Tech Tip:Hardware Multitrack vs. Computer DAW

Musician's Friend Tech Tip

By Barry Rivman, Senior Staff Writer, Musician's Friend


It's an odd quirk of human behavior to champion one object over another and defend one's choice unwaveringly. I submit the ongoing Mac vs. PC debate as The People's exhibit A. Speaking of Macs vs. PC, another battle that needn't be fought is computer recording vs. hardware multitrack. After spending years in both camps, I've found a hybrid system combining multitrack recorder and computer DAW to be the best way to go. Hence, it is the goal of this administration to begin a new era of bipartisan tolerance.


Let's review both parties:


Multitrack—The good: simplified, immediate recording capabilities allow direct artistic connection between equipment and user; no software or hardware troubleshooting; reliability; the best way to perfect music for live performance.


Computer DAW—The good: unlimited track count; powerful editing features; large screen view; unmatched production capabilities via 3rd-party plug-ins; huge storage options; and you can watch Netflix during downtime.

Why have both?

Just like we have two sides of the brain that are dedicated to different functions—left = mechanical/intellectual (housekeeping), right = creative/imagination—we should allocate our recording resources the same way. It helps to think of recording in terms of creating music, a process that combines both sides of the brain. In the creative right-brain, we explore ideas until we have our "eureka" moment. If you have too many options up front, sheer housekeeping overwhelms creativity. A hardware recorder that limits your track count will keep you in the creative brain.


Fun fact: The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album was recorded on 4 tracks. Boston's "More Than A Feeling" was recorded on a 24-track machine but only 21 tracks were used.


Tip: Keep a multitrack recorder with mics plugged in and ready to go at all times to capture inspiration. For inspired performances, the recording process should be invisible to the artist. You should never have to press more than the Record/Play button. Oh yeah, stay off the talkback mic!


Once our musical ideas are captured, we apply the intellect or left-brain to edit them into a coherent, listenable form. In recording, this is where the editing and production capabilities of the computer DAW come into play.


Tip: Mixing involves both sides of the brain. Do left-brain chores first, e.g. gain staging, track naming, patching outboard gear, etc. so you can stay in the creative brain longer—once you leave it's hard to get back.

Now let's talk gear

Selecting the right gear is very complicated, requiring far more space than we have. Ahead of any recommendations by gear pundits, keep your musical genre and goals first and foremost in your mind. For example, you don't need a DAW with unlimited track count if you're recording a blues band when a multitracker does the trick admirably. If you're into electronica, you'll need a computer DAW with loads of virtual instruments. However, if you want the artistic immediacy of one-button recording plus the ability to mix and master full-blown productions, you should definitely have both.