In addition to your portable studio, you also need a master recorder. This is the machine you will make your final "release mix" on.

Connect the L and R outputs on your studio mixer or portable studio to the L and R inputs on your master recorder.

mixer panel Your master recorder can be:

I use my dual CD deck to make a CD master, and also use a dual cassette deck to make a cassette master if needed. Then I use each dual deck to make copies of its master.

So why the need to make a master? Why can't the tape in the portable studio be used as it is?

Making a master is producing a final stereo tape that will play on anybody's machine. Remember that most multitrack tapes can't be played on regular home equipment, because:

  1. The home equipment can play only two tracks
  2. The home equipment might run at a different speed.
  3. The home equipment doesn't have professional noise reduction like DBX.

So you have to COPY your tape to a machine that can make tapes that home equipment can use. In the process, you also get to create the most pleasing stereo mix from the multiple tracks you have now. This is nice, because you can twiddle with the levels and pans long after the musicians have finished playing. They can be off playing Tackle Pinochle somewhere while you are mixing down.

And if, a month from now, you don't like your mixdown (that guitar is too loud, or the horn belongs on the right), you can build a new one from that precious multitrack tape, if you thoughtfully squirreled it away for later.

There are actually several phases of making a recording:

  1. Planning what you are going to do.
  2. Collecting the various musical parts on the multitrack.
  3. Setting the master mix.
  4. Mixing down to a master recorder.
  5. Post-production mastering (making your final recording just right).

They need to be done in the correct order.

Why do we use multitracks instead of two track recorders? Here is a scenario of the two-track studio:

Just imagine the harried sound man trying to produce a good mix with all of the musicians playing at once, balancing out the levels with as much precision as a set of headphones can allow (I've been there):

  1. One musician blats a clinker, and it's hair pulling time. You have to start the whole piece over.
  2. When the second take is over, the sound man discovers that nobody can hear the piano over the acoustic guitar. Hair pulling time again.
  3. On the third take, the vocalist sneezes between verses.
  4. On the fourth take, somebody's mic feeds back. EEEEEEK!

By this time, the sound man is BALD! (And there's hair all over the floor too.)

With the multitrack, we can repair those problems, even if they all occur in the same take:

  1. We can punch-in over that wrong note.
  2. One musician can redo his part without disturbing the other parts.
  3. If the musician (or the environment) is gone, we can remove the instrument with the wrong note from part of the piece in a musically pleasing way.
  4. That quiet piano is no problem, because the levels are set at mixdown time, not during the actual performance by the musicians.
  5. Since the vocalist sneezed in the clear, all we have to do during the mixdown is fade down his track before the sneeze, and fade it up before he starts singing again.
  6. The same thing can be done to feedback if it's in the clear on that track.

Not to mention these advantages: The musicians don't even have to be playing together to make the tape, and the same musician can play more than one instrument or part.

Now you know why we use multitracks.

Now that we have all of the parts on tape, we need to produce the final product (the alternative is to make portable studio boom boxes for everyone to listen to). Here's where you can get creative long after the musicians are gone:

  1. You can set the balance of the various musicians with level and EQ.
  2. You can add special effects.
  3. You can move the musicians around on the sound stage, or (with a few special techniques) even put them in the audience or throw one out in the parking lot.
  4. You can even repeat a portion of the performance, so it is longer.

The multitrack tape thus lets you postpone decisions. That gives you much more control, and the ability to UNDO by mixing down again. Do I ever need that!

So why don't they include the master recorder deck in the works of many portable studios?

They wouldn't know what to include. I have mastered to cassettes, half-track and quarter-track reel to reel, CDs, video tape, and even 78 RPM records. You get your choice this way.

Link: Mixing your own sound