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How Multitrack Recording Works

'Bouncing' and the Advantages of Digital Multitrack Recording

It's important for engineers to plan which tracks they'll want to use for what. If, for instance, you're working with a recorder with a limited number of tracks, you might need to plan to combine tracks later. This is possible through a process called bouncing, when an engineer rerecords multiple used tracks onto an open, unused track. For instance, if drums and bass guitar have been recorded on tracks 1 and 2, an engineer can rerecord ("bounce") both of these to track 4 and thereby free up tracks 1 and 2 for other instruments.

However, bouncing tracks makes it more difficult to mix later on, because the engineer can no longer adjust the different instruments individually once they're on the same track. Another drawback to bouncing is that, each time you do it, it degrades the quality of the sound. This is especially true for analog recordings, but the process degrades digital recordings slightly, too [source: Coryat].

Although multitrack recording can be performed in either analog or digital format, as we mentioned, the music industry has switched over to digital -- and for good reason. Bartlett explains that digital has several advantages over analog. For starters, digital yields higher sound quality and steady pitch, and you'll get none of the hiss sound or distortion that can plague analog recordings. (Of course, some musicians might prefer the hiss and distortion from analog, but that's a matter of taste.) Digitally, you can choose to record everything on a computer, allowing you to view and edit waveforms of the recorded music with ease.

In terms of multitrack recording, digital can offer you more tracks -- perhaps only limited by the amount of computer space you have. With digital, it's also easier to fix mistakes, as well as use random access to skip to a particular part of a song to edit. Sending the digital files long distances is a breeze, too. Instead of mailing physical analog tape reels, digital files can be sent over the Internet.

And because you won't have to buy expensive tape or maintain tape recorders, digital studios can be significantly less costly. Amazingly, Bartlett says you can put together a respectable digital home studio for less than $2,000, which would be just as good or better than a $100,000 studio back when analog was standard.