Ask The Musician: “How To Record All Instruments of a Multi-track Song Separately (and still have it come out right in the end)”

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome to another edition of “Ask the Musician” with me, Jim Fusco!

In lieu of recording another video tonight (I’m anxiously awaiting to record my first HD video, hopefully next week), I decided to finally respond to an inquiry I got on YouTube about how to record a multi-track song separately and still have it come out right in the end.  The YouTube user writes:

I have one big problem.  When we record, we obviously record them in different parts (by that, I mean we record the instruments separately).  But, we can’t record them at the same time and we have problems recording them apart.  When we try to mix them, something gets messed-up and we have to record over again and again.  Have any tips?

Why yes, I do!

People like Brian Wilson (of the Beach Boys) had many musicians at their fingertips.  So, it was easy to get all these professional musicians in the same room to record a track.  And these studio musicians never mess up.  They are the cream of the crop, so it was easy to say, “Play this,” and watch it get done.

For us that record alone, sometimes it’s hard to keep a beat constant through an entire song.  Actually George Harrison was known for having a great built-in timeclock when recording.  He could play a song in-time with no percussion behind him.  That’s one of the reasons why it was easy to finish his last album, “Brainwashed’ posthumously.

And that brings me to my first tip: the most important thing about a recording is to stay on-time and on-beat.  So, if you’re by yourself, make sure you lay down the drums first!  Of course, you have to have a drummer that won’t speed up or slow down on you, so that’s an important step, too.

Now, knowing that everyone’s human, you should also consider keeping even your drummer in-time by using a metronome.  Just lay down a track of a metronome in the right tempo first (you can always delete it or silence it later) and then have your drummer go to work.  Actually, at that point, you can lay down any instrument you want.  The only time this gets tricky is when the song changes tempo.  One thing you can do is program a very simple beat as a MIDI track (I used to use a program called Noteworthy Composer way back in the day- wonder if it’s still around?).  Then, you can map the song out, put in your tempo changes, and then just play it into your recorder as a track.

Another thing to keep in mind is software and hardware latency.  If you’re recording on a computer, you’ll run into this.  Even the fastest computers fall victim to it.  Have you ever recorded a video on a webcam and seen the audio/video sync go off?  Well, your computer is having trouble recording everything at the same time and it’s not making up for the latency (time lag) in either the software or the hardware you’re using.  And, like I said, even on the best computers, you can run into this.  I have a top of the line Mac Pro here and I get hiccups in my videos sometimes because my backup machine will kick in or a popup box will interrupt.  It’s that little blip in the continuous stream of processing power that can really screw things up.

Now, you may have good luck for one or two tracks, but consider this- each time you record another track on the computer, you’re playing back each additional track.  So, you can be playing back 24 tracks and recording another one at the same time- a recipe for audio latency.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m still recording on a DAW (digital audio workstation).  I never run into those problems because recording 24 tracks is the machine’s sole purpose.  There’s no internet, no downloads, no popups- just pure recording power.  I’ve never had a problem with it, unless it’s my own bad timing that screwed it up.

So, I hope that gives you something to think about.  It’s so difficult to record a whole song alone- only the best can really be great at it (Paul McCartney comes to mind).  If anyone else has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them- leave a comment below!  I’ll see you all next week- hopefully in full high definition- for another Laptop Sessions acoustic cover song music video.

“A look at Jeff’s Music History – Part 1” – A Laptop Sessions Reflection Article

By Jeff Copperthite:

Welcome to your Thumpin’ Thursday post here on  I have decided to bring forth another article for your perusal and enjoyment.  And this one has even more of a “personal” touch to it.

Now, let me preface this with the following news.  I eclipsed 80,000 views last Friday, and as of today I already have 8.2K views.  My channel has increased it’s per-day view total to ~350 views per day across 130+ videos.  I’m pleased to report that my video cover for America’s Song “Horse With No Name” has literally just crossed 10K views, which means that this video has about 12.5% of my total viewcount.  It is also the first video for the entire site to have a single viewcount over 10K views.  It continues a great month for myself and for us in this new year.

Some of the things I get asked by everybody I know – family, friends, students, and acquantinces – are “How long have you played music?”, “What instruments do you play?”, “What was your first instrument?”, and “Have you ever had or taught lessons before?”.

While each is relatively easy to answer, the one that not many have ventured to ask is “How did you go from a lanky middle school student to the classy gent you are now?”

Ok, i’m kidding about that last one, although the answer to that one is “Lots of Porterhouse steaks.”

But the answer to the other questions respectively are “17 years”, “Trombone, Bass Guitar, Guitar, Drums, Percussion, Trumpet, Tuba, Euphonium (it’s easier to say than “Baritone Horn”), French Horn, Cello, Double Bass, Piano, and a little bit of Flute”, “Trombone”, and “Had lessons for Trombone, and have taught lessons for Trombone, Piano, and Guitar”.

But seriously, the one I don’t get asked often is “How have you learned how to play so many instruments, and what have you done in your ‘musical history’ since you learned to play?”

Well, as a treat for you loyal visitors to our site, you get to read the long answer to that very question.

I went to Moran Middle School and entered as a very skinny kid who had just gone through a tough summer of realizing that my parents were getting divorced.  Not the best of times for sure.  It wasn’t long into the year that I realized I needed glasses and was going to further my current nerd image.  I had to walk home from school as well, past the same people, and not spending too much time talking to other people walking home (all my friends took the bus).  In April, the music teacher Mr. Rossamando, whom I had said hi to frequently, pulled me aside and pointed out that I had rather long arms.  He asked me if I’d be willing to give the Trombone a try.  I agreed to give it a shot, and he said to start meeting with him during the final period of the day.  I forget how often I got to have lessons, but I think it was twice a week.

He taught me how to read music, and how to produce sound out of the trombone.  I got to take one home with me over the summer and we resumed practicing the following year.  I also tried out for the choir and played in the entry level band, aptly called “Cadet Band”.  I was a fast learner and was bored with the material, so I looked forward to 8th grade when I could hopefully play in the other two bands – the “Concert Band” and “Stage Band”.

I got my wish and played in those two bands, plus sang in the Chorus.  I was broadening my musical horizons through the year, and also had drama exposure the previous year with a lead role in a weird but cool play called “Night of the Living Beauty Pageant”.  I was also in the play in 8th grade, but I forget the title and what it was about.  All I remember about it was a fight I had with my friend Marc one day.

Then I went to High School.  All I remember about Freshmen year was that I didn’t like the music teacher Mr. Houlihan all that much, and ended up not signing up for music in the 2nd half of the year.  I even left my Trombone in the music room, completely forgetting about it.

Then I heard Mr. Rossamando was coming to teach there in Sophomore year.  Since I really enjoyed working with him at Moran, I decided to sign back up for band in Sophomore year.

He was so surprised to report to work that August and see my Trombone there, he called my house over the summer!  I told him that I was looking forward to returning, and that I had forgotten the instrument over the summer.

It was also that summer I started to teach myself how to play the bass guitar.  I listened to various CD’s and tried to play along to them on the bass.  I also went through 3 levels of lesson books over the summer.  During that phone call with Mr. Rossamando, I asked him if he could consider letting me play bass guitar for a Jazz Band if he were to create one (our high school hadn’t had one in a while).

So, slowly I got back into music that Sophomore Year, and played in the Concert Band.  Mr. Rossamando announced he was going to create a Jazz Band for the following year, and I asked to play Bass and/or Trombone in it.

I ended up playing both, because another student Andrew wanted to play bass as well.  We alternated roles – when he played bass, I was on trombone, and when I played bass, he was on trumpet.  The band amassed quite a few songs, got to play live in some coffeehouses and for the town, and had a great time in all our performances.  Meanwhile, I got to sing in the “Show Choir” that year with the unforgettable Mrs. Zola, and play in the Concert, Jazz, Pep Band, and the aforementioned Show Choir.

Meanwhile, I got to learn how to play the Piano and received a Yamaha PSR-320 Keyboard, which my mother bought for me after hearing that I wanted one.  Using this, I got into MIDI tracking, and experimented in writing MIDI files from some game music (which you can still find at, and also began to compose my own.

This was in 1997.  It was this point where my music history becomes a lot fresher in my mind.  However, I will share this information in Part 2!

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my musical childhood, and I hope you look forward to the 2nd part, which will be posted in 3 weeks.  Next week, I will have another acoustic cover for you, and after that I hope to have a cover of a song that apparently nobody is sure how to play yet.  However, I think I have figured out part of it.  And I hope I get to play it for you – it’s a rocking song!

Until then…