Home Studio Recordist
This series welcomes contributions from you, the reader, about any aspect of your home recording setup. If you have made your own record or recorded in a pro studio for the first time, for example, then why not write and tell us about your experiences? The best ways to learn about recording are to experiment and to follow the examples of others. Through the columns of this page you can pass on the valuable knowledge you have gained yourself to those in a similar situation.
This month we feature Roger Wilson, who uses a cassette-based set-up to record his synthetic creations.
I had abortive piano lessons when I was 7/8 years old and did not return to music making until the Summer of 1981 when I was 18. My friend, Gary, and I recorded a song using a second-hand, mono, reel-to-reel; a borrowed old-fashioned Bontempi organ (one of the ones with the fan in the back), which I liked, and Gary's digital watch. This song, called 'Clock and the Cross', started the trend of our band, The Screaming Aardvarks' music being a bit unclassifiable!
With the addition of a VL-Tone, a Maplin microphone mixer and an old stereo cassette player, we experimented with tape loops, tape reversals, and backing tracks etc, in my front room, until the sudden demise of my reel-to-reel!
The Screaming Aardvarks metamorphosed into Social Company when we were joined by a rather good bassist. We produced some very good songs (well I think so anyway!), usually live onto mono reel-to-reel but production sometimes got as far as three layers of sound onto my old cassette player. I have nearly a C90 full of music from these two bands. Social Company eventually split as we all went to our respective colleges.
I am now on my middle year placement at college, as I am doing a sandwich course not connected with Catering at all! The funds available from this employment have bought most of my current line-up of equipment:
Korg MS20 synthesiser - bought for versatility, external signal processing and patching facility.
Sharp dual cassette deck (GF-575) — good sound quality but highlights all the hiss on my old tapes!
Amdek 612 mixer - a nice, easy to build unit, which I intend to modify when I have learnt more about electronics.
Two Casio VL-Tones - one of which is the original version from when they first came out.
Shure microphone - unidirectional.
Coron drum synthesiser - quite impressed with it.
Amdek distortion pedal - again, nice and easy to build, which I intend modifying in the near future.
Soundmaster ST305 drum machine - recent acquisition, bought for versatility, ie. the individual outputs for each sound.
I also have a violin; a mouth-organ; drumsticks and miles of wires! I have no complaints with the above equipment, which is understandable, as each piece of equipment is usually bought after deciding what features/type of device I want. For instance, I wanted individual outputs on the drum machine, but not a Roland, as I can recognise its untreated drum sound too easily, and also, I wanted to spend as little as possible!
The exceptions to my buying rules were the violin (a mad impulse!) and the drum synth, which was bought very cheaply from a music shop in Middlesborough which was closing down.
I do a lot of experimenting with my equipment, to overcome my limited recording set-up, linking VL-Tones, synth, drum synth and so creating wonderful noises! My favourite techniques are using the VL-Tones as sequencers to the MS20 and using the external input control voltage as a modulation source. Using the accent trigger output on the Soundmaster drum machine to trigger the synthesiser is quite fun too but I didn't invent that, so it is not as good! The next little job is to modify my Casios as per E&MM instructions (June 1983) so the drum machine can control the sequencer tempo. The ability to have several devices playing simultaneously let's you economise on tracks without the need to 'bounce' anything, which helps maintain sound quality also.
I write down riffs I invent for future reference and good patches, but I like to record live improvisations on the synthesiser, ie. turning one knob creates a quite different sound; pressing the trigger button causes a riot; and so on! I do record full pieces of music now, but this is a late development, due to owning a personal stereo. So now I can do a sound-on-sound technique using it as the playback deck through the mixer. Another benefit is to obtain better quality (less hiss) recordings. With this in mind, two noise gates will be built or bought, sometime soon, and then a compander (but I want my E&MM digital delay first). Also, more shielded cables will be purchased for interconnecting the equipment.
The music I record is sent to a friend, Gary, who now lives in Leeds. He does what he wants to it, mainly adding some tape echo effects and his own bass playing. We have a wonderful Klaus Schulze-style piece done this way which lasts about quarter of an hour.
I would like to take this opportunity to make some comments/recommendations to fellow recordists on a limited budget:
1. Do not buy any old piece of machinery. Decide what features/type of machine you want and save for it, or buy it after shopping around. Do not be tempted to buy 'el cheapos' with less facilities and/or worse sound quality for the sake of waiting a few weeks or having an extra fiver for the boozer on Friday night.
2. Do not be shy to spend, if you have decided what piece of equipment you want after testing/looking at/reading about it, then go ahead and buy it. Do not whitter about the fact that the technology will be obsolete - it still works and, if you bought correctly in the first place, will be perfectly good until you drop it on the floor or something.
3. When recording in an amateur set-up like mine, shielded cables are very worthwhile and of course, they don't need replacing when you get your Prophet T8 in your private 24 track studio!
I end with the fact that I do all my music-making and recording work for pleasure but, so saying, my music-making is getting more serious and I would like to make a living at it one day. However, at the moment, I am content to finish my course in Horticulture and carry on learning, rather haphazardly, about recording, music-making, electronics and to a lesser degree, computing.