Cheap Multitrack Overdubbing

Hi, first post here!

I’m in an amateur band and with the COVID lockdown, some of us are looking for ways to continue to play together. I got the idea that a small group could maybe play quartets by doing multitrack recording and sending the tracks around by email. How hard could it be? We would each need to get a microphone and earphones if we don’t already have these.

But I’m an audio novice. So I went to the Audacity website, and other places too, to learn about the right way to do this. And things got complicated fast. Thus, the Audacity tutorial suggested six hardware items without any model names and without saying anything about how to connect them, and then went straight into “First Recording”. Other sources tended to give an overwhelming amount of detail and describe many pro-level alternatives, without an obvious way to get to a solution for simple and cheap multitracking.

We are amateur musicians and don’t need high quality sound. We just want to have fun playing together during the lockdown. We DON’T want to build music studios. We want to keep costs down especially since each member would need the necessary gear.

So I thought I would ask here to see if I can get any direction. If the goal is unreasonable or impossible, please say so! That is an acceptable answer. On the other hand, if there are simple ways to do this, that would be great to learn.

You create the rhythm or backing track that everyone is going to play to. You don’t need overdubbing. Just straight record your side of the performance, or Generate > Metronome.

Export that as a stand-alone sound track. You can use highly compressed MP3 since that’s never going to appear in the show. Use Email. My email poops out at 25MB, so you probably have to come in under that. Your mileage may vary, consult your local listings, void where prohibited.

Each performer plays your backing track on their phone into headphones and plays their segment into Audacity—straight recording. People have been known to only wear one of two headphone muffs so they can hear themselves with the one free ear and the backing track with the other.

Getting their tracks to you may be interesting. A three minute stereo WAV song comes in at 32MB, so either send mono tracks and not stereo or figure out another shipping scheme, or use very high quality MP3.

When you get the tracks, you will have to sync them and there are tricks to it.

You can wing it and use Time Shift Tool (two sideways black arrows) and the Mute and Solo buttons and push the tracks sooner and later until the first notes line up. Then flip forward to the end notes and use Effect > Change Speed on individual tracks until the ends line up. Flip back and forth beginning and end as needed. Once you get a Change Speed Value settled, write it down because that performer will probably always be the same number.

You are watching the timing differences in “Affordable Home Computers.”

You can get a lot fancier. Record a run-in on the backing track. The performer holds one headphone up against their microphone and thus their music track has your sync voice. Without stopping anything, they put the headphones back on and everybody starts on beat. To make it long enough, count backwards from ten or so.

…three…two…one… tick…tick…tick…tick…[music]

To you that will sound like:


One Time Only, put one of these at the end, too. That will give you the Change Speed values which shouldn’t change as long as they don’t change either their phone or their computer.

That’s a lot going on, but it’s remarkably simple compared to multiple people setting up for overdubbing.

This is like the three volume set “How To Ride A Bicycle.”


And every time I read that and concentrate on it, I fall off the darn bike … :nerd:


That’s covered in volume three, page 64.


It most definitely IS attainable. There’s a great example of what can be done here: NY Philharmonic Musicians Send Musical Tribute to Healthcare Workers

they don’t change either their phone or their computer.

All that depends on all the computers and phones working right. If you get one performer whose music wanders and never seems to be in sync, or worse, will sync at both ends but not in the middle, then that computer may be broken.

We had at least one multi-point musical performer fail this virus setup. They had one performer that just…would…not…sync over one song no matter what. First level maintenance is close everything and shut down the computer. Disconnect the network if you can. Start and see if that’s any better.


I would not have thought of putting a camera on my trombone’s slide.


Thanks for the replies everybody, especially Koz.

This is getting interesting. I found out I can record to my laptop without external mic and the sound is not too awful if I play it back on headphones. I think I will record a metronome track and play it back on my phone and see if I can do four tracks sequentially myself and then line them up in Audacity. Once have some experience, I can bring this to the other participants. I don’t anticipate any problem emailing MP3 tracks around.

If it works for the NY Phil, it should work for us. :smiley:

I don’t anticipate any problem emailing MP3 tracks around.

But I do. The rule is never do production in MP3. MP3 gets its small files by adding distortion and leaving out some of the sound. One pass isn’t a big deal. MP3 was designed to be made once, played on a music player while you’re jogging in the park and that’s it. The problem comes when you try to make an MP3 from an MP3. The distortion doubles and the files leave out even more of the sound.

By the time you get to the third MP3, the music may be unusable. That’s usually the step where you want to deliver to the client or friends.

There was a music reviewer who downloaded (MP3) music at home and did live reviews and commentary. He delivered to the radio station in MP3 and they played it on the air just fine, but they couldn’t make the station MP3 podcast. The music was rubbish; gargling, bubbly and honky.

So don’t fall in love with MP3. It’s a land mine. Use WAV (Microsoft) 16-bit until you can’t any more. That’s why I recommended the players ship the music to you in mono WAV rather than MP3. I think I made an error in the earlier maths. 4:30 mono comes in at 24MB. So just four minutes will fit into my email.


Points about MP3 noted. We will see how this goes - maybe file transfers could be by Drive or such.

by Drive or such.

Parcel Post Thumb Drives is certainly one way to go.

Many of my services want me very badly to start using their on-line storage, free for the first [data-value] GB and then only [money-value] for the next [data-value2] of GB after that. The free storage is almost always much larger than the 25MB in my email. You just have to be careful not to give them a reason to bill you.

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Maybe there’s something there. We should pay attention to the need to go to the post office to ship thumb drives around. I have done postal package shipping calculations at home before, but it wasn’t pretty and I had to lie down for a while afterward.


Zipping WAV files saves some space.