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Labeling Your Tracks: Ground Zero for Organization

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This post is focused on the simple, neglected, and powerful practice of labeling tracks in a session.

This post may seem like something entirely obvious that should remain unspoken… but it isn’t. You would be surprised how often I have seen session tracks titled “New Track” and audio files named “Untitled1.wav”. The first step to organizing your sessions is labeling your tracks well. Every little bit of efficiency and extra brainpower that can be saved makes things run smoother and cheaper.

The general rule of DAW software labeling is that all of your audio files will inherit their names from the tracks on which they were recorded. This means that simply throwing up a track called “New Track”, recording on that, and renaming the track after-the-fact will result in a disorganized mess of audio data. It’s really important to not be lazy here.

There are some conventions in the industry for naming tracks and I’m going to describe them. Sessions that are clearly labeled will make your collaborators giggle like schoolgirls. If that image in your head makes you smile, follow me…

Naming Conventions

While most DAW software will allow very long track names, it’s usually best to keep it under 12 characters or so to ensure that it can be read easily in the mix and edit windows of the application. This more than anything has caused certain standards to be followed.

It’s often helpful to include the mic used to record the part in the track name (after the main portion of the name).

There are several mics that are so common that they are referred to not by their full name but by their model number. Such mics include…

  • ’58’ – Shure SM58
  • ’57’ – Shure SM57
  • ’87’ – Neumann U87
  • ‘D112’ or ‘D12’ – AKG D112 or D12
  • ‘B52’ – Shure Beta 52
  • ‘421’ – Sennheiser 421
  • ‘RE20’ – Electrovoice RE20
  • ‘C12’ – AKG C12
  • ‘414’ – AKG C414
  • ‘251’ – Telefunken U251
  • ‘4003’ or ‘4012’ – B&K / DPA 4003 and 4012
  • ‘4038’ – Coles 4038
  • ‘121’ or ‘122’ – Royer R-121 or R-122
  • ‘U47′ or ’47’ – Neumann U47 or FET47
  • ’44’ – RCA BX44
  • ‘DX77’ – RCA DX77
  • 4030 – Audio Technica 4030

Those are some of the most common mics you’ll find abbreviated. It can sometimes be a little cryptic without knowing these.

It can also be smart to include other important information such as the name of the performer (eg. Vox Gandalf), the range (eg. Hi, Lo), or the position of the mic (eg. Snare Top)

Adding Dbl after something indicates it’s a doubled part vs. a different part altogether.

  • Vox – a large percentage of my projects have the lead vocal labeled Vox. It really doesn’t save much space over ‘Vocal’, but I guess it looks cooler. You can use either, but people seem to dig Vox because it leaves a little more room for embellishment such as ‘Vox Hi 87’. I’ve also seen ‘Vox Lead’ or ‘Vox Harm1’ just to distinguish which vocal part it is.
  • BGV – Background vocals. Usually add other information such as ‘BGV Group Lo’ or ‘BGV Gloria Hi’. Backgrounds get out of hand quickly.
  • OH – Drum overheads… usually either OH LR for stereo track or OH L, OH R for mono pair. Adding the mic is often helpful (OH L C24).
  • Snare – Snare! Often snares will be miked from the top and bottom so you’ll need ‘Snare Top’ or ‘Snare Btm’, even if you’re only using one mic.
  • Tom – Toms! Label them from high to low ‘Tom1’, ‘Tom2’, etc. If you’re miking underneath, specify it.
  • Kick – Bass drum. If there are multiple mics, label them both with the mic type and location (Kick In D112)
  • Hat – High hat.
  • Room – Room mics. Follow the same conventions as overheads.
  • Guitar or GTR – Guitar. Use GTR if more space is needed. Label location if you’re using more than one mic (GTR Frets 87) or (GTR Bridge 57).
  • Bass – Bass guitar. Specify if it’s amped or a DI (Bass DI) or (Bass SVT B52).
  • Upright – Upright bass (could maybe be confused with upright piano if you’re evil enough not to use ‘Piano’!)
  • FHorn or Horn – French horn
  • Sax – Saxophone
  • B3 – B3 organ. Specify location and if it’s a Leslie.
  • Clav – Clavinet
  • Wurly – Wurlitzer
  • Synth – Synthesizer. Specify type (Synth Bass) or (Synth Lead).
  • Spot [instrument name] – Spot mic for a group.
  • Click – Click track.

Those are the major abbreviations that can save you some trouble in the future. Hopefully you can see that ‘Vox Lead Gloria Hi C12’ is more useful than ‘Glo’.