Will Multitrack Recording Become a New Podcasting Trend?

When podcasting, especially in a professional studio setting, it is generally accepted that one should always aspire to have as much clean separation between sounds as possible.

One of the best ways to achieve this is to be sure that every separate signal going through your board is filtered through a device like a compressor/limiter/gate, which will not only use the compression feature to beef up the sound of the channel in question, but the “gate” function will also cut out low-level noises like hums, hiss, background noise, and other unwanted audio when the microphone for that channel isn’t being spoken into directly. This kind of setup is generally how most podcasters reduce background noise and audible “clutter,” which keeps everything sounding clean and clear.

However, since this process is automated, in most cases all of the separate audio sources will still be channeled simultaneously through your mixing board, and thus probably to your recording device as well. In the end, while the audio processing you’ve added might sound great, at times you may still have to deal with things like two individuals talking simultaneously, or other similar problems that make editing in post-production a bit difficult to do.

So another way to obtain a greater degree of control, and one that allows editing of each individual track, involves multitrack recording.

In recording studios that produce music rather than simply the human voice, multitrack recording is the preferred medium, since it allows the simultaneous input of a number of different audio sources, while maintaining the ability to edit them individually once they have been recorded. For instance, recording engineers may be recording a live band in the studio, and find that one instrument was a bit off the beat, out of tune, etc in one part of the song. That individual would then go back, and repeat that specific part of the song while playing along to the recording the band just made (this is called “punching in” when speaking of music production).

The equipment needed for this kind of recording setup can be a bit costly, when compared with the kinds of equipment most podcasters use. However, recently I’ve begun seeing a few products on the market that greatly reduce those kinds of costs, in addition to making the technology more accessible.

The German-based Behringer company has often received mixed reviews for a number of its products, since a good amount of the equipment they provide is aimed at simpler, cost-effective gear solutions for podcasters and musicians on a budget. In my personal experience, I have found most of their products to be very reliable (and in my own current podcasting studio, I still use a number of their products).

However, in addition to their affordability, I am finding that a number of recent additions to Behringer’s catalogue–particularly in the area of audio mixing consoles–may soon set the company apart as leaders in the realm of pairing quality with affordability. A good example of why I think this is the case can be found with the company’s Behringer UFX1604 audio mixer, a USB/Firewire enabled mixing console which greatly reduces the costs of achieving multi-track recording options.

During a recent conversation with Darren Grimes of the Grimerica podcast, Darren expressed that this was, hands down, the best board he had used in years (he had actually upgraded to this model from a Mackie board similar to the one I currently use). Not only does this unit allow for multi-tracking capabilities with a variety of recording programs, but it also features built-in compression in addition to channel inserts, something which previous lower-end Behringer models often did not have (a necessity for having channel inserts, which allow connection between the mixer channels and a compressor using a single stereo cable, had been one reason I chose to use a Mackie ProFX12).

With the bigger picture in mind, I do wonder if the affordability of equipment like this, that can simply, but effectively permit multi-tracking functionality for a wider range of audio engineers, may eventually result in more podcasters using this kind of setup in their studios. Generally, when it comes to radio and podcast production, one of the goals is to get a good balance of sounds going in, so to speak, so that less editing is required in post production.

Many podcasters prefer going “straight to tape” like this (including me), while multi-tracking a podcast would almost certainly be done with the intent of editing afterward, with aims of further refinement in doing so. Ideally, it comes down to a matter of personal philosophy as it relates to podcasting; so ultimately the question may not be a matter of “pro or con”, so much as one of whether it fits the goals that the individual podcaster hopes to achieve.

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