How to record a multi-tracked piece of music with a cheap soundcard on your computer
Preliminary version, 23 March 1999 (actually, this is rather out of date, hope to refresh at some moment)
Of course software is outdated before you can pronounce the name twice. Whereas I used N-track 1.6 in 1998, we are now arrived at 2.2.18, and the author has moved on to N-track Studio. N-track Studio I have not yet tried out, but I had a look. It still looks familiar. The author is Flavio Antonioli, and his homepage is http://fasoft.com (yes, without www). Here you can download the shareware version. Registration is 30 dollar. The old version (N-track 2.2.18) is also still available here). The shareware version is almost fully functional, but won't let you render a song, that is you can multitrack making as many .wav's as you like, but you can't mix to one stereo wav file. N-track Studio has a shareware plugin that works as a noisegate. It is another 15 dollar, I have not tried it. Another plugin is a graphic equaliser. Not tried yet too.
I found CoolEdit 96 to be an excellent piece of software to process wav files. It can get the noise pattern from a stretch of silence (a few seconds) and remove that from the subsequent music. Also reverberation can be generated here, among other nice and not so nice effects. The shareware version lets you try out two effects at a time. If you do not mind saving and opening of files a lot, you can get away without paying for it, although I feel the program is worth paying for it. In the mean time there's now CoolEdit Pro, that allows for multi-track recording as well, just as N-track. This is excellent software. I used it with up to 12 tracks with no slowing down or stuttering at all. New feature in the Pro edition is that you can first play a track of 4 minutes, and than record a second track starting at 1 min lasting only a minute. The .wav file will only occupy the space of that one minute. Later on you can copy it and move it around. As in N-track a session file keeps track of the times. When you just save the .wav's they will all start at time zero.
Tip: make a stretch of silence for every recording situation (room, microphone, pickup, soundcard setting, fan noise, etc.) and use that to get the noise profile from. The standard settings for noise reduction worked perfect. Stretches before and after the actual music can be selected and transformed to silence. With transform-amplitude-amplify you can edit the end of the music. I used fade out with logarithmic fade.
Tip: use reverberation to add warmth to the recording. It's under transform-delay effects-reverb. I used warm room, with original and treated sound both at 100%, and left and right not combined. In this case the original settings greatly overdo the effect, practically destroying the stereo effect.
A 30-channel equaliser is also present. Didn't do a lot of good to the sound, I tried hard to record it right in the first place: internal microphone mixed with external microphone.
Another cool effect: transform-time/pitch. I made a bass guitar out of an ordinary one by lowering pitch with ratio 200, that is a full octave. Also possible: slow down that hard-to-grasp solo while preserving pitch. A bit slow, but worth the waiting!
Look at the Shareware Music Machine for CoolEdit 96 or CoolEditPro.
I recorded with N-track 1.6, only to find out later that it won't let you render the thing in the shareware version. I ended up with four separate .wavs. I wrote down the relative volumes of the tracks that I liked in N-track, then used CoolEdit to mix. The function is "mix paste". You create a stereo .wav with silence as log as the song needs (in the generate menu). Save it as the name of the final product (e.g., final.wav). Then open the individual .wavs. If mono tracks, convert to stereo first. It's under edit-convert sample type.
Select the entire wav file, copy. Close it and open the final.wav. Choose edit-mix paste. Adjust the controls to obtain the right balance. Un-check the "lock" option, and you can have different amplification on your two channels. It's possible to add more files directly if you change "from clipboard" to "from file". If you were looking for a way to actually record a mix by playing on one program and recording on another: that only worked in my hands when it's done on one soundcard. I used two because one didn't work ( it froze the computer when I tried full duplex mode). If you are able to do this in full duplex mode: check the volume controls.
To find out if your soundcard is full duplex, use N-Track, in the preferences menu you will find a test-mode for full duplex. If you have a genuine Soundblaster 16, you will only be able to play back at a low soundquality, but it should work all the same.
Check the volume controls, and disable (mute) all options you do not need. Especially the CD gave more noise then everything else. Don't forget to put them back afterwards. Another thing that helped me out was the advanced button under the microcrophone volume control. It allows for additional amplification. Without it my microphone didn't work.
This text is just intended to show you the way. Both programs have excellent online help files that show much more than I know. Use 'm.