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Record A 16-Track Song On Your 8-Track Recorder

6:00 am Home Recording

If your studio is based on a computer workstation running ProTools or Cubase, you probably don’t have to worry about running out of tracks to use for your musical recordings. These days, most commercial recordings use dozens of tracks to achieve the sample-heavy, layered sound of today’s music. A new track for that subtle timbale part is just a mouse click away!

If you are using a hardware-type recorder unit, though, you have a certain number of tracks - usually 4, 8, or 16 - to work with, and that’s it. That’s how “wide” a single pass at your song is. When those tracks are full, there is no way to add anything more. It doesn’t matter that the song needs another keyboard and two more vocal tracks. You’re done.

Or are you? Here are a couple of techniques for cramming extra parts into your song by “premixing” groups of tracks, both of which allow you to record up to 16 tracks of music for your song on your 8-track recorder. Double your pleasure, double your fun!

Out and Back In

If you happen to be using a 4-track recorder in your studio, like I used to, there is an approach using an external, high-quality cassette or MiniDisc recorder that will help you overcome the limiting effect of having only four tracks to record on. (The same basic technique can also be used with an 8-track recorder.) Here’s how to do it.

Start by recording a click track on Track 1. Then record Parts #1 through #3 on Tracks 2 through 4 before overwriting the click track with Part #4 on Track 1. Now all the tracks are full. This is where it gets interesting.

Set up a stereo premix of the first four tracks and record the result on the external recorder. Caution - this premix mustn’t be some quickie, slapdash thing! It will determine the way these parts will be combined within the final mix, so give it the full Cleveland - levels, panning, EQ, FX - just as if you were making the final mix itself.

If your setup will allow it, you can also add some other part played “live” as you do the mix, bringing the live signal in on a spare mixer input. The live part becomes the fifth “track” in the premix going to the external recorder.

Now set up for a new song on your main recorder, and copy the stereo premix back from the external recorder to Tracks 1 and 2. Again, if your setup allows it, you can add an extra “live” part during this transfer, leaving you with a stereo premix of six parts and two open tracks. Record two final parts on those two free tracks and voila! Eight tracks of music on your 4-track song.

If you were to use this technique with an 8-track recorder, you would end up with 16 tracks of music on your song. But, there is a better approach to use with an 8- or 16-track recorder that doesn’t require an external recorder. Here’s how it works.

Keep On Mixing

If you are using a recorder with more than four tracks, you have room to do all necessary premixing right on the recorder itself. Here’s a typical sequence of steps for recording 16 tracks of music on an 8-track recorder. You can adapt all or part of this general idea to fit your own needs.

1. Record Parts #1 through #6 on Tracks 1 through 6.

2. Make a stereo premix of Tracks 1 through 6 and record the result on Tracks 7 and 8. (Remember, this is permanent. Make it good.)

3. Erase Tracks 1 through 6.

4. Record Parts #7 through #10 on Tracks 1 through 4.

5. Make a stereo premix of Tracks 1 through 4 and record the result on Tracks 5 and 6.

6. Erase Tracks 1 through 4.

7. Record Parts #11 through #13 on Tracks 1 through 3.

8. Make a mono premix of Tracks 1 through 3 and record the result on Track 4.

9. Erase Tracks 1 through 3.

10. Record Parts #14 through #16 on Tracks 1 through 3.

OK. When you’re done, what have you got? You’ve got two stereo premixes (on Tracks 5-6 and 7-8), a mono premix (on Track 4), and three individual parts (on Tracks 1-3). The individual parts offer the most flexibility, allowing you to tinker with their levels, panning, EQ, and FX without affecting any other part. For this reason, you should use those last three tracks for the lead vocal and the two most important instruments.

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