A short history of multi-tracking

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Have you ever tried Multitracking? Post any songs you have 'multitracked' in here .. and tell us how you did it.

A short history of multi-tracking

Postby gerso » 16 Oct 2014 13:41

Note the date of these posts .. October 2014.
It's now February 2019, but as we are discussing Multitracking I thought this topic on the same subject would make a good read.
Hugh




Hi Gals & Guys.

I know that many of you prefer playing live, and probably some of you frown on multi-tracked music, even though it's an art in itself, and you still have to play all the parts. I suppose the person to blame is Les Paul, who started in the 1930's recording on two tape machines then combined those takes on to a third machine. Synchronising the two was extremely difficult but he managed it, and so multi-tracking was born.

The next big success with this art came with The Beatles when Abbey Road acquired a four track machine. It was in the early 1970's when a young musician by the name of Mike Oldfield had a worldwide smash with Tubular Bells (Mainly because of the film "The Exorcist.") And it was entirely multi-tracked. It was also the first release of a new record company called "Virgin" owned by Richard Branson. (Whatever became of him?)

Soon after a Japanese company, "Tascam" produced a four track cassette recorder, which meant that enthusiasts could start recording at home. Not long after I bought a four track machine made by "Fostex" which was cheaper than "Tascam" but did the same job. Prior to that I recorded into a two track machine that allowed me to record over the first take and so on producing more and more hiss with each take, but to me it was magic.


Before multi-tracking took off as the norm, the whole band or orchestra plus the singer(s) would record live, and mistakes meant starting over.
I came across a recording of me from 1980 using a four track machine. Just me, my guitar and a wine glass performing a song that I had just composed.
Here is the link if you'd like to hear it.

https://app.box.com/s/s91hjmo3zbz4h2rdwye1

I'm also using a Watkins Copicat echo machine (Who remembers those?) Nowadays nearly all mainstream pop is made by multi-tracking using computer technology and technical wizardry. This has only been a short article, and more info I'm sure can be found on the web. I upgraded from four track to eight then to software and still madly enjoy multi-tracking. I have also played live but never really felt comfortable with it. Singing live no problem, but playing and singing I found difficult and couldn't really feel relaxed. So I started making my own backing tracks to sing to. And it felt great. I admire all of you who play live and enjoy listening to your work. I also enjoy this forum, the best in my opinion.

All the best. Gerry. 8) :)
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Re: A short history of multi-tracking

Postby andyg » 16 Oct 2014 21:29

As someone who does a lot of multitracking, I'm pleased to see someone else say that it's 1) an art in itself and 2) NOT cheating! I was once very anti multitracking, when I had just started playing - about 45 years ago - but then I got to appreciate just how clever and artistic people like Klaus Wunderlich and Brian Sharp were. And I got to know Brian very well, of course!

Just one point, Abbey Road studios already had their multitrack gear in the 1960s, when the Beatles were recording things like Sgt Pepper. Interesting photosite here:

Do a right=click to open this up ina New Tab
http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1967910,00.html

The first true multitrack tape decks came out in the mid to late 1950s, Ampec claiming to be the first to make a 8 track with 1" tape. Other well known makes found in studios were Studer and Leevers-Rich. When I recorded my two albums in studio, we used a Studer 16 track deck with 2" tape. Nowadays, I have a Boss BR600 64 track digital recorder that's way smaller than the very first Philips cassette recorder I bought in the late 1960s. Quality is staggering, even when recording on its own built in mikes. And of course software allows almost unlimited resources, right here on this desk.
It's not what you play, it's not how you play. It's the fact that you're playing that counts.

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Re: A short history of multi-tracking

Postby gerso » 16 Oct 2014 22:39

Hi Andy.

Thanks for your input. I only just touched the surface with my article. It would require a lot of writing to cover the full history. What was important here was the advent of multi-tracking for home users. It is possible to produce tracks at home for commercial release, and has indeed been done. If you play live you could never fully get out of your keyboard the kind of possibilities multi-tracking provides.

I enjoy the challenge it gives. I've only got one pair of hands, and multi-tracking gives me many. I'm not a purist and I enjoy experimenting. I still face many problems but technology helps me a lot. What I don't like much is software that completely does the job for me ie: drag and drop samples to produce a piece of music. I have many software samples but still have to use a controller keyboard to play them. More like an arranger keyboard on a computer but without the expense of having to buy a new model each time a new one's released. I already have nine keyboards and that's more than enough. For example I couldn't see the need to upgrade from Tyros 4 to Tyros 5.
So now instead I use the money saved to invest in better software synths and samples. Anyway it was nice to hear from someone like minded.

All the best. Gerry. 8) :)
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Re: A short history of multi-tracking

Postby Wally Gator » 17 Oct 2014 03:26

I remember back in 1969 or 1970 a friend of mine purchased a reel to reel tape deck. I think it might have been a Sony. Not sure of that. I do remember it had what they called sound on sound. We thought that was the coolest thing ever.
Well unless you can play every instrument in the world you're pretty much stuck with multi-tracking and an arranger type of keyboard. If it wasn't for my Yamaha I wouldn't have been able to do what I've done. I doubt any recording of music is done without multi-tracking except maybe live music. And it's probably mixed and multi-tracked before it's released.
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Re: A short history of multi-tracking

Postby gerso » 17 Oct 2014 15:41

Hi Wally.

Those sound on sound tape machines were great, they were what got me hooked on multi-tracking in the first place.
Taking the subject one stage further what about arranger keyboards? When a style is played it consists of five or more parts,
yet you can play all those parts with just one finger. When you split the keyboard and have say a piano on one and a violin on the other
you are in effect multi-tracking. Try playing those two instruments yourself at the same time in reality, absolutely impossible. So an arranger
keyboard is a multi-tracking device. When those two instruments mentioned are played individually onto a recording device
then the purists moan, things like oh! that's not real playing, it's cheating. The whole music industry is cheating based on that kind
of comment. All I can say to the purists is keep on playing live and giving pleasure to others, and the same to multi-trackers. It's the
listening public who get their joy from music, and the majority don't care how it's produced.

All the best. Gerry. 8) :)
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Re: A short history of multi-tracking

Postby andyg » 22 Oct 2014 09:29

gerso wrote:....The whole music industry is cheating....


And not just multi-tracking, either - not that multi-tracking is cheating, as we've already said. It's just wrongly perceived as such. We have the long established process of artistes, bands and orchestras recording several takes of a piece, then sitting down with the producer and choosing the best bits of each and then splicing (literally, in the old days!) them together. And with the advent of pitch correction software to, er, assist singers, well, just don't get me started on that......
It's not what you play, it's not how you play. It's the fact that you're playing that counts.

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Re: A short history of multi-tracking

Postby gerso » 22 Oct 2014 13:06

Hi Andy.

I enjoyed your piece about splicing tape. I tried it a few times. I bought myself a chinagraph pencil and then the problems began. All I can say is that it is a skill that's very hard to acquire. I soon abandoned trying to splice. Thank heavens it's no longer necessary.

Pitch correction is another sore point. There are times that even with comping some singers just can't hit the note. The likes of Melodyne and Autotune are useful then, if used just sparingly. But to turn a rubbish singer into a star is just wrong on all levels. After all studio time costs a lot of money, and many engineers now prefer the soft option. Even great singers hit a bum note sometimes. I embrace all this new technology with open arms, but only if it is used sensibly. What we are able to do now is remarkable. Music creation in the modern way is very satisfying, even though the learning curve can be daunting.

The whole history of recording would require a lot of reading to fully appreciate it from the beginning until now.

All the best. Gerry. 8) :)

PS: I enjoyed listening to your music.
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Re: A short history of multi-tracking

Postby SysExJohn » 25 Oct 2014 12:44

Interesting article.

I seem to recall that Walter Carlos (as he/she was then) used multi-tracking to create his hit LP 'Switched On Bach' back in the sixties. Of course working with the monophonic Moog Modular and creating polyphonic baroque music would have been impossible without the technique. He even worked with a 'click track'.

I believe he bought a few 'clapped out' ex recording studio decks (eight track, one inch tape) and refurbished them, then also built the electronics and mixing desk too. I must look back at some of the articles that were published about that early work.

I remember editing with splicing tape and china graph pencil and an 'editing block' (was it Revox?) yonks ago on my Sony deck, and even earlier on the two track, second hand Ferrograph that my Dad got me in the late 50's/early 60's.
Ex Uganda Government Parliamentary recording machine, together with a clapped out ribbon microphone.

Fond memories.
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Re: A short history of multi-tracking

Postby Rev Tony Newnham » 26 Oct 2014 09:16

Hi

Plenty of memories of open reel tape editing with razor blade, etc. Aside from my own recordings, I produced Christian radio programmes for 8 years in the 1980/90's.

The most common editing block was the EMI one - I still have a couple in my studio bits box.

I've not done a great deal of multi-tracking - mainly straight to stereo, but what I have done - along with putting together MIDI multi-track backings on an Atari computer running Notator were great fun.

Every Blessing

Tony
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Re: A short history of multi-tracking

Postby Hugh-AR » 14 Jun 2019 12:45

In his first post Gerso says:
It was in the early 1970's when a young musician by the name of Mike Oldfield had a worldwide smash with Tubular Bells (mainly because of the film "The Exorcist"). And it was entirely multi-tracked. It was also the first release of a new record company called "Virgin" owned by Richard Branson. (Whatever became of him?)

Here is a YouTube video of this piece, as used in the film "The Exorcist".



If you want to listen to the whole piece, it's here. It does play for 49 minutes, so be prepared! The clip from The Exorcist plays for 6 minutes.



This illustrates perfectly how multitracking can be used to create a piece of music, and in an earlier post andyg said:
As someone who does a lot of multitracking, I'm pleased to see someone else say that it's 1) an art in itself and 2) NOT cheating! I was once very anti multitracking, when I had just started playing - about 45 years ago - but then I got to appreciate just how clever and artistic people like Klaus Wunderlich and Brian Sharp were.


I have in my Signature "It's all about the music" and this illustrates what I mean. It is not 'all about playing the music live'. You can be creative with any music you play at home, and we are discussing this here:

Do a right-click to open this up in a New Tab
http://www.tierce-de-picardie.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=403&t=7168
It's all about the music. Yamaha AR 80 Player.
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Re: A short history of multi-tracking

Postby Hugh-AR » 14 Jun 2019 18:17

And here is a YouTube video showing how they 'mixed' the various components of the Abba hit 'Dancing Queen'.

It's all about the music. Yamaha AR 80 Player.
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