Tech Tip:Boosting Your Track Count

By Dennis Kambury


Counting Tracks
Today's portable recorders offer a lot more than the original units did so many years ago. Onboard effects, faders, and great sound quality are just some of the improvements. Many of the digital recorders even feature virtual tracks that greatly extend their functionality. Regardless of the number of tracks your recorder has, there is that inevitable moment that every engineer must face - the need for one more track than you have!


Three into one
Track bouncing is a time-honored method for getting the most out of a four-track recorder. To illustrate the process, let's create a song that uses guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, lead vocal, and two background vocal parts. To get stared, record the guitar, bass, and piano parts of the song on tracks one, two, and three. You still have drums, two background vocals, and the lead vocals to record, and only one track left for all four parts! To gain three extra tracks, create a mix of your first three tracks, and record this mix onto track four - complete with effects. This is called "bouncing tracks." Be sure you've got it right, because once you erase the original tracks, this mixed track is the keeper!


Two into one
You now have three free tracks to work with. Erase the first three tracks, and get ready for the next step. Record the background vocals on tracks one and two, and follow the same procedure as before - mix them, complete with effects, onto the remaining track - track three, and erase tracks one and two.


Two down, two to go
With these two remaining tracks, record your vocals on one track, and the drums on the other. I saved these parts for last for two reasons - the drums have a lot of high frequency information in the cymbals and snare, and as every bounce cuts a bit of high end off the bounced track, this keeps the drums crisp and clear. For the vocals, a first generation take leaves the most important element of the song - the lyrics - clean and present! When you create your final mix onto a stereo recorder, add a touch of reverb to the lead vocal to give it dimension, and you're done!


Getting jiggy
That was easy - too easy! The resulting mix is a good monophonic representation of your song. But suppose you wanted to go stereo - can it be done? With some creativity, yes indeed! Originally, we bounced the rhythm section from the first three tracks onto the fourth. To make a stereo version of the rhythm section, record the bass and guitar on tracks one and two, then bounce them to tracks three and four while mixing in a stereo keyboard part "live." Next, record your background vocals on tracks one and two, then mix the whole thing down to your stereo recorder. Pop a fresh cassette into your four track (keeping the original for another day), and re-record your mix onto tracks three and four while overdubbing the drums. You now have a stereo mix, with drums, and two free tracks left! Add your lead vocal part on track one, a second guitar part, mix it all down to stereo, and you're done. You've effectively doubled your track count!