Please Explain Multitrack Recording to a Multitrack Recording Virgin
September 29, 2012 7:14 AM   Subscribe

If you can only record one track at a time via audio recording software (e.g. Ableton), why did I buy an interface that allows me to record two mics and an electric guitar simultaneously?

I bought a Lexicon Lambda interface and got it to work with Ableton. Then, from our DUH department, realized I can of course arm and record only one track at a time. So why do I have two mics and an electric guitar plugged in simultaneously, when only one of those will be recorded at a time?

Tune me perplexed. I thought the whole idea in multitrack recording was to record each voice and instrument on separate tracks so you could mix them properly afterward.

Am I "supposed" to be doing multiple takes where each time I'm just recording one of those and the others are just "dummies", playing but not recording, rehearsing but really waiting to take their turns going "live" on their separate tracks?

But how is that even possible, in that, when we're each singing our parts, even though only my mic is recording, the other person's voice is going to come through even though his mic isn't turned on, because we're in the same room? is there supposed to be "bleeding" when two people are singing together, even if you record them on separate mics?

My goal, if this is not clear within my befuddlement, is to wind up with three separate tracks recorded: (Track 1) my voice; (Track 2) my partner's voice, and (Track 3) an electric guitar part, all playing and singing harmoniously. I think. Really, my goal is to do whatever the standard thing is to do when you are making a recording with two voices and an electric guitar.

I feel as if I have missed the entire philosophy of audio recording.
posted by DMelanogaster to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not familiar with Ableton, but I've recorded many times with Garageband which can definitely handle mulitple track recordings simultaneously. I wish I could tell you what you're missing about the setup process, but there is something. Keep trying!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:18 AM on September 29, 2012

I've never recorded with Ableton so I don't know it's capabilities but it's not really *meant* for being a multitrack recorder is it? I think of something more like Sonar when I think of recording audio, ableton is more for sequencing live performance
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:20 AM on September 29, 2012

Does this help?

According to this, you can multitrack in ableton
posted by markblasco at 7:31 AM on September 29, 2012

If you were to play your electric guitar, and sing, and have your partner singing all in the same room albeit with different mics, each mic is still going to pick up all 3 things. When you mix down later, you won't get excellent mix clarity and precision, because each track is going to have all three on it.

That's why, yes, a lot of multitracking is done one instrument at a time - starting with rhythm instruments, and then everything else listening to those played back in earphones while recording another track on top. The drawback is that it can be easy to miss a beat here and there, depending on the composition.
posted by entropone at 7:32 AM on September 29, 2012

Also, if you can't get Ableton to work how you want it, Reaper is an alternative that is very inexpensive, but does pretty much anything that the other software programs do. I use Reaper instead of ProTools for a lot of projects, and it works great, for about 1/10 the price.
posted by markblasco at 7:33 AM on September 29, 2012

Don't use Live. However on Logic, each audio track has its own input selection, so e.g. audio track 1 takes the mic in from mic input 1, audio track 2 takes the mic in from mic input 2. Just set it up that way and it can surely record.

And yes, if you are recording 2 people on different mics in the same room, bleed is very possible. Check out microphone patterns to see how your mic reacts. If it is an omni mic, it will pick up whatever is around it, not just the area it is pointed at.

Personally, if you have/can find a good room, instead of 3 mono tracks together, record everything at once with stereo micking techniques.
posted by TrinsicWS at 7:33 AM on September 29, 2012

CTRL (or Mac option) click the arm buttons to arm multiple tracks. Then click the record button for the main transport panel. More detail. On preview someone just posted that link. And yes, unless you get the mics really close to your faces and have a room with minimal sound reflection coming back from the walls, all the track are going to bleed into another.
posted by yoHighness at 7:33 AM on September 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

BTW, according to the Lexicon website (details tab), the audio interface you got is actually designed for 2 channel recording at once.
posted by TrinsicWS at 7:35 AM on September 29, 2012

I would say that unless you are planning to go back and rerecord parts of each track, don't worry about bleed between tracks, as long as you've got a little bit of space between each person. If you're keeping all of the tracks than a little bit will be fine. The problems come when you start to replace tracks, but you can still hear the bleed from the previous tracks that you've erased coming from the other mics that were recording at the time.

Recording things one track at a time is a great way to go if you want a lot of control, and want to be able to do edits later on. If your goal is to capture the vibe at the time, and you aren't going to do any editing later, than recording multiple mics at a time is just fine.
posted by markblasco at 7:38 AM on September 29, 2012

" arm multiple tracks."

Oh my god.

This is my problem with using software ("Live") that has thousands of variables. I am constantly overwhelmed.

Thank you thank you.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:40 AM on September 29, 2012

If you go to preferences, then the Record/Warp/Launch section, then the Record section, turn off Exclusive Arm. Then you don't have to hold CTRL to arm multiple tracks.
posted by MonsieurBon at 9:32 AM on September 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Live is a great bit of software, but not the ideal one for what you’re doing. It was originally designed for performing live with clips and loops, but it now works great for composing electronic loop based music.

Garage Band is about the simplest thing to learn, or use without learning I should say. There are many good DAW’s, but you’re going to have to read the manuals and learn them. They’re all different, and you can’t normally just figure them out by looking at them. " arm multiple tracks." for instance.
posted by bongo_x at 10:44 AM on September 29, 2012

You might check Audacity out... free, all platforms (or most, anyway) and works very well.
posted by drhydro at 12:33 PM on September 29, 2012

Yeah if you're self-teaching yourself (aka stabbing around in the dark) Ableton might be a little overwhelming to start with. I would say learning in Audacity or Garage Band will be easier, then you can experiment in Ableton bit by bit.
posted by mannequito at 1:32 PM on September 29, 2012

I am using GarageBand for iPad, obviously quite a different animal than the version for a regular computer. I am on a PC. But Garageband for iPad is obviously not going to have the quality of audio as the other programs. I'm using Live just to do my voice and plug in electric guitar.

I also use Audacity for a number of things, but am not acquainted with how to use it with my interface (Lexicon Lambda, recently purchased), and the Lexicon help person told me using Audacity with their interface "is not recommended." The Lexicon interface came with a watered-down version of Cubase, but after spending hours (and hours) figuring out the basics of Ableton Live I can't bear giving up on it (yet).

and this is even given that I have to switch drivers from the ASIO/Lexicon Lambda TO my computer's built-in drivers EVERY TIME I want to playback what I just recorded! (and two hours with Lexicon support people* did not fix this problem).

*nicest guys in the world though.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:59 PM on September 29, 2012

For your first question, most DAWs (digital audio workstations...audacity, reaper etc.) are designed to be like professional studios where one typically records one track at a time. It's designed that way so that you can adjust and control levels on each track separately. That's how people record generally.

Now regarding switching drivers, you don't have to do that. Disable your computers sound card and enable your lambda to serve as your sole in/out sound card. Yep, it's an external sound card.

On PC goto control panel, sounds/audio devices/hardware, disable the old and set up the new. The lambda should be listed and if it's not you may need to reinstall the software/driver.

This is exactly what I did with my lexicon omega and I run the OUT to a home audio amp to (A) monitors and (B) outdoor speakers. Works like a charm!

Good luck!
posted by snsranch at 7:01 PM on September 29, 2012


Unfortunately, disabling the old drivers doesn't change anything. In fact, before this question I asked a similar question in the Meta Music section where I pointed out that the very first thing the Lexicon support person told me to do when I told him I couldn't hear anything via playback was to go into Sounds etc. and DISable the *Lexicon* drivers that had automatically taken over the sound card! He said that's the most common reason people can't hear playback.

So I've now tried both the computer's default drivers and the Lexicon drivers in the Sounds section and it doesn't matter which are in place: I still can't hear playback when the ABLETON LIVE driver is anything but my computer's driver. That is, within Preferences in LIVE, I cannot hear playback when the driver preference is set to ASIO and LAMBDA ASIO.

It's very strange, but seems to be an Ableton Live thing. I gotta get out of this LIVE thing.

posted by DMelanogaster at 7:12 PM on September 30, 2012

Yes, you're right. After you disable your onboard sound card and enable Lambda, then you have to go to setup/preferences in your DAW, Ableton, or any DAW, and set it to use Lambda as your sole in/out sound card. That's when your ASIO is going to kick in and be useful.

At that point everything you do on the computer should sound out through your Lambda as it will now be your sound card.

Forgive me if it sounds like I'm beating a dead horse, but I went through the same ordeal with my Lexicon Omega. It took me a few weeks to sort it out, but I did and you will too!
posted by snsranch at 7:56 PM on September 30, 2012

Okay, snsranch, but here is the crux of the problem with your method:

(1) I set my computer's sound card to the Lexicon Lambda drivers. Great.

(2) Now I open Ableton and go to Preferences. It wants me to choose a driver and a device. I choose ASIO for my driver. Great. Now I try to choose Lambda ASIO for my device BUT.....


When I try to do that I get a message: "Unable to open" or something like that! It will not LET me use the Lexicon's "output" when the sound card is using the Lexicon drivers!!

It will only let me choose that configuration in Ableton when the sound card has the default drivers in place! This was my first call to Lexicon. The nice man said the problem was that my computer's sound card had taken over the Lexicon drivers and I had to switch it back to the default drivers in order to enable recording with the Ableton drivers. So I did that and, in fact, he was right, now I could record with my interface, BUT I STILL could not hear playback, no matter which drivers I used.

So, summing up, "LIVE is f***ked." At least on my computer. But I do appreciate your sticking with me on this. Maybe if I had a different operating system, sound card, etc.

But I don't.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:05 AM on October 1, 2012

PLUS (since we're beating dead horses) the nice Lexicon man even sent me a different Lambda driver to see if that would work better, and it didn't, and he suggested alternatively that I use ASIO4ALL as my device, which I downloaded etc., and still no sound on playback.

I believe that I can hear playback when I use the "not recommended" Audacity. I just have to try to figure out how to "route" things so that I can use two mics and an electric guitar simultaneously with Audacity. It's not intuitive for me. Sorry to "sit on" this question (a concept I have recently learned).
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:09 AM on October 1, 2012

Oh, jeez, that is horrible!
posted by snsranch at 11:41 AM on October 1, 2012

Make sure your regular windows sound output or mp3 player isn't using the Lexicon for output, it should only be used in Ableton in the preferences drop down like you are already doing. Unless windows 7 fixed this, if you can click on a file and hear an mp3 play, you need to change this.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 12:20 PM on October 1, 2012

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