Home Studio Recordist
Anthony Braine informs us of his own home set-up.
Calling all home recordists... Here's a golden opportunity to pass on those brilliant tricks you've discovered to turn your cassette deck into a fully-blown 48 track recorder!
Well, not quite... but these columns are devoted to what you, the reader, has to say about your own method of recording, your equipment or maybe your experiences in a pro studio. So write and tell us about these or any other aspect of your recording and you may well find yourself occupying these pages.
This month, Anthony Braine of Hereford explains his own set-up for your delectation...
Right, let's get one thing straight from the start, I am basically a musician and not an aspiring recording engineer/producer. However, being a musician, and a rather tight one at that (aren't we all), recording my own music instead of paying somebody else to, has always been preferable. It is to this end that I have stumbled, rather haphazardly, into the home recording market. But where did it all start?
I am 23 years old, have the same birthday as Princess Diana, but there ends the similarity, and I started playing the piano at the age of 10. I took private classical lessons up to A level standard until the age of 17 when I branched out on my own.
This move rekindled my interest in the piano which was dwindling slightly. Learning the proper way to do it is no bad thing, it teaches you the tricks of the trade, but it can also force you to play what is right, rather than what you enjoy.
My build-up of instruments started in February 1982 with a simple home organ and I have now accumulated the following: Roland VK-1 single manual drawbar organ (used for backing chords), Hohner Duo Clavinet-Pianet (piano, plucked guitar parts and accented chords), 2 Moog Rogue synthesisers (the original's the best, all lead line and FX), Roland CSQ600 sequencer (connected to one of the Moogs), Roland CR78 CompuRhythm with 3 way footswitch. Three Boss FV200 volume pedals (VK-1 and 2 Moogs), Boss DM-2 echo pedal and PH-1R phase pedal (both on mixing desk send and return) plus an NF-1 noise gate, AKG microphone and boom stand, all merrily fixed in to an MM 8-2 mixing desk. All cables by the way are Belden 'Whirlwind'.
The Moog Rogue synth has a vast range of sound possibilities and I've never been tempted to look elsewhere for new sounds, which still surprises me after two years constant use.
The Roland sequencer is connected to the drum machine enabling me to set up syncopated rhythm patterns and as both machines have the same number of programmable channels (four), individual patterns can be constructed quite easily.
One trick of mine is to pass the headphone output of the organ into the 'Audio In' socket of the 'sequencer' Rogue, which allows the synth to shape the organ for polyphonic sounds. Using the organ's headphone output keeps the main audio output free so that the normal organ sound can still be used if desired. Also, by using the sequencer at the same time, a rhythmic organ effect can also be achieved to give quite a full overall sound.
The recording side of the set-up basically centres around my Hi-Fi, which consists of a Technics top load cassette deck, 5 band graphic EQ, with which you can shape the sound being recorded (not all Hi-Fi EQs will do this), Technics 45W per channel amplifier and a pair of Mission 700 speakers.
My first recordings were done with just the cassette, once only recordings, purely to save me having to remember all of my compositions. Then one day, about 18 months ago, I agreed to help somebody with some recording and he brought round a Revox A77 reel-to-reel and left it with me. I haven't seen him since and cussed if I'm going to look for him now as it is with this that I do all my recording.
I have had experience of professional 4, 8, and 16 track studios plus some four track recording done by myself on reel-to-reel machines and Portastudio, but it is my experience with the Revox method that I shall concentrate on.
For those of you not familiar with the A77, I shall explain. Basically, it is a stereo reel-to-reel machine with two speeds (usually), 15 and 7½ ips, and accepts ¼" wide tape. It has three heads and, on some models, has its own built-in monitor, plus it has the usual Hi-Fi connections.
The beauty of the Revox though are its three heads and its facility to record from one track onto another. In this instance it's a case of three heads are better than two, and it is this that allows us to multitrack.
To start with, let us forget the Revox as a stereo recorder and think of it as two mono machines in one: you simply plug your output from your sound source into, say, input channel 1 and record with the channel 1 selector switch on 'input' (clever stuff eh?).
When you've reached a satisfactory end to your recording you rewind the tape, plug your sound source output into the channel 2 input and put the channel 2 selector switch on 'input'. Now the clever bit. Switch channel 1 onto the '1-2' mode and adjust its output level to reach a satisfactory level on the channel 2 VU meter. Then you adjust the channel 2 input level of your new instrument to suit the signal from channel 1. When you feel you have got it right, record it and find out one of the drawbacks of this system; namely, once you have recorded a second track and you find that the levels aren't what you wanted, you'll have to rewind the tape, adjust the level a bit and try again. Also, if you make a mistake half way through a recording, you can't punch in, you have to go right back to the beginning and start again. This also applies to recording a passage near the end of the piece, you have to start right from the beginning.
However, with a bit of skillful manipulation, 6 or 7 sound 'layers' can be built up relatively successfully, but you can give yourself a big hand by applying the following:
i. Run the tape at 15 ips.
ii. Use very high quality tape such as Ampex 456. This costs from about £12.00 to £20.00 for a 10½" spool that lasts half an hour at 15 ips, but it will give you a great sound plus no loss in level when cross recording.
iii. Try and make use of a graphic equaliser of some sort. Seven band is adequate and Boss do a very good foot pedal, for instance, for a good price. Give your first recording a lot of treble boost as a 12 dB loss of treble could be experienced from the first recording after about 6 or 7 continuous transfers.
iv. A noise gate is useful for those clean beginnings and ends.
v. Make sure all levels peak at zero on your meters for good signal-to-noise ratio.
vi. Try and record as many instruments at once.
This method of recording will teach you not to be so extravagant with your arrangements but it will enable you to quite simply and quickly (once you've got the hang of it) multitrack your ideas so that you can obtain a rough picture of how they'll eventually turn out. If you're hoping to go into a major studio, doing something like this can save you a lot of time, decision making and consequently money!
As far as my equipment goes, the only thing I'm after at present is the new Boss digital echo pedal (I knew they'd be the first to do it) but when it comes down to the nitty gritty of it all, all you need is the basic sound generating machine be it a microphone, Casiotone or a SynthAxe (hardly!), a method of tone control and the old tape machine itself.
Of course, Revox aren't the be all and end all of reel-to-reels, you may find cheaper alternatives, but if this article has given you ideas and perhaps some hope to the lower paid enthusiast, then it has achieved its aim.