The ability to record multiple separate sounds at once...Simple really, yet something we take for granted. Virtually every song you heard is made possible with multi-tracking.
Multi-tracking first developed with the invention of stereo in 1943. This was quickly embraced by music simply because you can record and mix 2 or more tracks simultaneously. This was developed by splitting the recording head into 2 tracks. This became very useful for classical recordings and radio broadcastings because of the stereo image desired for orchestras and clarity for radio. This rapidly became standard in the 1950s.
Multi-tracking was taken further by Ampex a company that produced a 3 track recorder. Having an extra track means u can overdub different takes, have a click track for a drummer, or a stereo backing track for a singer. This is extremely productive for pop music and led to many pop recordings being released using the 3 multi-track.
The next big step for multi-tracking and you probably guessed it is 4 track recording. Having 4 track gave immense flexibility and freedom for recording, mixing, mastering, overdubbing and quickly became the standard for every studio in the 1960s. The 4 tracks could be bussed (bounced down) into one track of another recorded so essentially you could have unlimited tracks. Many recordings were released in this method, more famously by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
Four track was also the stimulus for the development of surround sound. Some recordings were released using 4 track to replicate a surround setting, “Dark side of the moon” by Pink Floyd. Though the surround sound effect wasn’t highly successful 4 track is the catalyst for the technology in surround sound home theater systems.
You can probably tell by now that its all a numbers game: Two track became Four, Four became Eight, Eight became Sixteen Track and now today we have Digidesign 192 Digital Audio interface. The credit and acknowledgement for Multi-tracking goes to Les Paul. Most people know him as one of the designers of the electric guitar, He was also a great innovator of the Multi-track and was the first to use this technique. Paul’s contributions to multi-tracking allowed music to have a greater complexity. “The Bealtes” using multi-track with pitch-shift were able to create their unique sound. “The Beach Boys” were able to capture each members voice and layer large ensembles.
Being able to record, edit, mix multiple tracks has changed the way we capture a musicians creativity. Now today Multi-trackers are available to everyone; Apple’s garage band has allowed anyone to do a mix down of a song, record a band or even make a podcast, giving everyone easy access to the music industry.
Practical Recording Techniques 5th Edition by Bartlett and Bartlett
P.g 40, -44, 191-192
History of Multi-tracking Viewed 2nd May
Flexibility of Multi-tracking Viewed 2nd May