Do you remember those quizzes on the radio where the listener had to guess a certain song after listening to (a piece of) intro? You can also play a music quiz like this with friends, but even more difficult! All you need is the free program Audacity and some multitrack audio files available on the Internet.
Okay, we admit it, the author of this article is crazy about pub quizzes and has already ignited several colleagues of the editorial team with this hobby. So a word of warning: it can be addictive!
A true music lover recognizes a song after just a few tones. How nice is it to make a fun quiz based on this for an evening of music fun. And we make it a little more difficult by not playing all the instruments.
For this we use multitrack audio files. These are music files in which multiple instruments are recorded separately on separate stereo tracks. These are of course not files that you use every day. In fact, such files are normally only for use by, for example, sound studios. But if you search the internet for the term 'multitrack audio' or 'isolated tracks', you will come across some material that you do not expect to be downloadable. You can also find various separate audio fragments of well-known pop songs on YouTube. In those cases you will find a separate track of, for example, only a bass guitar, drum part or keyboards. Those recordings are even of the original piece of music, which makes the whole thing even more interesting. Not only for a music quiz, but also if you are a fan of a certain artist or would like to learn to play music. The individual tracks allow you to hear exactly how something is played without distraction from the surrounding instruments. Multitrack audio files are provided in the ogg-vorbis codec format and have the extension .mogg.
Legal or illegal?
Multitrack audio files in most cases have never been released by an artist or studio. How is it possible that you find such files on the internet? That is largely thanks to the music game Rock Band. In order to recreate each instrument individually in this game, official studio-quality audio tracks are used. The individual instrument tracks and voices have been “pulled apart” and placed on individual tracks. Often the master tapes from the studios themselves are used. The creator of Rock Band pays the artists neat royalties for this.
However, clever hackers ripped the mogg files from the Rock Band series and put it online. That is of course illegal, but you can (if you search carefully) easily download these files from various forums. On YouTube you will also find multitrack files of some popular bands from the 80s and 90s (for example Toto, The Police and Queen), where you can listen to a single instrument. Some of those tracks have been on it for years, so probably the artist or the record company tolerates this. You can download videos from YouTube and save them as an audio file through various tools. For example, via the 4K Video Downloader tool.
02 Open multitrack content
There are not many free audio programs that can handle multitrack audio. Audacity is a digital audio jack of all trades that can. Versions for Windows, macOS and Linux are available. Install the software and open the downloaded mmog file from the menu File / Open. Opening the file takes a while because Audacity splits all individual tracks from the main file first. Some mmog files contain about five or six separate instrument tracks. An average music track usually has many more instruments, and for that reason you will hear several instruments on some audio tracks; it is not always possible to completely isolate an instrument. In general, the drums, bass guitar and the voices can be listened to separately. But that's a matter of trial and error, you can't see that beforehand, so you always have to open the file in Audacity first to be able to listen to the individual channels.
03 Stereo track
Once you've opened your mogg file in Audacity, you'll immediately see how many different audio tracks the file contains. Audacity automatically splits each audio track into left and right channels, ie two times mono. If you've opened a file with six separate audio tracks, you'll see 12 in Audacity. Fortunately, Audacity does group the channels together, and it's easy to merge the two mono tracks into one stereo track. You do this as follows: click at the top audio track of the group of two on the small black arrow to the name of the audio file and choose from the menu for the option Create stereo track. A stereo track sounds slightly more spacious than a separate mono track.
Drums, drums and more drums
Many mogg files from the Rock Band game contain multiple drum tracks. That's because the object of the game is to replicate a particular instrument as precisely as possible to get the most points. A drum kit is the only instrument that consists of several 'sub' instruments: bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat, cymbals and tom toms. All these individual instruments can be re-enacted via the drum kit from Rock Band and the game keeps track of exactly when which drum is struck.
In Audacity, you can play just the hi-hat, snare, or bass drum individually if you want. The individual cymbals are usually included in the audio track of the hi-hat.