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How can you record a whole band at the same time?

An RP visitor wants to record an entire band with each instrument on a separate track. How is that done?


Question from an Audio Masterclass visitor...

"This may seem like a stupid question, but, I am trying to start a small recording studio for starving musicians to record their first demos below the current rate that other studios in my area are charging. The question I have is, how do you record an entire band and keep all of the bands' inputs, guitars, bass, drums, etc., separate and on their own track? I have Acid Pro and a 16 ch x 4 analog mixer. The soundcard I have is a Creative Soundblaster Live 5.1. Will I have to buy a different soundcard or buy a more up to date mixer to do what I want to accomplish? I have been a working musician for 20 years and this is a new venture for me. I know the old analog way was to put the outputs of the mixer straight to the inputs of the recorder. But with the DAW, this is very hard to accomplish. Any advice will be greatly appreciated."

Firstly, there's no such thing as a stupid question. You have to be careful about the answers sometimes though ;-)

This question is an oddly common one, perhaps because equipment manufacturers assume that everyone knows the answer already, and therefore knows what equipment to buy.

The answer here is in your choice of audio interface.

Many audio interfaces, such as the Digidesign Mbox 2, have two analog inputs. That means you can record up to two signals at the same time, from two microphones for instance.

[Actually you can use the digital inputs of the Mbox 2 in addition, but let's not over-complicate things.]

You could record an entire band, if you had a mixing console.

You could connect every microphone and direct inject to the mixing console, providing it has enough channels, and mix the band into stereo as they perform. You can record this to your computer through the two inputs of your audio interface.

This will work. However...

  • The band has to be able to perform very well. You can retake sections that didn't go too well, and then edit. But the band will have to be pretty good for this to work.
  • Your mixing skills should be very good. It's not impossible - live sound engineers mix bands like this all the time. But unless you are really good at mixing, the end result may sound 'rough around the edges'.

To achieve what is expected of a modern recording, you need to be able to put each instrument on its own track. The advantages are...

  • You can fix any mistakes individually. For example if the drummer played a couple of beats out of time.
  • You can take your time over mixing.
  • You can make overdubs - for instance the singer can also do background harmonies.

And to be able to do this you need...

  • As many microphone preamplifiers as the number of microphones you will be using.
  • An audio interface with multiple inputs - as many inputs as the number of tracks you want to record at the same time, including both microphones and line input sources.

It is probably more convenient if the microphone preamplifiers and audio interface are combined into the same unit, as in the Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) 8pre, which has eight inputs. You can use two to give you sixteen inputs, which is just enough for a typical band. Make sure that your recording software is compatible though. That is always an important check to make.

In summary therefore...

To record a band playing all at the same time, you need a minimum typically of sixteen microphone preamplifiers and sixteen channels of audio interface. You can achieve this with, for example, the MOTU 8pre. Other interfaces are also available.

By David Mellor Thursday November 30, 2006