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Don't let a hidden track ruin your mix

Hidden tracks can have hidden traps. Don't fall into one.

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I'm using Pro Tools to illustrate this but the concept applies to any DAW that allows you to hide tracks from the screen while still hearing the audio they contain.

The reason I bring this up is because we hear a wide range of problems in students' work at Audio Masterclass, and we're here to help.

The problem is to do with hidden tracks. But firstly, why hide a track?

Why hide tracks?

Mixing can be complicated. In the classic age of analog recording a well-specified studio would have a 24-track recorder.

24 tracks seems amateur now and it is not uncommon to see productions with 40, 50, maybe up to 100 tracks or even more.

There's a limit to how many tracks you can have up on screen and still see enough detail to make sense of them. In 2028 perhaps we'll have whole-wall monitoring, but still there will be limits to human visual acuity.

So it's a common way of working to hide tracks that you're not actively working on, simply to concentrate on the tracks you do want to see.

But here's the problem...

Hidden and inactive tracks

In the track list in the upper left of the image, the track 01 ElecGtr1 Chorus 1 is inactive, so it doesn't contribute to the mix. That is indicated by the italic text. It is also hidden.

But the track 01 Organ Chorus 1 is hidden, as shown by the light gray dot in the column to the left. But it is active, as shown by the normal text.

As you can see, the visual difference is small. And this is with only a few tracks. Imagine if you have 50 tracks - you really have to focus in and make sure that you can see all of the tracks you are mixing.

Of course, other DAWs may make it more obvious when a track is hidden yet active, but it is still something to watch out for.

Summary

This is a simple problem, but it can catch out anyone whose attention slips for a moment. And if your hidden track makes it all the way to your final mix and master - well if it sounds good then you're OK. But you got there partly by chance, not 100% intention.

And when you come back in six months' time for the club remix, you'll be scratching your head for a while wondering where the hidden track's audio is coming from.

By David Mellor Sunday August 12, 2018
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