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Multitrack recording is a process in which the tape is divided into multiple tracks parallel with each other.

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History of Multi Track

Because they are carried on the same medium, the tracks stay in perfect synchronization. The first development in multitracking was stereo sound, which divided the recording head into two tracks. First developed by German audio engineers ca. 1943, 2-track recording was rapidly adopted for modern music in the 1950s because it enabled signals from two or more separate microphones to be recorded simultaneously, enabling stereophonic recordings to be made and edited conveniently. (The first stereo recordings, on disks, had been made in the 1930s, but were never issued commercially.)

Stereo (either true, two-microphone stereo or multimixed) quickly became the norm for commercial classical recordings and radio broadcasts, although many pop music and jazz recordings continued to be issued in monophonic sound until the mid-1960s.

Les Paul
Much of the credit for the development of multitrack recording goes to guitarist, composer and technician Les Paul, who also helped design the famous electric guitar that bears his name.

Multitrack recording was immediately taken up in a limited way by Ampex, who soon produced a commercial 3-track recorder. These proved extremely useful for popular music, since they enabled backing music to be recorded on two tracks (either to allow the overdubbing of separate parts, or to create a full stereo backing track) while the third track was reserved for the lead vocalist. Three-track recorders remained in widespread commercial use until the mid-1960s and many famous pop recordings including many of Phil Spector's so-called "Wall of Sound" productions and early Motown hits were taped on Ampex 3-track recorders. Engineer Tom Dowd was among the first to utilize multitrack recording for popular music production while working for Atlantic Records during the 1950s.

His experiments with tapes and recorders in the early 1950s led him to order the first custom-built eight-track recorder from Ampex, and his pioneering recordings with his then wife, singer Mary Ford, were the first to make use of the technique of multitracking to record separate elements of a musical piece asynchronously that is, separate elements could be recorded at different times.

Paul's technique enabled him to listen to the tracks he had already taped and record new parts in time alongside them

4 Track
The next important development was 4-track recording. The advent of this improved system gave recording engineers and musicians vastly greater flexibility for recording and overdubbing, and 4-track was the studio standard for most of the later 1960s. Many of the most famous recordings by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were recorded on 4-track, and the engineers at London's Abbey Road Studios became particularly adept at a technique called "reduction mixes" in the UK and "bouncing down" in the United States, in which multiple tracks were recorded onto one 4-track machine and then mixed together and transferred (bounced down) to one track of a second 4-track machine. In this way, it was possible to record literally dozens of separate tracks and combine them into finished recordings of great complexity

All of the Beatles classic mid-60s recordings, including the albums Revolver and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, were recorded in this way. There were limitations, however, because of the build-up of noise during the bouncing-down process, and the Abbey Road engineers are still justly famed for the ability to create dense multitrack recordings while keeping background noise to a minimum.

4 track
4-track tape also enabled the development of quadraphonic sound, in which each of the four tracks was used to simulate a complete 360-degree surround sound. A number of albums including Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon and Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells were released both in stereo and quadrophonic format in the 1970s, but 'quad' failed to gain wide commercial acceptance. Although it is now considered a gimmick, it was the direct precursor of the surround sound technology that has become standard in many modern home theatre systems.

In a professional setting today, such as a studio, audio engineers may use 24 tracks or more for their recordings, utilizing one or more tracks for each instrument played. The combination of the ability to edit via tape splicing, and the ability to record multiple tracks, revolutionized studio recording. It became common studio recording practice to record on multiple tracks, and mix down afterward. The convenience of tape editing and multitrack recording led to the rapid adoption of magnetic tape as the primary technology for commercial musical recordings. Although 33! rpm and 45 rpm vinyl records were the dominant consumer format, recordings were customarily made first on tape, then transferred to disc, with Bing Crosby leading the way in the adoption of this method in the United States.

Ampex 8 Track
The original Ampex 8-track recorder, model 5258, was an internal Ampex project. It was based on an Ampex 1" data recorder transport with modified Ampex model 350 electronics. The first of the Ampex 8-track recorders was sold to Les Paul for $10,000 in 1957 and was installed in his home recording studio by David Sarser It became known as the "Octopus". Ampex model 5258 serial number 3 was sold to Atlantic Records at Tom Dowd's instance for $10,000 in early 1958. Atlantic was the first record company to use a multi-track recorder in their studio.

Multi Track
Multi-track recording differs from overdubbing and sound on sound because it records separate signals to individual tracks. Sound on sound which Les Paul invented adds a new performance to an existing recording by placing a second playback head in front of the erase head to playback the existing track before erasing it and re-recording a new track. Multi-track recorders also differs from early stereo and three track recorders that were available at the time in that they can record individual tracks while preserving the other tracks. The original multi-channel recorders could only record all tracks at once. The earliest multitrack recorders were analog magnetic tape machines with two or three tracks. Elvis Presley was first recorded on multitrack during 1957, as RCA's engineers were testing their new machines. Buddy Holly's last studio session in 1958 employed threetrack, resulting in his only stereo releases not to include overdubs. The new three-track system allowed the lead vocal to be recorded on a dedicated track, while the remaining two tracks could be used to record the backing tracks in full stereo, and this system was also used extensively by producer Phil Spector in the early Sixties for his famous "Wall of Sound" recordings.

Other Recorders
Frank Zappa experimented with a five-track recorder, in the early 1960s, prior to his work with The Mothers of Invention. However, recorders with four or more tracks were restricted mainly to American recording studios until the mid-to-late Sixties, mainly because of import restrictions and the high cost of the technology. In England, pioneering independent producer Joe Meek produced all of his innovative early Sixties recordings using monophonic recorders. EMI house producer George Martin was considered an innovator for his use of two-track as a means to making better mono records, carefully balancing vocals and instruments; Abbey Road Studios installed Studer four-track machines in 1959 and 1960, The Beatles would not have access to them until late 1963, and all recordings prior to their first world hit single I Want to Hold Your Hand (1964) were made on two-track machines

Pet Sounds
The artistic potential of the multitrack recorder came to the attention of the public in the 1960s, when artists such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys began to multitrack extensively, and from then on virtually all popular music was recorded in this manner. The technology developed very rapidly during these years. At the start of their careers, the Beatles and Beach Boys each recorded live to mono, twotrack (the Beatles), or three-track (the Beach Boys); by 1965 they used multitracking to create pop music of unprecedented complexity. The Beach Boys' acclaimed 1966 LP Pet Sounds relied on multitrack recorders for its innovative production. Brian Wilson pretaped all the instrumental backing tracks with a large ensemble, recording the performances live, direct to a four-track recorder. These four-track backing tapes were then 'dubbed down' to one track of an eight-track tape. Six of the remaining seven tracks were then used to individually record the vocals of each member of The Beach Boys, and the eighth track was reserved for any final 'sweetening' overdubs of instruments or voices.

Sgt Pepper
The U.K. division of Decca Records was among the first to install a professional eight-track recorder at its London recording studio in 1967. This equipment was used to record Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues which was released in December 1967 on Deram Records. Because the Beatles did not gain access to eight-track recorders until later on, their groundbreaking Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP (1967) was created using pairs of four-track machines; the group also used varispeed (also called pitch shift) to achieve unique sounds, and they were the first group in the world to use an important offshoot of multitrack recording, the Automatic Double Tracking (ADT) system invented by Abbey Road staff engineer Ken Townshend in 1966. The Beatles used eight-track to record portions of the White Album, the single "Hey Jude" and the later Abbey Road. It was during the White Album sessions of 1968 that EMI's Abbey Road Studios finally had eight-track recorders installed, and up until then, the group had to go elsewhere to record with eight-tracks.

16 Track
Other artists began experimenting with multitrack's possibilities also, with the Music Machine (of "Talk Talk" fame) recording on a custom-built ten-track setup, and Pink Floyd collaborating with former Beatles recording engineer Norman "Hurricane" Smith, who produced their first albums. In 1968 Ampex built the first prototype sixteen-track recorder at the request of Mirasound Studios in New York City. Not long after it this it introduced the production model MM-1000, the first commercially available 16-track recording machine. One of these machines was installed at CBS Studios in New York City where it was used to record songs for the second album by Blood, Sweat & Tears released in early 1969. 1968's "Crimson And Clover" by Tommy James and the Shondells was among the first sixteen-track recordings to be released (mixed to stereo and mono); another was Frank Zappa's 1969 album Hot Rats, recorded at various studios in Los Angeles. (A 1987 remix of the opening track, "Peaches En Regalia", became the first compact disc single, years later.) Another early 16 track recording was Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane also from 1969. The back of the Jefferson Airplane album cover includes a picture of the MM-1000.

16 Track
The first 16-track machine in the U.K. was probably the one installed at Trident Studios, London in late 1969. After The Flood a song from the Van Der Graaf Generator album The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other was recorded at this studio on 16 tracks in December 1969. Other groups using the same studio at this time included Genesis and David Bowie as well as Queen who experimented with multi tracking extensively most prominently on their albums Queen II and A Night at the Opera. Other western countries also lagged well behind the USA in Australia, the largest local recording label, Festival Records, did not install a four-track recorder until late 1966; the first eight-track recorders did not appear there until the late Sixties; Australia's first sixteen-track recorder was installed at Armstrong's Studios in Melbourne in 1971; Festival installed Australia's first 24-track recorder at its Sydney studio in 1974.

24 Track
During the 1970s, sixteen, twenty-four, and thirty-two tracks became common, with recording tape reaching two and three inches (5.08 cm 7.62 cm) wide. In 1973 TEAC converted their consumer quadraphonic tape recorders for use as home multitrack recorders. The result were the popular TEAC 2340 and 3340 models. Both were fourtrack machines that used " inch tape. The 2340 ran at either 3# or 7$ inches per second and used seven inch reels while the 3340 ran at 7$ or 15 inches per second and used 10$ inch reels. They cost under U.S. $1,000. The advent of the compact audio cassette (developed in 1963) ultimately led to affordable, portable four-track machines such as the Tascam Portastudio which debuted in 1979. Cassette-based machines could not provide the same audio quality as reel-to-reel machines, but served as a useful tool for professional and semi-pro musicians in making song demos. Bruce Springsteen's 1982 album Nebraska was made this way, with Springsteen choosing the album's earlier demo versions over the later studio recordings.

The familiar tape cassette was designed to accommodate four channels of audio in a commercially recorded cassette these four tracks would normally constitute the stereo channels (each consisting of two tracks) for both 'sides' of the cassette in a four-track cassette recorder all four tracks of a cassette are utilized together, often with the tape running at twice the normal speed (3# instead of 1% inches per second) for increased fidelity. A separate signal can be recorded on to each of four tracks. (As such, the four-track machine does not utilize the two separate sides of the cassette in the conventional sense; if the cassette is inserted the other way round, all four tracks play in reverse.) As with professional machines, two or more tracks can be bounced down to one. When recording is complete, the volume level of each track is optimized, effects are added where desired, each track is separately 'panned' to the desired point in the stereo field and the resulting stereo signal is mixed down to a separate stereo machine (such as a conventional cassette recorder).

Today, multitrack recorders can be analog or digital, and are available with many more tracks. Analog multitracks can have up to 24 tracks on a tape two inches wide which is the widest analog tape available. Prototype machines, by MCI in 1978, using 3" tape for 32 tracks never went into production, though Otari made a 32 track 2" MX-80. Digital multitracks can have an almost unlimited number of simultaneous tracks and can record to and play back from a number of media and formats including digital tape, hard disk, and optical disc. The lower cost has made it easier to find multitrack recording technology outside a typical recording studio. For example, Apple Computer's GarageBand is included in all of the company's new computers, and is used by amateurs as a cost-efficient way to downmix music and podcasts

Starting around 1995, another revolution in multitracking began, with the arrival of cheap digital multitrack recorders, which recorded sound to a computer hard drive, a digital tape format (such as ADAT), or in some cases Minidiscs. The prices of these machines steadily dropped over time. Meanwhile, the power of the personal computer increased, so that today, an average home computer is sufficiently powerful to serve as a complete multitrack recorder, using inexpensive hardware and software (under US $1,000). This is a far cry from the days when multitrack recorders cost thousands of dollars and few people could afford them.