Track count – the higher the better?

Track count wasn’t something we had problems with even just a couple of decades ago. You used the 16 or 24 tracks you had, and bounced audio from the recorded tracks, to free up tape space. The pricier but a tad more elegant way was to use multiple tape recorders, using SMPTE time code to have them in sync.

Track count – the higher the better?

Now let’s fast forward to our current time. Living in the DAW era, things just started getting out of hand. Or did they? One thing’s for sure, the average track count for at least the mainstream pop music started getting higher and higher. Having to work with about 90 tracks is nothing extraordinary anymore. And sometimes you get these crazy 200+ track sessions. Of course tracking is not the same it used to be in the 80s and early 90s either. Many times the tracks are getting created on the fly, right into the DAW. Often, the process doesn’t involve microphones or other usual acoustics either. The borders between production, recording and mixing become vague. The whole process turns into a cohesive whole; for better or worse. But anyway, is this high track count really a problem, and what’s the reason for it?

track countThe answer – as usual – is the well known “it depends”. If you are a pro and know what you are doing, chances are high that you use a lot of tracks for good reasons. One of them is to have ultimate control over the mix and the arrangement. You can set all kinds of parameters like levels, effect sends and returns, mutes etc. separately. And last but not least, you can truly fine tune automation this way. Getting creative and make each and every track live its own life has never been easier before. This way you can make the music move and breathe as you desire.

Another reason for high track count is easier organization. It’s just simply better to have everything labeled up on its own track.

The downside of it, of course, is system resources. They are usually limited. Your CPU, your drives can’t handle unlimited amount of processes, no matter what DAW you are using. That’s when you still have to bounce, like in the old days.

Track count – the higher the better?

Another problem with high track count is, the focus tends to get lost among so many little snippets of musical information. Even though you were going for maximum creativity, you can easily lose control over the process. That’s when mixing gets tedious and downright boring. It’s never good when it’s a chore. Simpler is usually better, so use as many tracks as you really need, and not more.

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