Two Track Recordings

What is a two track recording? Is it the same as stereo or as a mix?

When we hear from two ears we can perceive a space. A two track recording is the end product of a fully mixed song originating from more than two tracks. The two tracks are the left and the right channels of a stereo speaker system. One speaker is for your left ear, the other speaker is for your right ear. Stereo, two track, two channel audio, left and right mix all mean the same thing. This is formats that consumers use to listen to music. This is what you will need in order to casually listen to music in your home stereo, car stereo, or portable device like a smartphone through headphones, AirPod, earbuds, etc. Most vinyl records, cassettes, and all CDs, MiniDiscs, MP3s, AACs, and streaming audio is made into a stereo mix. Motion pictures also have a long history with various stereo formats and ways of playing them back.

Why are song numbers on an album called tracks? Is this the same thing as a recording track?

Sometimes a song is called a track, which originated during the transition of 78RPM records to 33 and 1/3 RPM records in the 1950s. 78s were only long enough for one song. With 33 and 1/3 records there was room for several songs. Not every individual segment that was separated by silence on a record was a song. You might have narration, different movements of a piece of classical music, etc. So the term track was used. Unfortunately there is another definition of the word "track" when talking about recorded audio. When Les Paul (also invented the electric guitar) developed a tape head that could record on just one part of a length of tape, coincedently around the same time as the 78 to 33 1/3 translation, the term "track" was used. It might have been adopted from the analogy with the railroad. In a railyard there might be multiple lengths of tracks running in parallel with train cars on them. When we say tracks in this discussion we are talking about a single instrument recorded on a multitrack tape recorder or hard disk recording system that would be part of a song or audio work.

What is multitrack?

A multitrack tape machine, hard disc recorder or DAW interface can record more than two tracks. An instrumentalist might play all of the instruments on a songs by recording one track at a time, playing back the previous tracks, and playing along with them while recording a new one. Or an entire band can record on multiple tracks simultaneously where each microphone records to a track.

What is tracking and mixing?

The act of recording tracks in a multi track setup is called tracking. It is possible to record all tracks at once or just some tracks. The act of taking a multitrack tape recording and transferring it into a stereo or 2 track recording while going through mixer is called mixing. In the days before digital audio workstations (DAWs) a multitrack tape (a 4, 8, 16, 24 track tape system) would be played by a multitrack tape machine (which could both play and record) into a mixer. An engineer listens to the mix through speakers and makes adjustments to the level, EQ, panning, effects and dynamics of each and every track, positioning them so they can all be heard. The engineer strives to make a stereo mix sound wide by panning the tracks from two mics all the way to the left for one and all the way to the right for the other. An example of this might be two mics used to record a single instrument like an acoustic guitar. This is how to make good use of the what is called the stereo field. Early uses of stereo recordings by The Beatles might place drums and guitar on one side and bass and vocals on the other side. The panning knob on a mixer can dial in how much a track can be balanced between the two speakers. The output of the mixer is connected to a two channel tape recorder. In a modern DAWs setup the mix is done on on a virtual mixer on a computer screen, automation and digital effects are added, and the mix is rendered into a stereo/two track .wav file. Most important instruments in today's mixes tend to be panned in the center so that the listener does not feel of balance by too much material in one ear.

What is mastering?

In the early days of music production, after multiple songs are mixed to two track, the tapes would then get cut up (literally cutting with razor blade) and then splice back together in the right order to assemble the individual songs. This is called sequencing. A mastering engineer then will take all of the songs and adjust the level, EQ, and dynamics again to make them sound like they all go on the same album. The master then gets delivered to the vinyl pressing plant, CD, manufacturing plant, cassette duplication plant, or a stereo .wav or .aif file gets uploaded to a streaming service where it may get converted into yet another format that optimizes it for streaming for listeners or for downloads. This part of the process is optional but if you want your song to "sound as loud" as other mastered songs out there. This is why you may want to get your album mastered.

What is mono?

A mono recording is a 1 track recording. With a mono recording the same thing will come from both speakers. Early vinyl pressings were only available in mono until it was discovered how to to make them in stereo. Mono recordings may tend to sound more flat but it is a matter of taste.

Who can mix?

When we transfer your multitrack tape you should have a mix engineer in mind to deliver the tracks to for mixing. Or you might mix it yourself in any DAW. However, mixing is no easy task. It is a very competitive field with many trade organizations, magazines, technical publications, Grammy Award categories and university major programs. Highly sought after engineers that are famous for their mixes. Some might specialize in specific genres of music. If you do not have a mix engineer in mind you might consult Deep Signal Studios for their mixing services.