Want big, clear, musical sounding mixes in your home studio? Start by cutting back on the number of tracks you record for each song.
That’s right – bigger track counts (what you hoped would give you that big, professional sound) are ironically the very thing holding you back from sonic greatness. In fact, one of the smartest and easiest things you could do to get bigger sounding recordings is to cut back on the number of tracks you lay down.
Via Jérôme Choain Flickr
More Tracks, More Problems
The simple reason for this conclusion is that the entire business of mixing is making all of your recorded tracks play well with each other. You’d think this would be easy, but it’s not.
Namely because of one issue: masking.
Masking is that frustrating experience of one track’s frequencies overlapping and covering up (masking) the frequencies of another. The tracks might sound great in solo, but put them together and you lose clarity and power.
You’ve likely experienced this when you start with a great drum recording. You love the tone and punch of the tracks – at first.
But then you begin to layer some bass, some guitars, vocals, keys, synths – and on and on. Until eventually you have a lot of sound – but nothing nearly as clear and punchy as your initial drum recordings.
It’s a simple fact – the more tracks you bring into the equation – the more masking you will encounter – which means more problems to fix (i.e. more work).
Is Stark Minimalism The Answer?
Following this train of thought one might think I’m advocating cutting out as many tracks as possible – going for an empty stripped down feel for every song you record in the studio.
This is hardly the case – especially since I’m a sucker for that huge “wall of sound” I hear on so many of my favorite albums.
But the irony of getting huge sound is that huge track counts aren’t the solution – the right combination of tracks is.
Every track you record needs a purpose – a reason for being there. It must add something critical or enhance the sound in such a way that to remove it would to cause the song to unravel.
What I’m advocating here is brutal honesty and intentionality with every track you record.
In the end this might leave you with a song that is only 8 tracks, or one that is 18 tracks. The number is less important than the role that each track plays.
The High Track Count Brainwash
A few years ago my band and I recorded a simple EP with only 8 inputs and we tracked it live. Drums, bass, two guitars, and vocals. We added two more tracks in the overdub phase (percussion and an organ part or two) totaling 10 max for each song.
It’s funny. To this day that EP is one of my favorite recordings I’ve ever done. It sounds huge, warm, clear, and musical. But it couldn’t be more simple.
Why does this confuse me? Why does this seem “backwards”?
Because these days we are witnessing one of the worst things about the Pro Tools generation – unlimited track counts. And people are piling them up high. Especially a lot of our favorite recording engineers.
Like most things – we assume correlation equals causation. They use 60+ tracks and their songs sound awesome, therefore it must be because of all those layers of tracks!
The reality is that your favorite recordings sound good because they were recorded well and every track only helps the song. This has nothing to do with the track count, but the track quality.
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.
Set Your Mix Up For Success
Here’s my suggestion: if you want a great mix, one that comes together quickly and beautifully – then set yourself up for success by recording as few tracks as possible.
Be intentional with every track you record, making sure each one deserves to be in your song. It’s one of the simplest things you could do to ensure a great mix in the end.
Have you had this experience where fewer tracks ended up sounding better to you? Sound off below and let us know your thoughts!