Multitrack recording keeps audio source separate. Here are some reason why you may and may not want to record your podcast in multiple tracks.
The difference between channels and tracks
Mixers, audio interfaces, recorders, and other audio devices will often refer to tracks and channels.
Generally, channels are how many separate audio paths a device supports. For examples, Mackie describes their mixers by the number of channels: 8-channel, 12-channel, 18-channel, and such. Behringer uses the word “inputs” to mean the same thing (although they technically have more inputs than they say).
Tracks, also sometimes called bus, represent the final mix and separation of all the channels. You know 1-track audio as “mono,” and 2-track audio as “stereo.” However, the number of tracks does not necessarily imply any kind of perceived physical positioning (such as left and right). Most devices support at least two tracks, which are usually treated as stereo.
Consider the Behringer X1204USB and the UFX1204. Both are 12-channel mixers. The X1204USB (and most of the 1204 line) outputs only two tracks through USB or through the main outputs. You can get an additional two tracks from the Alt or Subgroup outputs, effectively turning it into a four-track analog mixer (but the USB is still only two tracks).
The UFX1204 outputs up to 16 tracks via USB to a PC or directly to USB storage. That makes it a 16-track device. Each track can be treated as an individual mono source.
Stereo audio is technically multitrack. If you have the same audio going to both tracks, you’re treating it as a single, stereo track, not two separate tracks. However, it’s possible to use stereo for multitrack, which I’ll explain further in the next episode.
Thus, when we refer to multitrack, it generally means separating audio sources into their own tracks. Here’s what a 4-track podcast could look like:
Track 1: Main host
Track 2: Cohost
Track 3: Guest
Track 4: Soundtrack
Benefits to recording podcasts in multitrack
Multitrack has some definite advantages that you might want for your podcasting. It’s all about the flexibility multitrack-recording offers.
1. Powerful editing
When each participant or the soundtrack is separated, it’s easy to edit almost anything. Here are some examples.
- If one participant coughs while the other is talking, you can edit out the cough without affecting the speaking you want your audience to hear.
- If participants talk over each other (accidentally or intentionally), it’s easy to edit out or shift things so the conversation is still understandable.
- If you have any background audio during the opening or closing, you never have to worry about perfecting the timing because you can shift things in editing when they didn’t align in recording.
- If make a mistake while you have background music or other audio, you can edit out the mistake and shift the background. This won’t sound obviously edited because you didn’t have to cut anything from the background audio.
2. Specific loudness adjustments
A common problem when there’s more than one audio source (whether a person or a soundtrack) is the loudness between the multiple sources. For various reasons, one cohost’s voice could be a different volume from the other.
Compression can help with this, but when it’s really only one source that needs the loudness-correction, recording it on its own track means you can adjust it without affecting the other tracks.
3. Targeted processing
Audio equipment, microphone technique, voice, and environment could be—and most likely are—different for each audio source (person or soundtrack). Thus, the ideal processing for one source may not be ideal for another.
Here are some practical examples.
- Audio compression (evening out the dynamic range between loud and quiet) is usually good for voices, but not good for music.
- Male voices usually need different processing than female voices. There’s even enough variety within each gender that two males (or two females) may sound best with different processing from each person.
- One participant may have more background noise (or other interference) than anyone else. So you can reduce the noise on only their track and not have to process the others.
Benefits to recording podcasts in a single track
Single-track recording (even if you’re treating stereo as single track) offers a lot of simplicity.
1. Simple management and workflow
When everything mixes down to a single track (mono or stereo), it’s easy to route the audio appropriately.
For example, using a multitrack interface may make it complicated for a remote participant or your live audience to hear everything being recorded. However, many multitrack interfaces offer a separate stereo-track mixdown of all the tracks. This is easier to manage when you have only one track.
Editing in single track means far fewer files to manage and the processing is much simpler. Instead of separately processing several tracks, you have only one to process.
2. More-affordable equipment
It seems multitrack audio gear is always more expensive than single-track equivalents. For example, the Behringer UFX1204 16-track mixer is more than twice the price of the X1204USB 2-track mixer, even though they both have the same number of channels; the Mackie Onyx 1220i 12-channel mixer is nearly three times the cost of Mackie’s VLZ and ProFX 12-channel mixers.
There are even more advanced multitrack audio interfaces, offering USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt connectivity, and these can cost even more—$1,000 and up.
Sticking with basic stereo/2-track recording works with most of the professional-quality audio equipment available and at much lower prices.
3. Improved skills
If you record all your participants and the soundtrack into the same track, you’ll quickly discover you can’t rely on editing to fix everything. To avoid capturing mistakes, your best option is to prevent the problems in the first place by improving your skills.
- Fix crosstalk by learning to not interrupt each other and to share your thoughts effectively.
- Fix coughs or other distractions by muting or moving away from the microphone.
- Fix background noise by turning off noise-makers or moving away from them.
Improving your skills will not only make your podcasts better and easier to edit, but it will also make you a far better communicator.
Do you record in multitrack or single-track? What benefits or limitations have you discovered?
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