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Record on a workstation - export to your computer. Could this be the best of both recording worlds?

An RP reader asks whether he can record on his workstation and then export tracks to his computer for editing and mixing. Why would he want to do that...?

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A Audio Masterclass reader with a standalone recording workstation wonders whether he can export tracks to his computer for mixing and editing, and how it can be done.

But why work in this seemingly convoluted way?

If you have a very long memory, one that predates the use of computers in the studio, you may remember what it was like in the old-style studios of the day.

Since musicians are notoriously likely to play wrong notes and miss their timing, in comparison with super-perfect computers, then listening to playbacks was a vital part of recording technique. You would spend almost as much time listening to playbacks as you would recording.

And when the tape-op (the studio junior, appointed to sit by the analog multitrack recorder) pressed the play button, people would defocus their eyes, absorb the music, nod their heads and tap their feet to the beat.

These days, eyes are firmly glued to the on-screen waveform sliding smoothly across the display. Yes, you could choose not to look at it, and concentrate on the music, but can you?

While recognizing that computer displays definitely have their uses, distracting you from the music shouldn't be one of them.

So for the ultimate in modern-day non-distraction, you could choose to record onto a standalone digital audio workstation. The smaller display and reduced function set actually makes it easier to get the musical performance you want captured onto disk.

But the problem with standalone workstations, in general, is that they don't offer the same ease, flexibility and precision of editing as computer software such as Pro Tools, Sonar, Logic etc.

So to get the best of both worlds, you could record onto your standalone workstation with the computer switched off (and silent for once!). Then you can transfer the tracks to the computer for editing and mixing.

But how do you do that?

Some standalone workstations make it easy and offer a CD burning or USB export feature. Others don't. And since they generally don't have an output for each track, how can you transfer the material across?

Well, it is perfectly possible to make the transfer one track at a time. Time-consuming perhaps, but do-able, and well worth it if that's what you want.

Fortunately, digital signals are very reliable in their timing. If you can connect digitally between the workstation and computer, then timing should be 100% sample-accurate. Even if you use an analog connection, over the course of a four to five minute song you should not notice any drift between the channels. (If it's a thirty minute symphony you might not be so lucky though.)

But you still have to align the tracks. This is often more difficult than you might think. Particularly with non-sequenced tracks such as vocals and guitar, you could spend a lot of time wondering whether they should be a little earlier or a little later.

But one way to ensure quick and easy sync is to record a percussive sound across all of the tracks, like a movie clapperboard. You could do this at the beginning of the track, but it's actually easier at the end, when all the music has finished. You will find the waveform very easy to line up on screen. Use as high a magnification as you need.

And there you have it. Ease of recording, flexibility and precision of editing, and all the plug-ins you want for the mix.

Job done.

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By David Mellor Monday June 1, 2009
Learn music production