Home Studio Recordist
Chris Baylis - another reader reveals the darkest secrets of his home studio set-up.
This series welcomes contributions from you, the reader, about your home studio setup, recording techniques and adventures in the studio. This month we feature Chris Baylis who discloses the processes involved in recording one track from his own recently released single.
When you are recording in less than ideal conditions (as with most home recordists), it's difficult to know how 'true' the sounds are that you are recording. For this reason I try to play my finished mixes on as many different sound systems as possible, from a cheap mono cassette to the most sophisticated large Hi-Fi. By doing this and by playing my favourite records through my own monitors, I have discovered the peculiarities of the sound in my studio room.
When I first got my Tannoy monitors, my first finished mix was very bass light when I checked it on various good systems away from the studio. Since then I've compensated for this by rolling off some bass on the amplifier that drives the Tannoys, which in effect causes me to put more bass actually onto tape when recording. I also know from experience now, that the sound in my room has to be very hard to sound good outside. I also use a pair of Celestion speakers to crosscheck my mixes.
Before I start to record a track I always clean the heads on my tape recorders. I tune any instruments to be used, with a Korg guitar tuner, and check tunings at regular intervals throughout the recording.
I don't have any noise reduction system so it's ultra-important to record sounds at the optimum level to avoid tape hiss but without inducing distortion.
Both when recording and mixing I keep the mixing desk faders down on any channel that isn't contributing to the track at that particular time. This is especially important, I find, at the front end of a mix. I bring faders up just before whatever it is on that channel comes in, thus avoiding unnecessary hiss and crosstalk between channels.
I am a firm believer in putting sounds down on to tape the way I want them, rather than recording everything flat and equalising later. I have found with my desk that a vicious EQ setting can cause distortion, but if I find that out before recording begins I can at least change the sound at source or record it in a different way to overcome the problem. If you come across this problem at the mix stage there's nowhere to go except back to the beginning again — and that means re-recording!
This philosophy applies to effects also. I record most of my effects onto tape along with the original sound. If I know in my head that a keyboard line, for instance, should have a repeat echo on it, then I record it like that. Don't be afraid to use a lot of the effect because once the sound is sitting in the overall track the effect will 'bland out' anyway.
My HH 12-2 mixing desk is the weak link in my set-up both in terms of quality and facilities. It is really a PA desk and I am about to replace it. Being careful with recording levels as already mentioned is about as much as I can do with regard to quality. The facilities are limiting in that it only has two main outputs and only one echo send.
Sometimes I need to record four things simultaneously eg. TR808 drum machine over two tracks and two triggered synths on separate tracks. For this I use the echo and foldback outputs as group outputs, along with the main outputs. If a sound doesn't need equalising then I sometimes feed it direct to the Teac A2340, because the foldback output on my desk is a bit noisy.
I often like to use more than one effect on a sound which again I can do by using the foldback output or by splitting the echo send signal feed with a splitter lead. I set the level of send on the desk to suit the effect which needs the highest level of input and then control the level to the other effect via its input sensitivity control. The Fostex delay I use has a parallel input socket which conveniently allows direct routing to another effects unit. Also, on the HH you can mix on the internal return from the built-in digital FX unit, as this is in-line with the echo send output.
I always bring each return from an external effect back up a channel input, thus allowing equalisation of the effect return and stereo positioning via the pan pot.
I'll describe briefly how I recorded a track called 'No-No, Heh-Heh' which is the B-side of 'Caza', a single I recorded with my band, Naked in Paris, available on VM Records.
I always record drums, in this case a Roland TR808 drum machine, on tracks 2 and 4 of my Tascam 38 eight track recorder, leaving 1 and 3 clear for bouncing onto at a later stage if necessary. (You can't bounce onto adjacent tracks so this method ensures that a suitable track is left free.) At the same time, a triggered sequence from my Pro-One synth went onto track 5 direct into the machine. Reverb was put on the rimshot sound and panned to the opposite side as the original, whilst a close ADT from the Fostex gave the snare a bit more punch. Bass and snare drums were left central whilst everything else had an off-centre position, giving a wide stereo backdrop. The external effects were all brought back up separate channels on the desk.
Track 6 was an ancient string machine through a wah-wah with lashings of tape echo (Korg) off the desk and track 7 featured overdriven guitar, ambient miked using the Calrec, from about eight feet away and tape echo added.
By this stage I was already losing the handclaps on the initial drum tracks, so rather than start again I tapped them in manually onto tracks 8 and 3 and then bounced them, using a close ADT effect, onto track 1.
Track 8 also contained backwards cymbal, recorded by putting positioning clicks on track 3, then turning the tape over to run backwards whilst recording the cymbal. You have to be a bit careful here as once you turn the tape over, track 8 becomes track 1, 7 becomes track 2 etc. Track 3 was a close miked (AKG D190) guitar treated with tape echo, chorus and compression effects.
At this stage I mixed my backing track onto the Revox B77 at 15 ips using a little Dimension D on the strings and on a few guitar chords. One of the guitars was sounding a little dry so I added some more tape echo.
I prefer to mix down onto the Revox rather than bounce down to two free tracks within the 8-track, because although I lose slight quality, it means that I can record on all eight tracks instead of five, before having to make relative level decisions.
I then transferred the two track mix from the Revox direct onto tracks 2 and 4 without going through the desk.
Next I recorded the vocals. 'No-No, Heh-Heh' is mainly instrumental but it includes a few vocal lines and some block chants. I recorded four tracks of vocals with a Calrec mic, using on each, a modulating ADT from the Fostex and a different length static ADT effect from the HH digital FX. I then bounced the four vocal tracks onto tracks 1 and 3. While doing this I sent certain words to the tape echo and varispeeded them up and down using the echo speed control, to produce a siren-like effect.
Track 5 was bass synth from the Pro-One, which I always like to record after mixing the backing track. For the tom-toms on tracks 6 and 7, I used a set of six Roto-Toms which I close miked from underneath with AKG D190 and D1200 mics. I recorded these with a very hard EQ and no effects, but only because I knew I would have the reverb available for mixing.
I find that with my music the texture of any real drums I might use has to be treated with effects quite severely to interface with the hard electronic sounds of the TR808. I normally achieve this with EQ and reverb.
Finally, I had one track free which I then used for a harmony vocal with modulating ADT and tape echo delay.
Before I started recording the basic rhythm track I had pre-recorded my intro to the song and bounced it onto my old Teac A2340 4-track. This was a slight vocal epic - the technicalities of which space does not allow me to go into.
The master mixdown onto the Revox started with the intro from the small Teac through channels 9 and 10 on the desk. At the appropriate moment I started the 8-track rolling which had been cued up to start at the head of the track.
Effects wise I used only the Grampian reverb on mixdown, panned central. I used this on the toms and on certain parts of the vocal. I even spun-in the vocal on the A2340 in the middle and at the end of the song, so there was some fairly panicky re-winding going on during the mix. If it hadn't worked out I would have probably mixed the track in three sections and edited it together.
As there were few effects to deal with during the mix, it left me free to concentrate on track levels and panning of vocals. By making decisions as I progressed through the recording I had saved myself the agony of trying to do the impossible at the last stage with limited facilities.
I was pleased with the end result and only hope those who hear it will enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed recording it.
VM Records can be contacted at: High Street, (Contact Details).
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