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  Multitrack Q&A  

Q) If I want a particular sound, say a lot of bass, should I do this recording the track or should I just let the adjustment be made in mastering? -Ron

I prefer to get everything sounding as good as possible at every step, so yes I would eq the sound to your multitrack master. Yes, tone quality will be enhanced or corrected in mastering, but when tracking, I add eq and compression to bass, drums, vocals, you name it. My goal was always to be able to play the tape with monitor faders only and have excellent sound. (Not to mention that if the tapes went to another studio for overdubs or mixing, the quality of my work would consistently show up.) This saves time, too, when bringing up the tape for your next session because you don't spend time eq'ing the tracks and patching in compressors before starting overdubs. I know. You've got a total recall board. That's cool! But read on...

Often I would set up stereo pairs of tracks, like piano in stereo, synths in stereo, two sets of stereo guitars, etc. I would almost always triple track backup vocals, left, center, right. I would usually have a stereo pair available for solos, and when the solo wasn't playing, those tracks were available for stereo percussion or other occasional overdubs.

So, you say, how did I ever have enough tracks? Well when doing 48 tracks it was never an issue, but most of the 24 track sessions weren't a problem. My production technique kept stuff layered so every track wasn't always going at once. Since I started with 4 and 8 track, I *had* to learn how to manage the tracks, and since I've always been a stereo-audiophile-great sound freak, I always figured out ways to get stuff in stereo no matter how many tracks I had. Even if I had to mix to a cassette and then bounce it back to the multitrack tape.

Key: Don't waste tracks on drums. I rarely *ever* used a separate hi hat mic or hi hat track. There was always plenty in the snare. While some engineers like to gate down the leakage in the snare mic, I always preferred to get the drummer to play the hat softer, or if need be, I'd put duct tape on the hat. I know. You spent a zillion dollars to get that loud hat that you can hear all the way over at the neighbors house. What can I say... hi hats don't have to be blazing in the mix. Yes, there are times when a very precise hat is needed for jazz, or needed for real open and effecty songs. Some of today's drum loop vibes have lots of softer incidental snare notes that a gate would cut out too. Many of those cool drum loops on new records are from the days of old and recorded without gating. So whenever possible, I say have the drummer be in charge of the dynamic mix right from the get-go. (More about that on my Secrets of Miking page.)

I've always combined the toms into a stereo pair, never separating them individually unless there was special circumstances, like doing a 3 piece live jazz thing to 16 track. Then yes, I'd separate the toms and hi hat and maybe add an extra track for ride cymbal. But even then, a great stereo overhead mic set-up really diminishes the need for all those extra tracks! In the early days the goal was to get the drums with mics on the kic, the snare, and two overheads.... and make it sound great! "Less is more." is a very valuable idea.

Typically I am a little conservative with compression recording to tape, so that I'm not locked into something that I'd regret not being able to "back off" a bit at mix time. But if I need something with a lot of compression, I don't hesitate to use it. Often it's not a good idea to add reverb or effects to the multitrack because then you are locked into that sound and it can't be altered much in mixdown. However, there are exceptions! Remember those stereo pairs? Sometimes I would add stereo ambience or delays right then and there because I knew ahead of time what I wanted and that it would stay till the very end. Sometimes even adding a long verb on a mono percussion track has a nice effect.

Plus, there were early times when I only had so many effects, and so to have them all available at mixdown time, I'd blend them in during tracking. Sometimes, our limitations are a gift. It invites us (not forces us) to be more creative with the resources at hand. Usually, all the resources we need are closeby... sometimes being open to that truth in all areas of life makes a positive difference in what we're experiencing moment to moment.


One last reminder, I don't recommend compressing the stereo buss when mixing. It hampers the mastering process - where compression and limiting is an art.

Q) I use a program called Nuendo. Do you think you can get a good master with using software plugins? -Richard

If you mean doing good "mastering", I think it depends on the mixes. If they need relatively little in terms of processing and really good gear was used going into the system, then a "good" master is certainly possible, if the listening is done by talented ears that know how to get real world results. Software mastering recalculates the numbers (samples) and if used too aggressively, causes some shrinkage of the sound stage and makes it sound more sterile, when compared to analog mastering.

If the tracking or mixing engineer is doing software mastering on the same system as it was tracked or mixed on, then basically you may get a "good" master suitable for many uses, but not necessarily something that's neck-and-neck with product by Bob Ludwig, Bernie Grundman or John Vestman. $75,000+ of processing gear and 26+ years plus of experience just gets you to another level that software can't offer. One thing is for sure - using the best is always sonically a good decision.

The real question is how appropriate high-end mastering is for you or your client's needs. A $5,000 mastering job won't make an album sell more. It will make it sound terrific, but the material has to be there even before the mastering session is even booked. That's why I share so much info on my site - so that the core recording has a better shot at succeeding. Everyone wins from every level of improvement. However, if lower-cost software makes more sense in the over-all picture (type of clients, who's going to hear/buy the music, when is enough enough) then I'd go for it.

You can only make the best decision you can - who should be picked for tracking, mixing, mastering? What scale of spending vs. saving is appropriate? How well thought out are the next steps (artwork, pressing, distribution, promotion, legal fees, merchandising, touring, etc.)? That's why I've included my links page, which is an incredible way to see more of what's possible for launching that next Grammy-winning album.

I start with the slogan "I AM IT." That way I will never ever blame anyone else for my results. Don't misunderstand... I don't even begin to think that I'm going to do everything all by myself... I intend to ask for support, I intend to delegate, I intend to follow though and be a team player all the way. I know that my goals are just targets that support my direction - and I know that my intentions are what I am going to MAKE happen - without question. We can all take responsibility for being "ok" at every level of our evolution - we can keep in mind that life is a process, not a destination... and we should enjoy the ride along the way!

Q) When you are mastering do you master 2 track or multi track?

Mostly I'm taking a 2 track mix source and enhancing it, but there are times when I use up to 8 tracks when layering additional material is required... but that's pretty seldom.

...and if multi track how does it usually come?

Real multitrack stuff usually belongs in the mixing room. If I'm adding reverb, or mixing vocals with stereo instrumental tracks, it's because of a special circumstance. More common is where I might extend a too-short reverb tail at the end of a song by cloning the ending and carefully adding it into the original tail.


See John's previous recording studio and news bits:

Trianon Recording
Trianon B
Pro Sound News
Eq Magazine
R.E.P Magazine
No Cover Magazine

Modified 04/04/02
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