Pop Life

Multi-Tracks, One By One: An Aural Autopsy

This past weekend Rocks Off hung out with a producer buddy, listening to multitrack recordings of some of the biggest acts in history, including the Beatles, Queen, Beastie Boys, and Van Halen. For someone who spends his entire life trying decipher recorded music as it is released and later performed live, hearing the guts of a song is like seeing the Wizard behind the curtain, or a bisected skyscraper.

Over our buddy's huge studio speakers, the ProTools set-up came alive on "Bohemian Rhapsody," as we watched every single Freddie Mercury vocal cue on the anthem come together. There are something like 280 channels of vocals on this song alone, taking almost three weeks to get on tape. The foresight someone like Mercury had to be able to see the big picture of a song like "Bohemian" is on the level of the most classical of musicians.

A cappella versions of most major artists are available everywhere online, either through YouTube or less-than-legal downloading Web sites. You have all no doubt heard David Lee Roth emoting alone in a recording booth to "Runnin' With The Devil", like some coked-up street person with a handful of gold records.

When you hear things on your turntable or in your car, you cannot hear every hidden phrase or guitar part in a song, unless you are a musician or have a trained ear. A quick Google search of multitracks led us to a site that dissects Beatles tracks, including "A Day In The Life" and "Come Together".

As the analyst says about multitracks, it's the bits in between that are the most interesting. You realize how tight and funky the Beatles were alone in the studio, laying down "Come Together" piece by piece. The isolated vocals on "She's Leaving Home" showcases how the boys manipulated the four-track technology.

With multitracks isolated vocals you can hear how lines are overdubbed, hear previously unintelligible lyrics, and hear the seams of how different takes were stitched together. French group Phoenix released the musical stems for their whole album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix for a remix project for fans. From what we can tell, the main recording you hear on the album is made up of 11 parts.

For further study, go on YouTube and search for "multitrack" or "a cappella." We recommend listening to any David Lee Roth or Kiss tracks you can find if you need a quick laugh. Not because they suck - well Kiss is kinda rank all alone - but because they sound hilarious alone in a studio without a stage or any other music.

But be careful, you may find some dumb college glee-club shit that will make you punch your monitor.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty