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26 September 2014
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Intro to Multitracks

Welcome to the world of multitracks.  This blog is designed to help you understand the different software, hardware, and digital music sources that exist to serve this growing area.  Multitracks are often referred to as virtual bands, because their primary purpose is usually to add instrumentation for live music performance.  They can also be used for training and rehearsal, and many multitrack systems also support additional capabilities like lyric or chord display. Many software and hardware providers are innovating to help multitracks become a useful tool in the worship leader’s arsenal.

Audio Terms

Loop: A loop traditionally refers to a pre-recorded snippet of of music that can be repeated, or looped.  Loops can be percussion or drums, pad sounds, or synths.

Split Track: This is a song recorded in stereo where instruments are recorded on one stereo channel and vocals on another.

Instrumental Track: A song recorded in stereo with no vocals.  These may come as all instruments from a professional recording or as a smaller set of instruments designed to augment a live band. Sometimes you can customize the instruments when you buy the track, which is often called a custom, or rehearsal mix.

Multitrack: A song recorded as a set of instruments designed to be played simultaneously together and offer individual track control in a software program (multitrack player).  Also called stems, especially when the source of the instruments is the original master audio recording of a song.

Click Track: A pre-recorded metronome sound designed to be played along with Split Tracks, Instrumental Tracks,or multitracks.

Cues: Spoken words played along with Click Tracks to announce or count down song sections.  These are used to keep the band in sync.

Pads: Guitar or keyboard sounds that combine the notes from chords in a given key, designed to add fullness to the band’s sound or to transition between songs.  Sometimes they are played by a keyboardist or pad controller and play a given chord progression.

There are a huge variety of sources for these audio resources.  Some, like split and instrumental tracks, have been used for years.  Others, such as multitracks, have become more popular in the last few years. Usually the choice of what resources to use boils down to a number of factors such as cost, availability, consistency of resources, choice of playback solution, etc.

Capability Terms

Looping/Jumping: The capability of player software to play back the song audio in smaller sections than the full recording.  For instance, it may support rearranging sections, jumping over a section, or repeating a section.

Tempo Change: The capability of player software to speed up or slow down the playback using an audio time-stretching algorithm.

Key Change: The capability of player software to change the key of the recorded tracks using an audio pitch shifting algorithm.

Mute/Solo: The capability of player software to remove tracks from the audio mix dynamically.

Track Control: The capability of player software to allow individual control of stem volumes.  Also called controlling the mix

Click or Metronome: The capability of player software to generate a click sound to keep the band in time.  Clicks may be pre-recorded to match the song, or computer generated to a set tempo.

Cues: The capability of player software to generate audio cues to help the band follow the playback.  Cues can be either dynamic (following the Looping/Jumping) or pre-recorded.

Pads/Link Tracks: The capability of player software to allow pads to be played between, or underlaying, other audio stems, to make better transitions between songs.

Preset Mixes: The capability of player software to allow for track control mixes to be saved to allow quick control of dynamics of audio playback.

Separate Click: The capability of player software to generate a separate audio channel with a click track, intended for a monitor or an in-ear system.  Usually done with either stereo outputs or an audio interface.

Multi Outs: The capability of player software to generate multiple separate audio channels with a click track, intended for a monitor or an in-ear system, via an audio interface.

Set Lists: The capability of player software to save control settings of a set of songs (like mixes, loop/jump configurations, key changes, and tempo shifts) and load them back during performance.

Chord Chart Display: The capability of player software to display chord charts, or, optionally to sync to other chord chart software.

Lyric Display: The capability of player software to display lyrics, possible including image or video backgrounds, or optionally to sync to other lyric presentation software.

Hardware Terms

Platform: The computing platform (CPU and operating system) used for the player software.  This can be Windows or Linux PCs, Macs, Android Tablets, IPads, Smartphones, and even stick computers.

Audio Interface: The combination of driver software and audio hardware used to output sound from a computer to an audio cable or cables.  These can range from a built in headphone jack to a USB or even firewire dedicated audio interface.

Controller: A device, usually foot operated, that can be used to operate audio playback software.  These can be bluetooth foot pedals, bluetooth or USB MIDI pedals,or even devices that interface like a standard keyboard.  Most software packages can also be controlled via touch screen or mouse control.

Thanks for reading.

Mark Snyder

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