I Dislike Everything About Multi-Tracks Except This One Thing

It’s no secret that we are not fans of using karaoke style multi-tracks in worship. Partly because they are the opposite of discipleship, partly because they don’t help YOU get any better, and the rest are other reasons that I will not dive into here. However, there is a redeeming quality about them that has nothing do with using them in a service like they were designed for. That one feature is that they allow you to look inside the mix. You get to hear what each instrument is doing, the part they are playing and the particular tone they are using. This information is amazingly valuable not only for those trying to know what to play but also is extremely useful for people that are producing music.

This is how I use them:

Whenever you first see a multi-track session there is usually a lot of tracks (usually 2 to 3 electric guitars and as many as 7 keyboards). However, even in the limited preview mode that most multi-track websites offer you can turn tracks on and off to hear what they are doing and how they affect the overall sound.

I usually start by using the ‘Solo’ button on each track so I can listen to each instrument to see what it is doing. I then will start to make a mix by turning instruments off and on to see if I can hear the difference. If I can’t hear much of difference, or one at all, it stays off.

I also look for duplicate parts, instruments that are playing the same notes and especially parts that play the same rhythm. Many of these parts will add a fullness to the sound when listening in Stereo (two speakers playing different things i.e. headphones) however will be un-noticeable when listening in Mono (one or more speakers playing the same thing i.e. most sound systems).

Parts that duplicate the rhythm will not only be hard to hear because of the same Stereo to Mono issue but will also be hard to accomplish in a live setting when human variations in performance are no longer digitally corrected (quantized) like they are in the recording.

My process usually filters the overwhelming number of tracks down to the 4 or 5 parts that really comprise the core of the song.

Once I know which parts I’m going to try and cover, I get to work on the sounds. I dial in the guitar sounds, experiment with the bass, and since we use MainStage for our keyboard sounds I can formulate a patch with the various tones and instruments I will need.

Then we practice and see what works live and what is just good for the recording.

So it’s not a perfect system. It doesn’t teach you how to play the parts and it is not orchestrated for the mono world of sound systems, but it at least gives you a peek inside what is really going on. Maybe that’s worth the purchase price right there (not that I ever buy one because the free preview is usually all I need.