Want Better Sounding Mixes? Stop Using So Many Tracks

If you’re looking for bigger, clearer, more musical sound mixes in your home studio, a quick and effective way of doing so is by reducing the number of tracks that you record for each of your songs.

It seems counter-productive, right? That bigger track counts (what you hoped would give you a big, professional sound) are in fact the very thing that holds you back from a great recording and mix. To put it succinctly – a very quick way for you to have bigger sounding songs is to actually limit the number of tracks that you record.

The More, The Not So Merrier

The main reason for this line of reasoning is this – the entire business of getting all your tracks together and doing a mix is so that they all blend well with each other. Easy peasy, right? Not so much. And here’s the main reason why: it’s what is known as masking.

Simply put, masking is that really annoying happenstance of when the frequencies of one track overlap and cover over (or mask) the frequencies of another track. Individually, the tracks may sound amazing in solo mode, but when you combine them with other tracks you may end up losing its clarity and punch.

You may find this particularly when you start off with drum tracks – your song so far is sounding great, the tone and clarity is top-notch, but…

When you add other tracks, like bass, guitar, vocals, synth, etc., you start building up a lot of tracks and hence have a lot of sound. But along the way you’ve noticed that you don’t have anything quite as clear and concise as your initial track recordings.

To summarize – the more tracks you add to your mix, the more ‘masking’ you come across, which means that much more work and tweaking you need to do to fix it.


So Is Adding Tracks Not A Good Thing?

Based on what’s written above, you might come to the conclusion that the advice given is to strip away so many tracks from your mix that you end up with a very stark, basic feel for each of your songs.

That’s not exactly true though – especially for those wanting to go for that ‘big sound’ that so many albums and songs feature. But the thing to keep in mind is that it’s not neccesarily putting in more tracks to make this happen, but rather it’s this:

The right combination of tracks is what makes the song.

It’s not all about just throwing on a ton of tracks – every track you record should have a specific purpose. It needs to add to or further enhance the song in such a way that taking it out takes away from the song itself.

What is recommended is brutal honesty and a clear intention for every track you lay down. So depending upon the song, you may end up at the end of the whole thing with a song that is either 8 tracks or 18 tracks. It’s not so much the number of tracks, but the particular purpose each track has.


But More IS Better…Right?

Let’s go with an example given by a guy we greatly admire, one Graham Cochrane of the Recording Revolution who is also the inspiration and source of this article.

A few years back, Graham and his band recorded a bare-bones EP with only 8 inputs, which was tracked live. All his band had on there for tracks were drums, bass, two guitars and vocals. They then added another two tracks, which were for percussion and an organ part which totaled no more than 10 tracks for each song.

And even today, Graham still considers that to be one of his most cherished recordings ever (and he’s a busy guy, after all he’s an engineer like me). He got as a result a big, clear sound for the album. But the thing to note is that it was simple.

And with what Graham dubs “the Pro Tools generation” where unlimited track counts are made available for recording, the trend by recording engineers is to pile on as many tracks as we can. And I’ve sadly been guilty of that in the past, but hey so are a lot of other respected recording engineers.

Like I said, most people assume that more is better. So if a song has scores of tracks and it sounds great, it must be because of the number of tracks right?

Confusing, right?

Well, the truth is that those songs that you hear sound so good because they were recorded with quality, and like stated before the only tracks on the songs are ones that contribute to the song. It’s not about the quantity, it’s about the quality!

Graham says it way better than I can: “There’s no point in wearing your high track count like a badge of honor. Instead, we should aim to get as big of a sound as possible with as few tracks as possible. Anything we don’t really need is wasteful and lazy actually.”


Be Purposeful in Your Recording, And Keep It Simple!

Bottom line – if you’re wanting the best mix possible, one that is simple and sounds great, then make a habit of doing so by recording as few tracks as possible.

Every track you put down should have a role, and it should be in your song because it needs to be there and taking it away takes away from the song as a whole. Doing this will be one of the best and quickest ways to get that perfect mix!

Do you have any examples where recording less tracks ended up giving you a better mix for your songs? If so we’d love to hear your experiences below!

Please be sure to share this article with others who may find it useful!





[source] [image via ffg]

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Art Gurley

Art Gurley has been working as a respected music professional and producer/engineer in the greater Los Angeles area for many years and enjoys live performances, tweaking his Pro Tools and Logic Pro X setups, and long drives on the PCH.

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Brooks - August 6, 2015 Reply

I use 12 or more mics just on drums. Snare gets 2 over/under, each Tom, hat, 2 for kick, 2 overhead and a few room mics. Same for guitars and bass. I’ll go direct plus a few assorted mics at different distances. The main reason for all the tracks is the ability to have choices in the mix. Less tracks limit your palet of sound.

    Art Gurley - August 10, 2015 Reply

    Brooks, thanks for your feedback. That’s great and our point exactly. For your purposes, that’s exactly the amount of tracks you need the result being that you get the optimal recording you’re looking for. There are artists out there who think that more is better though, just because it was what they were taught. Your number of tracks each has a specific role and you know exactly what they are. Others are not so sure and may think that having 20 tracks in a mix when they may only need 10-15 tracks to make it optimal. Great to hear from you!

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