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Will your multitrack recordings be playable a year from now?

A post by David Mellor
Tuesday May 26, 2009
You spent a week recording your best and finest track. It took a year to get a label to accept it. But they want a remix and your multitrack won't play. What do you do?
Will your multitrack recordings be playable a year from now?

Here is the scenario... You record your song using the fantastic ProLogicBaseWalk software that everyone is using at the moment. You make a mix and print some demo CDs.

You play your demo to everyone you can get hold of. It takes a while, more than a year, but finally you find a label that wants to release your track.

The problem though is that they don't like your mix. They want to get someone else to produce a killer mix that will sound great on radio and sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

So you send your tracks to the top mix engineer that the label has selected.

The trouble is that things have moved on and ProLogicBaseWalk is now out of favor. Everyone is using ProCuCakeTools and it won't play ProLogicBaseWalk sessions. The mix engineer has absolutely no interest in using your software to mix the track and pulls out. The label can't be bothered so they lose interest and drop the entire project.

OK, back to the real world. You can't open a Pro Tools session in Logic Pro; you can't open a Logic Pro session in Cubase; you can't open a Cubase session in Cakewalk Sonar and you can't open a Cakewalk Sonar session in Pro Tools. The eternal circle of audio life...

So if you want to transfer your multitrack recording to another system you have a problem.

There is of course the ambitious OMFI format which aims to provide a common medium for interchange between systems. Yes it does work up to a point, but different systems don't have the same plug-ins and software instruments.

Even two systems using the same basic recording software might not be able to exchange sessions fully.

In fact, if you have upgraded your own system, you might not even be able to play your own tracks successfully!

Clearly then it is vital to be able to store your work in a multitrack format that is playable by others, and in the future.

And by the way, having recently been in receipt of multitrack recordings that were fiendishly difficult to get to play properly, I speak from personal and bitter experience.

So what is the answer?

Three simple letters... WAV

Thankfully there is one audio format that every recording software can play, and that is the ubiquitous .WAV

.WAV is not a multitrack format, so you can't store a whole session as a WAV file.

What you can do however is convert each individual track into a continuous WAV file starting at the beginning of the song and going all the way to the end.

Even if a track doesn't start until the second-last bar, you must convert it to a WAV starting at the beginning of the song.

Then you can send your WAV files to whoever on DVD-ROM and they will be able to import them easily into their system of choice. And they will sound identical to the way you heard them.

Now, there is a little problem here...

Think about the bass guitar track going through EQ and compression plug-ins. That can easily be converted to a mono WAV file incorporating the plug-ins.

But what about the vocal that has reverb added to it using an auxiliary send and return? Should that be exported as a mono file without reverb, or as a stereo file including the reverb?

My inclination would be to export everything including insert plug-ins, but not include bus effects such as reverb.

The exported session wouldn't sound exactly as it was mixed, but each individual instrument and voice would be fully intact.

Clearly there is a lot to think about. But if at least you save your individual tracks as continuous WAV files, then your work is a lot more future-proof than it would be stored in the native format of your DAW.

A post by David Mellor
Tuesday May 26, 2009 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)