Gateway Multitrack Course
One way to discover more about recording.
One of the commonest requests we receive at HSR is for information concerning studio/recording courses, where the ordinary enthusiast can go to learn more about the somewhat 'mystical' art of recording. So this month we bring you a report on one such course run by Dave Ward of Gateway Studio, London.
Sometimes talent isn't everything, as most musicians using today's multitrackers no doubt realise. Achieving a recording that is free from distortion, and with good separation between both instruments and vocals, demands a certain amount of knowledge of the recording process itself, as well as the applications of the various signal processors available.
One man to recognise the needs of the home studio recordist (even before our esteemed publisher) was Dave Ward of London's Gateway Studio, who runs regular courses covering the basic principles of recording. The course, spanning 3 days (Mon-Weds), is aimed at users or prospective buyers of all types of multitrack equipment and 'presupposes no knowledge of the recording process'.
The course I attended recently certainly attracted a broad selection of people (ten in total), and the course content was as varied as it was interesting:
The course kicks off each morning at 10 am, continuing to a flexible 4 pm, and due to the multitude of subjects covered, does tend to be somewhat intensive. However, an informal and relaxed atmosphere soon settled in, following the brief introductions all round when Dave attempts to gauge each participant's particular needs and their present studio set-up and/or requirements.
The course, held in an upstairs classroom above the main 16-track studio, has at its disposal a Fostex A-8 multitracker, Fostex 350 8-channel mixer, monitoring facilities, and various signal processors; so practical and aural demonstrations are provided as the course progresses.
The first principle referred to, and one which recurred constantly throughout the course, was the 'programme chain' - the changing of acoustic energy (mic) to electrical energy (mixer) and finally to magnetic energy (tape) during recording, and vice versa on playback (magnetic to electrical and then to acoustic energy as the sound emerges from the monitors). If correct techniques and matching equipment were used during the recording and playback stages, then hopefully both acoustic sounds would be identical. Some of the main topics covered on the first day included:
Simultaneous Synchronisation Dave discussed the history and design of the record and replay heads, which included sound-on-sound techniques, and of course simul-sync (where record and playback mode is undertaken using only one tape head). Also discussed were track formats, tape transports, track planning, track bouncing and sharing, drop-ins, print-through, head cleaning and demagnetizing, and everything from 4 to 24-track recording.
Soundwave Theory incorporated a look at simple sine waves, harmonics (overtones) and how they determine the timbre of an instrument, Hertz, frequency responses, and bandwidth.
Other topics included equipment calibration, magnetic tape, its design and manufacture, and basic electronics ie. resistors, capacitors and transistors, which led onto Tone Controls. The various methods of making tonal adjustments to your recordings were examined at length, from simple bass-treble cut and boost controls, to full parametric EQ with variable Q and sweep factors and centre frequencies. A Tascam 4-channel parametric was displayed as an example unit, but unfortunately not demonstrated.
An eight-track recording of real drums, bass and rhythm guitar, synth and keyboards was used to demonstrate the effects of cutting or boosting certain frequencies and the class were encouraged to experiment themselves as the day came to an end.
The second day was devoted mainly to the Mixing Desk as Dave ran through Inputs, Outputs, Group Outputs, Insert Points, Busses, Effects Sends and Returns, Fold-back or Cue sends, and post and pre-fade listen, culminating in a detailed look at a channel on a typical mixer.
Dave went on to discuss the use of Patchbays (both normalised and non-normalised) and stressed the advantages of bringing all mixer send and returns to a Patchbay where they can quickly and easily be routed to any effects unit.
The afternoon was spent examining the various methods of enhancing your recordings by using reverberation and echo effects and how, with the help of these devices and the pan controls, it is possible to 'place' each instrument anywhere within the stereo sound picture (ie. from front to back and left to right). References were made to echo chambers, the Great British Spring, Plate Reverb, analogue echo, predelay and reverse echo techniques, and of course digital delays. Basic binary code was touched upon, as an introduction to ADCs and DACs, and the principles of sound sampling and digital recording.
This led to a practical demonstration of the time-based effects of phasing and flanging using a Fostex 3050 digital delay. Again, as the session finished, we were free to put what we had learnt to the test and set up our own 'mix' of the pre-recorded demo tape. Incidentally, Dave has plans to make available a cassette of, for instance, a few minutes of individual drum sounds, guitar, bass and keyboards, so that participants can experiment with EQ and effects at home on their own system.
One subject that recording equipment manufacturers have apparently failed to clarify has been the area of impedances and impedance matching, as most participants were unaware of the problems entailed with connecting Japanese multitrackers to some British mixers, for example. However, Dave managed to keep a complex subject on reasonably simple terms, and from high and low impedances and operating levels went on to discuss direct injection, plugs and connectors, balanced/unbalanced lines, and earth loops.
Perhaps the most avid listening was given to Dave as he explained the principles of compression, expansion and noise gates, and demonstrated some of their various applications with the use of the Fostex 3070 Comp/Lim (see review elsewhere in this issue). Noise reduction followed naturally as its principle is based on compressing (encoding) the signal above the level of tape hiss and then expanding (decoding) it on playback, and necessary reference was made to the various types of NR ie. Dolby A, B and C, and dbx.
The latter part of the afternoon was devoted to Microphones: the types and their technology, polar responses, microphone placement, and choosing the 'best' mic for the job in hand.
Despite the apparent favour towards Fostex equipment, it was nice to see that no bias towards any manufacturer was preached during the course itself, and the emphasis was firmly placed on affordable equipment unless otherwise requested. Plans are, I believe, afoot to hold 5-day less-intensive courses in the very near future. However, the compact 3-day event is comprehensive and not too hectic, and it was possible to ask questions at any point and not have to wait until a given 'question time' (when you've invariably forgotten your query!).
The Gateway Studio Course is not designed to turn out fully-fledged studio engineers, but it will certainly help the home recordist to get the best out of his or her present studio set-up, recognise both its limitations and possibilities, and plant the seeds of creativity from where all good music grows.
For further information on the course telephone Dave Ward on (Contact Details)