As a mixer, a problem I continually encounter is a song’s track count. I sometimes receive projects that have over 240 tracks. With 64 outputs in the Pro Tools rig I use, there will be a lot of combining tracks together before I can hear all of the musical sections as intended.
When recording in the early days, only a single microphone was placed in a room. To balance the music, the players were placed around the mic. Loud instruments like drums and brass would be placed further away; softer instruments like acoustic guitars or vocals would be placed closer to the mic. The end result was a live performance properly balanced on one mono track.
Next came the era of multi-track recording. Four, eight, and eventually 16-track recorders came into being. The engineer and producer would laboriously strive to balance between capturing that magical performance and getting the right blend to tape. For example, The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was recorded on four tracks and “Hey Jude” was recorded on eight tracks. Final mixing was easy as everything would have been “pre mixed” due to lack of tracks during the recording. Soon, 16-track machines gave way to 24-track machines and finally, in the heyday of analog recording, two or more 24-track machines were synced together to create 48 or more tracks. As you can imagine, 24 to 48 tracks created a much more involved mixing process.
Today, we virtually have no limit to how many tracks are recorded. Instead of working on the balance of multiple microphones to achieve the blend desired, we now record each microphone onto separate tracks. The final balance decision is left until much later.
More of these decisions should be made while recording and committed to as the performance is happening – not to leave it up to the mixer to magically divine what the artist and producer were trying to capture during the recording process. As a general guide, I would say 50-60 tracks should be the maximum number a session should have. Less is even better. That way, all the production decisions are made and a mixer isn’t spending expensive time bouncing tracks and editing.
Mike Fraser is an engineer/mixer whose recent credits include: AC/ DC’s Iron Man 2 Soundtrack, Airbourne, Melissa Auf der Maur, Jets Overhead,
Franz Ferdinand, Hail The Villain, Chickenfoot, Elvis Costello, Die Mannequin, Sam Roberts, and Mariana’s Trench.