One of the recent trends I’ve encountered on various forums for electronic musicians is the discussion of making songs using as few channels as possible, usually 8. It seems to be some kind of forced minimalism that people are imposing on themselves, some naive thought that “less is more”. Why would it be so? I have my guesses. Maybe people are hoping to some way recreate the “magic” of older records.

But that’s a misunderstanding. People seem to believe that a song using, let’s say drums, bass, piano, guitar and vocals is using 5 channels because you hear that many instruments in the mix. It doesn’t work like that. Even if the guitar wasn’t even dubbed it might have been recorded using several microphones. Close mics, room mics, line boxes, there’s simply no way of telling how many microphones were actually used! A sparse sounding recording easily takes up a whole bunch of channels instantly. I remember hearing a song of a domestically well-known Swedish artist in the mid 90’s. I thought there were just the lead vocals and maybe a few backing vocal tracks. The artist later disclosed there were 35 channels of song, on a sparse sounding track, who would have guessed?

No, imposing some limit on the number of channels you’re allowed to use is just stupid. For one thing musicians in the old day were not bound by the limit of 8, 16, 24 (or more) channels. Ever since tape recorders (analog or digital) were first invented people have been bouncing the tracks down to free up more, if needed. It was laborious, but it worked. It’s been suggested that people are using DAW:s which are limited to 8 channels, but tracks can be bounced down in a DAW just as they were on tape. If you really want to force minimalism on yourself you should make a straight to disc recording, where the recording is being engraved onto vinyl as it’s being performed. Some mastering houses are offering that service. Try that one instead, I dare you!

I think this is about something completely different. It’s no secret that a sparser mix will be much easier to brickwall in the mastering. Less sounds in the mix will make it easier to push it to Death Magnetic kind of levels while hopefully not sacrificing too much sound quality in the process. But can you make a good song using only 8 channels …? That’s what people worry about. And that’s where people have gone completely wrong. Music should be loud, few would disagree, but the loudness should come from the volume button. People there days worry more about loudness than songwriting or producing. People rarely ask how to sound as good as Drake, they ask how to sound as loud as him, and other artists! But personally I prefer to listen to music instead of loudness.

Make your songs using 8 channels only. Feel free to squash it in the mastering. It won’t catch my interest unless it’s a good song anyway. I don’t give a damn about how many tracks were used in the recording process. Use what you got and make the best of it, and make sure to have a solid song to start with.

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