also and it's awesome. See how so many tracks can help? This is paradise for me since I was forced to record "Will Landrum" on a 4-Track due to budget constraints.
Another recording "trick" you can do with the luxury of many tracks is known as "double tracking". Perform two takes of the rhythm guitar parts and then play them back one panned left and the other panned right. This is very effective at creating a full sound. I do this wherever possible on my tunes. Just doubling the same track doesn't cut it. It must be two separate performances. You can hear a clear example of this on "Change Your Mind" from my new CD and the sample at my web site.
You have to get the drums recorded first because they are the backbone of your music. Once you get the drums recorded, you play to them and record the other pieces; guitars bass and keyboards. (I'm talking human players here).
For example. Let's say you have the drums nicely mixed on tracks 1-12. CEP lets you lock tracks together so you don't accidentally erase or move tracks that are "keepers". With tracks 1-12 in "play" mode, you put track 13 in record mode. So while you are hearing the drums you just play along with them. Your playing gets recorded on track 13 exactly as you played it in relation to the drum tracks.
That's basically it. It's easy. Just record as many takes as necessary to get the performance you want. You will find that recording becomes secondary and you will be focusing on performance anyway which is how it should be.
Now let's back up a bit. Back to the songwriting process itself and using CEP to help you. Let's say you have a chord progression or cool riff that you want to develop. What I'll do is record a scratch drum pattern just for practice purposes and develop ideas by playing along with it. Lay down the scratch drums (you don't have to separate them at this point, it's just for practice), record your chord progression over it, lay down a bass track if you want (this is a good idea if you can because jamming to a "full" rhythm sound is more inspirational) and start jamming to this to develop your song. You can put this rhythm section is a permanent loop so you can play over it forever!
This process is good for developing all the parts of your song. When you are comfortable with the parts, lay down the final drums first and build from there.
These are just some of many techniques involved with multi-tracking on your computer. As with everything else, the more you do it the better you get at it!
For a complete guide to recording software see Hitsquad's review of DAW Software