Let's continue our exploration of the recording process. Take a look at our discussion of the first step, pre-production, if you missed it.
Tracking = the actual recording of the material
On most acappella recordings today, the vast majority of recording is done individually. One singer standing very close to one microphone... or a few singers each on their own microphone with plenty of separation or isolation. This allows for control in the editing and mixing process. It also contributes significantly to the "in your face" sound that you hear on many modern a cappella recordings. Imagine if you had 16 ears and each ear was within 6 to 8 inches of each singers mouth (without the spit of course). That's what you are hearing.
There is usually some type of guide track playing while singers record so that they have a pitch and time reference. Most often this is a MIDI file of the arrangement, an audio file of the original song, or even a live performance by the group. Most people tend to use MIDI files because they give you a consistent and controllable source of pitch and time and also provide data that can be helpful in the editing and mixing part of the process.
Tracking can be done in almost any order but we made some recommendations in our post on creating an effective recording schedule.
Tracking is so important to the final product. Technology these days can fix just about anything... tuning, timing, noise, tone, etc. It's easy to fall into the trap of saying "we'll fix it during editing" or "we'll fix it in the mix." In an effort to save time or money we often say those things over and over. This is dangerous though because ENERGY, PASSION, PERFORMANCE INTENSITY, and MUSICALITY are hard to add/fix in the later stages of the recording. Take the time to get it right in tracking. It will lead to a better product and save you time and money in the long run.
At the end of the tracking process, you have a bunch of raw tracks that fit together but might have tuning and timing issues here and there. These are fixed in editing. We'll discuss that next week.
Thanks for reading! Have fun making great music!