Gateway Multitrack Course
Looking for an entry into the world of recording? Neville Unwin investigates one of the better-known beginners' courses in recording techniques.
When learning the art of recording, there is no substitute for hands-on experience. Spending a week on a recording course can be an interesting and painless way of getting to grips with the subject.
So, you've saved up and you're now ready to buy your first piece of recording gear. You read around the subject, visit some shops, buy the back issues of HSR (naturally) and compare the equipment available, but then what? How will you know exactly how to use your equipment, or how to get the best out of something you've bought? What do all those ultra-technical posey terms you've heard mean? HSR can of course give you a lot of help but you really need some practical experience.
Enter the multitrack course, of which the Gateway courses are amongst the most respected. There are three; a beginners' course in multitrack recording, an advanced course and one for those interested learning about synthesisers. All courses last five days and include both theoretical and practical work. They take place at Gateway Studios in London under the supervision of one of the directors; Dave Ward. Each day begins at ten, and lasts roughly until four, although the timetable is flexible, and any spare moments provide a further opportunity to get your hands on the hardware that is all based in a smaller studio (16-track) above the main 24-track studio.
On the first day the course starts from absolute beginnings; showing the basic routing of electrical signals through the different pieces of equipment, and going on to cover the basic principles behind amplification and stereo. Also covered is the recording system from input to the mixer to tape and monitor outputs.
Next a discussion of sound wave theory lead to an explanation of sweep, parametric and graphic EQs, and during each stage of the lecture there was an opportunity for hands-on experience.
Lectures on the second day concentrated on processors, with effects sends, insert points, delay, reverb, phasing and flanging all being covered as well as an introduction to multitracking. On the third day comb filters, dBs, impedances, DI boxes, compressors, envelopes, noise gates and noise reduction systems were all examined, leaving the fourth day to be devoted to the different types of mics available and their various characteristics. On the final day of the course, synths and psychoacoustic enhancers were discussed and the rest of the day gave everybody a greater chance to use the equipment. This proved extremely useful, especially as there was time to answer many enquiries that had gradually surfaced during the previous four days.
The facilities available include an 18-8-2 mixer, 8-track tape recorder, compressor/limiter, delay, and a certain rack system that includes de-esser, parametric EQ, noise gate and delay. These remain continuously linked up and are in constant use by the classes. However, most of the day is spent listening to the necessarily rather intensive lectures which are only as detailed as time will allow at about five hours a day, but nevertheless interesting and informative. I'm sure that any apparent torpor on the part of the classes should be attributed to the muggy atmosphere and unspeakably comfortable chairs. The whole attitude of the course organisers seemed to be designed to engender a relaxed feeling into the group which was certainly useful as it turned what would otherwise have been rather formal lectures into discussions where individual problems could be examined, and there was a tendency (certainly welcome on my part) to avoid becoming obsessed by the mathematical aspects of recording. The standard of lecturing, though usually excellent was variable, and some course members found it a little difficult to get to grips with certain subjects. There was, however, a deliberate emphasis on making sure that each course member had understood absolutely everything, and questions were invariably answered in detail. The notes given out on the first day covered roughly the same area as the course but were not nearly so accessible. Additional literature was given out complementing the course information.
The most important and commonest criticism of the course concerns hands-on experience. This is emphasised in the introduction to the course notes, but with a class of fourteen (unusually large, apparently), each person can have only a very limited time on the mixer. Having learned in principle how to achieve a certain effect (for example) it is frustrating to get little or no time to try it out.
There is a further problem, that necessarily would often occur on courses of this type. Once you get back home, you're without the facilities common in a professional studio, and so how can you remember just how it sounded when you miked the snare in that way, or in what way this amount of compression affected the lead vocal, and so on. This could be solved by recording cassettes of various common sounds and effects and making them available to course members and this is in fact a move that Gateway are currently considering.
Other courses are being planned at Gateway, including one specialised course in DX synthesiser programming, but at present only the three courses are run. The advanced course, however, is available only to those who have already been on the primary course. The reason for this is clearly that the lecturers can be sure of exactly how much each member has been taught on each subject, and can continue from where the primary course left off. It costs £264.50 including VAT, as opposed to the cost of the primary and synthesiser courses which is £172.50 also including VAT. All courses take place from late April to mid-August, so time is running out fast...
Further information is available from Dave Ward, (Contact Details).
Feature by Neville Unwin
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