Joker Tone Course - Tracking Sheet a powerful recording tool

Tracking Sheet – a powerful recording tool


A tracking sheet is more than just a list of instruments, sounds, and voices that you can schedule for recording. Provided with the right information and presented in a clear layout, a tracking sheet can be a powerful tool from the first day of planning to the final mix-down check. The tracking sheet is the carrier of important information, creates a stress-free recording situation, and gives you the security of always having an overview of the entire production process.

When you search the internet for an explanation of tracking sheets, you probably find the link to Sweetwater (Music Gear Distributor) with the short description for a “Track Sheet” (Link to Sweetwater)

These are just some of the points that a tracking sheet stands for. Let us look closer at the details of a tracking sheet and why it can be in my view help a lot more than just for the recording part.

A tracking sheet is more than a notice list

It doesn’t matter whether you go to a recording studio or record with your band on your premises. Even if you’re recording completely alone, a tracking sheet can help you keep track of the entire production process. It gives you the certainty that you won’t forget to record or re-record anything.

Maybe you’re now saying to yourself: “Well, I’ll just make a list and be done with it”. But if you go to the “trouble” of making a list, you can go one small step further and get a much greater benefit.

The tracking sheet is first and foremost a table or, more precisely, a matrix.

Where to use a tracking sheet

A tracking sheet for home recording

If you record your song at home or have a band room to yourself, then you have an almost infinite amount of time. I had this nice advantage and was able to experience these benefits myself for a very long time with my band. The idea is relaxing at first, but it’s not entirely correct and doesn’t only have advantages.

As we all know, there are two sides to every coin, and so “endless time” also has its dangers.

  • You don’t stay focused because you don’t feel any “positive” pressure
  • You don’t finish it, “I’ve got time, I’ll do it tomorrow or another time”
  • You lose yourself in ideas and possibilities because you always have time to try something new
  • You simply never finish because the song could be even better here and there

This is precisely where the tracking sheet can help you. It’s your timetable that always leads you back to your plan and keeps you aware of what you want to record or edit and bring to completion. Of course, you have to get on board yourself and stick to the plan. But with the tracking sheet, you have a visual reference point that can help you immensely to stay focused and keep the goal of completing the recording in mind.

A tracking sheet at the recording studio

If you are in a recording studio that you rent per hour or day, your time is limited in terms of your available budget. This limited amount of time probably also applies to a rented rehearsal room that you may be sharing with someone else. This means that you can’t always stay here and have to leave at certain times.

Whether in the studio or a shared rehearsal room, the time available is limited and it is therefore all the more important to have a good plan. The tracking sheet gives you significant advantages:

  • You are well-prepared for the particular day
  • No stress due to the worry of having forgotten to record something
  • Allow enough time to repeat or correct recordings if necessary
  • Allow time to spontaneously record creative ideas or try out a different sound
  • Everyone involved in the project (your musician colleagues or external sound engineers) has the same “roadmap“ on the tracking sheet.

Structure of a tracking sheet

We now have the main facts for a tracking sheet. Now we can dive into the structure.

The tracking sheet is song-related, and there is no generally applicable standard for the structure. But with little information, you can turn it into a powerful tool.

Song and Artist information

If you only produce your music on your own, then this initial information is not necessary. However, if other people (outside your band) are involved in the production process, this information can be very useful. For musicians, you work with sporadically or external sound engineers and producers, you should provide the following information on the tracking sheet:

  • Name of the band or artist
  • Contact person (very useful if you send the songs to someone else for mixing, then this person is directly recorded there to whom all information and inquiries can go)
  • The recording location. This may have more of a nostalgic effect later on, but it’s not a bad idea to record it for planning purposes. Even more, if you plan to record it at different locations like a band rehearsal room, inside recording studio XY, or at the bandmate’s home in the basement.

From here on, the information on the tracking sheet is helpful, even if you are only working on your own:

  • Song name/genre if applicable (rock, ballad, etc.) / and if it’s an album/EP, this can also be named
  • BPM specification, i.e., beats per minute, the playing speed
  • If you know it in advance or can estimate it, the song length can also be noted down
  • And to make it complete, the key. This can be essential when recording with external musicians.

Table or Matrix

I prefer the orientation of a tracking sheet landscape on A4 paper.

1. the upper labeling line:

In the head row, you write down the individual song parts of your song, for which you are now creating a tracking sheet. For example, Intro, Verse 1, Chorus 1, Bridge, Verse 2,…etc. up to the outro, if you have planned an outro for the song. I would recommend that you don’t be too rough with the list, but also not too detailed.

If you have verse 1 with different parts (instruments or voices on/off, different rhythms) then divide verse 1 into A, B, and C. Do the same with intros and outros. If you have instrumental parts, special transitions from verse to chorus, different bridges, or even C parts that only occur once, then list these specifically as well. The better you can explain your song structure, the better you can plan and evaluate the recording.

However, make sure that the presentation on the tracking sheet is not too long. Ideally, your song structure should not extend beyond a single sheet of A4 paper.

2. The first labeling column:

Once you have your song structure, list all the instruments that are to be recorded in this song in the first column. For example, drums, bass, electric guitar, piano, vocals, background vocals.

You should also be as specific as possible here. If you have several electric guitars playing different parts at the same time, you should list them individually, according to playing style or sound type.

As an example of guitar labeling:

  • Rhythm Guitar 1,
  • Lead Guitar,
  • Solo Guitar,
  • Hook/Lick,
  • slide,
  • distortion,
  • Hi-Gain,
  • Clean

TIP: You can already record information about the settings on the amp of the effect units on the back (e.g., a preset number or setting details) that you want to use for certain recording sounds. If you need to make changes or tweaks later, you will have all the settings ready for the respective song.

This is also useful for vocals.

  • Main vocals,
  • Background,
  • male voice,
  • Female,
  • speaking part,
  • whisper part,
  • choir

TIP: As with instruments, you can note the microphones or hardware used for the voices with the respective settings on the back.

Now you have the parts or the song structure at the top from left to right and in the first column from top to bottom which instrument, vocals, or sounds are to be recorded.

To be able to create this table, the song structure should, of course, be complete, i.e., the demo status must be finalized. However, you may not yet be sure whether an instrument should be added. An organ or additional percussion. You can plan for these, but you may not record them.

If there is a spontaneous change during the recording session or if you add an instrument that was not planned, then also list it later in the tracking sheet. In the end, the recording and tracking sheet should have the same status.

Using the tracking sheet before recording

Once you have planned the individual parts of your song, you can now think about the order in which it makes sense to record them. If you have planned 5 songs for your EP and have a drummer at your side, you can plan to record all the drums in one day.

Or you can go to an external studio to capture the desired sound. Now you can add the recording day to the drums. Once you have planned each instrument, sort the lines according to the date and quickly see whether the planning seems realistic at all.

For example, I wouldn’t record backing vocals before the main vocals and I wouldn’t always record the main vocals at the end. There may be unexpected “space” in the song where the guitarist records a few “gimmicks” at the end of the planned recording where the vocals have left the room.

Or you might want to add a coloration that can be created by another instrument, but which was not planned. You may also notice that the song is completely overloaded instrumentally together with the vocals. With fewer instruments in some places, the whole song could work much better and develop its potential.

So if you record the main vocals at an early stage, you will realize directly during the recording that you can do without a few planned instruments, possibly like the six guitars in the chorus. This saves you time to record the core elements even better or to try out something unplanned. At this point, you can delete the additional parts you have already planned directly from the to-do list (the tracking sheet).


As already mentioned, as a tip, notes on sound settings, e.g., for effects devices, are very useful. Even though I’m not a big fan of recording effects such as Rev/Delays directly, you still want to record certain effects for the sound. An 8th delay guitar sound or the Wah-Wah effect, for example, is essential for this sound in this part. You can then write these down in the respective field (where the part and the instrument meet) or the preset number from your effects unit.

If the guitar requires a special tuning in the part/song, you can write it down there.

Play styles

You can also record special playing styles. The guitar should play eighth notes or off-beat…or the bass should only slap in the bridge — write it down and it won’t be forgotten. If you are not yet sure whether the slapping will be cool and fit — write down that you will record two versions and only decide in the mix which version will ultimately end up on the album.

  • If there are critical parts in the song where you have the assumption: “I need more time for this and would feel more comfortable if I had this chunk behind me so that the rest is more relaxed”, then you can already plan for this better.
  • If you make the recording as pleasant as possible for yourself or others, you will see that the better the recordings will be.

This is especially true for the vocals. If the song has a few extreme power sections where the singer has to give her all, you should consider putting these sections at the end so that you can tackle the quiet parts with a fresh, soft voice. Or you can spread these tricky or extreme parts over different recording days.

If you have several musicians around you, everyone plans a part and you put everything together at the end. Then everyone who is recording receives a tracking sheet for preparation and if you are the recording manager, you have the “master version” which is kept with you until the end of production.

The tracking sheet during the recording

The tracking sheet comes into its own during recording. Here you can follow the recording process directly and also make further notes.

  • Check and tick off the respective part if the recording was successful
  • Note if several takes were recorded for the respective part, which can be used later in editing
  • Is there a particular part that you should re-record if you run out of time at the end? You can make a note of it here.
  • The tracking sheet gives you the security of not forgetting anything that you planned to record in advance.
  • A positive psychological step: ticking things off supports the positive feeling that you are making progress. If you have 10 or more songs for your album, then this can drag on and you may also record plenty of different sounds, arrangements, and musicians. By ticking them off, you visualize that you are getting closer to your goal step by step.
  • You can set a marker after each take: a tick for done, a circle where you are unsure and you check the recording again, or you leave this part open because it “hasn’t turned out so well yet”. You can come back to it later. The song can only enter its next production phase once all the check marks have been set. (I’ve been doing this for years, even when I’ve recorded with others. Especially when there were several people in a band, or I organized an external session musician for an artist for the recording).

A big plus point, even if you’re working with numerous colleagues. It’s generally much more relaxed. Because if everyone has an insight into the tracking sheets, then this positive psychological effect sets in for everyone, and everyone has the good feeling that things are going well and that you are making progress as a group. Everyone knows the status or can obtain it by looking at the tracking sheet.

TIP: You can find out how you can make your recording setup even more relaxed in this blog post:

6 factors for a stress-free home recording setup

The tracking sheet after recording

When I started working with a tracking sheet, I wasn’t immediately aware of the added value that the recordings could offer after recording. But you can use it for much longer and expand its potential. Use the tracking sheet even after the recording:

  • when creating a rough mix, you can perform the final recording check using the parts on the tracking sheet
  • Note on the tracking sheet where special features may still be missing
  • If the time in the studio or on the respective recording day was not sufficient as planned, note this directly on the tracking sheet, which missing parts should be given priority
  • Note the parts that can be taken out later if necessary
  • Notes from all people involved, e.g., where subsequent edits are still necessary.
  • Notes on the mixing process (every mixing engineer will be grateful for the more information they receive in advance if you outsource the mixing stages)

The tracking sheet is not only intended as assistance for you but can also be very useful for external musicians who, for example, work with you or are hired by you. You write the song and arrange your structure and the instruments, but you may not be a drummer yourself. You hire a session drummer for this, who can use the tracking sheet to get a quick overview of the song(s). After all, this external contributing musician doesn’t know these songs in any way like you do. Any additional guide can be a huge help.

The same scenario applies to a mixing engineer to whom you send your finished tracks. If you still have a tracking sheet with all this information ready, the mixing engineer can save a lot of time here. He or she will receive many useful tips in advance and can familiarize themselves with the song more quickly.

Transform the tracking sheet into a mixing sheet

In the further production course, you have already created a superb basis for checking the final mix with the tracking sheet. Here you can again use the individual parts as a guide in the header. The individual tracks can remain in the first column, or you can create an overview and create groups such as drums, bass, guitars, vocals, etc. here.

  • You and everyone involved can check off each part directly
  • or not directly on this mixing control sheet where and what does not yet seem completely coherent

You can find out the best way to check your final mix in this blog post:

How to check your final mix


Tracking sheets can be an immense help from the planning phase right through to the final mix of the finished song:

  • Assists in planning which parts should be recorded with which tracks
  • Creation of a feasible schedule
  • Checklist with the positive visual effect of creating something and getting closer to the goal that can apply to everyone involved
  • Depicts the song structure and additional song information
  • Basis for quick notes on the sounds and playing styles
  • Gives you peace of mind not to forget anything
  • Helps you to keep track of the takes during recording
  • Possibility to record ideas that you can try out when you have extra time
  • Supports you throughout the entire production process, such as the rough mix and editing phase
  • It can be repurposed as a mixing control sheet and serves as a support tool until the end of the production phase
  • Can become a great memento of the entire production


Would you like to receive a free tracking sheet template? Register via the following link using the form and you will receive your tracking sheet template for free.

If you have further questions or want to get in contact, please consider using the contact form

Niels from Joker Tone Course

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