Online Music Collaborations: A Brief Guide

Introduction

This was one of the topics which I wanted to write about last time, since it was a bit difficult starting out and learning how to do recordings. That said, one can easily Google how to record using Audacity , so this guide focuses on how a collab group could function so that a few tracks can be easily compiled for the purposes of producing some awesome band covers.

Overview of Process

Let’s assume we have the standard members of a five man band: Singer/Vocalist, keyboardist, guitarist, bassist and drums. All five of them are geographically separated but they want to collab on a particular song. How can this be made possible?

Firstly, all of them need to be able to export individual audio tracks of their recordings. That means that though they may listen to the original backing track (which we’ll call Backing Track to differentiate it from Solo Track) when they’re recording their parts, they have to be able to delete the backing track and export whatever they’re recorded.

Starting with the Backing Track, the sequence of steps looks something like this:

  1. Backing Track loaded into Audacity.
  2. Solo Track recorded while listening to the Backing Track*

*There are some that have trouble recording a clean Solo Track when using Overdub because somehow a bit of the Backing Track also comes into the mix. I’ve not managed to resolve this when I’m using a microphone but somehow it doesn’t happen when I’m recording from my drum kit so I’m proceeding with the rest of the guide assuming that you are able to record a Solo Track that is really just your voice or instrument.

At the end of the recording session, we’ll need to export two files: A Combined Track and a Solo Track.

  • The Combined Track consists of both the Backing and Solo Tracks, and this track is useful for people adding their tracks on later if they need a desired instrument that is not present in the Solo Track. For example, a guitarist has recorded his Solo Track but hasn’t sent a Combined Track to the Vocalist when she’s trying to record her part, and she finds it easier to sing when she has the other instruments (keys, bass and drums) in the background. If he does so, then she can use his Combined Track to record her Solo Track (Vocals), but if he doesn’t export and send a Combined Track then it will be a lot more difficult for her to sing to just a guitar track lacking the other instruments or cues.
  • The Solo Track that is exported is just the Solo Track originally recorded by the vocalist/musician. The purpose of doing so is to have a cleaner sound at the end of the compiling process: If everyone just exported their Combined Tracks, there’ll be a super echo-y sound as a result of combining five Backing Tracks into the same mix at the end. The final mix should instead be five Solo Tracks that are in time and in tune with each other with no hint of the original Backing Track used.
  • In short, the Combined Track one exports is useful for others to use as their Backing Track so that they can record their own Solo Tracks, but ultimately it is the Solo Tracks that are used for the collab.

In order to give the next person recording greater flexibility in deciding how much of a person’s Solo Track they wish to hear within the Combined Track, I would also recommend sending them a saved copy of the Audacity Project File. In the example given above, this would allow the vocalist to increase or decrease the volume of the guitarist’s Solo Track within the Combined Track and could be of help when she is recording her part. At the end of each stage, then, we would expect to see the following:

  1. Combined Track consisting of the vocalist’s/musician’s Solo Track and Backing Track.
  2. Solo Track consisting of just that vocalist’s/musician’s instrument/voice.
  3. An Audacity Project File that has all the Solo Tracks recorded thus far.

Sending and Adding of Tracks

Since it’s easier to use an example, let’s put the five man band earlier in this scenario and assume it’s a guitarist that begins the recording process.

  1. Guitarist uses Backing Track and records his Solo Track. At the end of his recording, he exports and sends three files as follows (what is within each file is bracketed):
    1. Combined Track (Guitar) – Backing Track + Solo Track (Guitar)
    2. Solo Track (Guitar)
    3. Audacity Project File v0.1 – Backing Track + Solo Track (Guitar)
  2. The Keyboardist is the next to receive these three files. She uses either the Combined Track (Guitar) or the Solo Track (Guitar) if she prefers and records her Solo Track (Keys). Depending on what she’s used, she exports and sends three files as follows at the end of her recording:
    1. Combined Track (Keys) – Backing Track + Solo Track (Guitar) + Solo Track (Keys) or Combined Track (Keys) – Backing Track + Solo Track (Keys)*
    2. Solo Track (Keys)
    3. Audacity Project File v0.2 – Backing Track + Solo Track (Guitar) + Solo Track (Keys)
    4. *For the purposes of simplicity, we will assume that each Combined Track (Instrument) simply consists of the Solo Track (Instrument) and a common Backing Track that everyone in the group has agreed to use. This is where the Audacity Project File is useful: If one wants to use what has been recorded up till then as their own backing track to listen to for recording, then it can function in that manner as well without having to re-compile the mix (as in the first version of the Combined Track where you noticed solo tracks starting to aggregate) every time one was sending files to the next person.
  3. The Bassist then receives these three files, and records his part. At the end, we’ll see the following files being sent:
    1. Combined Tracks (Bass) – Backing Track + Solo Track (Bass)
    2. Solo Track (Bass)
    3. Audacity Project File v0.3 – Backing Track + Solo Track (Guitar) + Solo Track (Keys) + Solo Track (Bass)
  4. And so on for the Vocalist and Drummer, each recording their own version of the Combined Track (Instrument) and Solo Track (Instrument) as well as updating the Audacity Project File every time they add their Solo Track to it.
  5. At the end, the Mixer/Compiler should receive the following:
    1. Combined Tracks (Guitar), Combined Tracks (Keys), Combined Tracks (Bass), Combined Tracks (Vocals), Combined Tracks (Drums)
    2. Solo Track (Guitar), Solo Track (Keys), Solo Track (Bass), Solo Track (Vocals), Solo Track (Drums).
    3. Audacity Project File v0.5 – Backing Track + All Solo Tracks
  6. The Mixer/Compiler then works within the final Audacity Project File v0.5 and exports a Final Track consisting of all the Solo Tracks playing the original song but without the Backing Track that was first used in recording.
  7. This Final Track will be the one that is combined with the rest of the videos sent by each vocalist/musician in order to produce a single band cover.

For the video side, it is slightly simpler. Every vocalist/musician just needs to send a Raw Video (of them playing/singing) that is already synchronized (to their Solo Track (Instrument)) to the compiler.. The reason this is done is so that the Mixer/Compiler can simply mute the audio in the final editing if it is improperly sync’d and re-sync it to the best of their abilities using the Solo Track of that particular vocalist/musician. However if they listen through to it and what they hear matches what is seen, then it saves them a lot of time and helps them to produce and upload the video faster, which benefits everyone 🙂

Conclusion

For those that aren’t involved in mixing or compiling, it’s quite simple: Just send three files to the next person (using Google Drive or Mediafire or whatever your prefer – the two audio files and one Audacity Project file mentioned above) and a single video file to whoever is compiling. This is so that the size of video files don’t unnecessarily accumulate for those that don’t need the video files, but also so that the Compiler has all the files necessary for him to begin synchronizing (if need be) with the Solo Tracks and/or the Final Track that he receives from the Mixer.

I’ve used the terms Mixer and Compiler interchangeably throughout the above guide, but I feel a brief delineation is useful to clear up some confusion one might have:

  • A Mixer is the second to last person that receives the files in the process chain. The Mixer can’t mix video files, but they can mix the audio files. He is the second to last person because a collab usually has a video portion, and the Compiler is in charge of the videos. However, the Compiler can’t do jack shit anything without the mixed Final Track sent to him by the mixer, so the Mixer has his own job to do but it’s not the last stage of the process.
  • The Compiler, however, is the last person in the process (he’s usually the uploader too because nobody has the compiled video but him.) He has three jobs:
    • Re-sync individual audio tracks (Solo Track (Instrument)) to video tracks sent to him by each member of the group in the event that he notices a lag between the two.
    • Synchronize all the video tracks to the Final Track that he receives from the Mixer and make it look nice.
    • Upload the video to Youtube on the official collab channel, credit everybody accordingly and send them the links so they can see the completed product.

Since this is just a brief guide, things like special effects by video editors or solos during a song won’t be covered, but hopefully it should be enough to get you started out if you’re interested in music collaborations. And as always, you can send an application to join C4, the collab group I’m in if you’d like ;D

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