In audio recording and mixing, a track that is made up of sections of several “takes” recorded on separate tracks. Most often associated with creating solo vocal tracks, composite tracks can be made up of any combination of pre-recorded sounds.
In the demanding world of pop music it’s crucial to produce the best possible vocal performance of a song, even when the singer isn’t able to deliver that “perfect” performance in one take. With the arrival of multitrack recording a solution presented itself: record multiple takes of the vocal – each on its own track – and then combine the best parts of each take into a single “perfect” performance. This is commonly referred to as comping. In the analog tape world this was difficult and time consuming. Plus, bouncing the takes by muting bad sections and soloing good sections was often inaccurate. Mix automation helped but the problem of generational loss, the deterioration in audio quality that happens each time you re-record an analog track, was still a problem.
Digital recording has made creation of composite tracks much easier. Whether using digital audio tape or hard disk storage, generation loss is eliminated. Automated punch-in and punch-out recording makes editing more precise, and the potential of unlimited virtual tracks make capturing and storing a large number of takes possible. When necessary, an engineer can comp a track using one word – or even one syllable – at a time, drawing from a collection of individual takes. Digital audio editing software offers incredible flexibility in comping because you can visually edit audio waveforms, sometimes right down to the individual sample level.
Even so, comping a vocal track with digital audio editing software is not just a matter of cutting and pasting. It requires skill and experience and, above all, a consistent series of audio takes to make certain the result sounds like one integrated performance, rather than a patchwork string of phrases.