Mix-It-Yourself Porta-studio Single
TLO Records recently released a single by Bonaventura in the form of a four track Portastudio-compatible cassette that you can mix yourself. Could it be a new trend for the future?
TLO Records recently released a single by Bonaventura called 'When Malyndy Sings'. Nothing unusual about that you may say. However, besides the 7" and 12" versions, TLO have carved out a little piece of music industry history for themselves by releasing the single in the form of a Portastudio cassette tape. Paul Gilby spoke to the men behind this unique project.
The Portastudio cassette release has been the result of close collaboration between Roger Jackson of TLO Records and Jeremy Healy and to fully understand how the tape came about it's necessary to look a little closer into TLO itself.
Jeremy Healy, Paul Caplin and Kate Garner were originally all members of the group Haysi Fantayzee who had chart success with John Wayne Is Big Leggy and other singles around 1981/2. The Haysi Fantayzee project ended and Jeremy Healy left his record company RCA. Meanwhile, Paul Caplin was living in a large flat in London where he had established a small home demo studio based around a Fostex A8. It's at this point that Roger Jackson enters the story.
Roger had been involved in producing soundtrack music for films and radio commercials when he was invited by Paul Caplin to help out with some demos for a man called Marilyn. This work resulted in a hit single and established Marilyn in the pop market. The relationship developed and Roger started to work with Jeremy and Kate becoming involved in the shaping and styling of artists as well as continuing to pursue his own soundtrack work.
Finally, they all decided to direct their activities into the form of a record company of their own and so TLO Records (The Love Organisation) was born and, similarly, because of the interest in films and commercials, TLO Soundtracks was also formed.
Today, the company have an impressive list of advertising commercial soundtracks to their credit which include the Technics ad (featuring the robot dancers) plus the Levi and British Airways adverts.
TLO have now directed their energy into the release of a record featuring Jeremy Healy (in the form of Bonaventura) with a song called When Malyndy Sings.
Jeremy: "The idea of releasing a Portastudio mix came from Roger. I've always been into various mixes and love all those disco and extended mix 12" singles, so when we recorded my single we thought of the different versions we could release and the Portastudio mix seemed a great idea."
"What we've done is to mix the 24 track tape recording of the single down into four separate groups to form the four tracks on the cassette tape. You can then play the tape on your own Portastudio and have a go at mixing the four tracks together yourself. The idea has something of an educational feel and allows people to become actively involved in the music rather than just sitting down and listening."
"I think the tape helps you to examine the way in which the record was made and how the various parts of a multitrack recording are built up."
When the recording and mixing were complete, TLO started to look at ways in which they could market the tape. Initially, they thought about distributing it to the shops where recording equipment is sold but the whole record industry is set up to supply High Street record shops and not musical equipment shops, so with Chrysalis handling distribution TLO finally decided to do it the usual way. You can therefore buy the normal vinyl record or Portastudio cassette tape from your local record shop.
Another interesting point is that TLO are offering a money-back guarantee on the single so that people who are dissatisfied with the record can return it to the shop within three days and claim a refund.
Roger: "To some extent this is promoting the idea of home taping for which there is a strong anti-taping lobby in the record industry, yet we're a record company who are doing it. The fact is that we don't think people will return the record and anyway you're never going to stop people recording the music off the radio."
"The Portastudio tape is being promoted through ads in the music press and it's the first time such a mix has ever been released. The tape itself has been something of a technical nightmare to put together; with the four tracks and the stereo mix on both sides of the tape, cassette duplication companies have found it difficult to come to terms with our requirements. Harman UK who market Teac and Tascam equipment have been of immense help in this area."
"At first, the idea of releasing the Portastudio mix tape wasn't taken too seriously by Chrysalis and they took a lot of convincing, but eventually became very enthusiastic. The record buying public's reaction to the idea will be very interesting to see and will obviously have a bearing on whether or not we release other records in this format. We don't see any money being made out of the Portastudio cassettes so you could say it's been released more as a gesture."
An additional point of interest to HSR readers is, of course, the music itself, after all that's the reason why this Portastudio tape exists in the first place. Jeremy Healy discussed his early experiments that led to the techniques used on the record as well as his thoughts on creating music today.
Jeremy: "I've been working at home with a couple of cassette decks for several years now, just bouncing bits of material back and forth and also using two record decks to do 'scratching'. It all started by making tapes for my friends' parties; instead of having to change records I mixed them onto tape. This developed into chopping up and editing the records in a crude way until I gradually became more skilled at it. Around the time I was experimenting with these ideas the Grandmaster Flash records came out and proved to me that this was a really viable way of producing music."
"It's a good idea I believe to work with all that material which has been around for the last hundred years or so and actually recycle it. People have always used sound sources that they created themselves with musical instruments, nowadays you can take any sound and sample it using technology such as the Fairlight, and then play music with that captured sound. Today, you can chop up and shape the sounds with great ease but people shouldn't think it takes the skill out of writing songs, somebody still has to sit down and compose the music. I'm all for people using the latest technology to produce records. Pop music should reflect the times we live in and, therefore, it only really sounds right when it does."
"You could say that in the future you will have members of the band who are the 'finders' of source material and then you might have the 'manipulator'. The distinctions we have at the moment of drummer, bass guitarist etc. will start to be broken down."
"I was originally signed to RCA Records who were alright but didn't take the kind of interest in my work that Roger and TLO do. The company has a flexibility and interest which helps me to release my material in a form that I'm satisfied with."
"Because of my work at home with cassette decks and editing bits of music together, the idea of releasing a Portastudio mix of the single seemed to be the best way of giving the public a chance to see how I made the record and for them to get involved. Other than having a go at mixing the tape, I'm sure that people will also erase tracks and add their own sounds or perhaps write some new vocals and record them. The possibilities are quite exciting."
The music on the tape has been grouped so that track 1 contains Bass, Percussion and Drums; track 2 features Strings, Horns, Synth and Fairlight scratch samples; track 3 has Vibes and Fairlight vocal 'aah' sounds, and track 4 contains all of Jeremy Healy's vocals plus various 'scratching' sounds.
These tracks are configured so that Side One of the cassette runs at 3¾ ips for use on machines such as the Tascam 244, Fostex 250, Clarion and Cutec MR402. At the end of the four track version is a stereo mix of the song so you can listen to how TLO did it. Side Two of the cassette tape is exactly the same except the tape runs at 1⅞ ips for use on a Tascam Porta One, Fostex X15 or Yamaha MT44.
Using the tape is a fairly straightforward matter of placing your tape machine into the 'off-tape' playback mode and then pushing the separate faders up to listen to the various tracks. It's interesting to hear the different snippets from familiar records on track four, as these really do demonstrate the scratching technique very well.
The idea of releasing a tape in this format is by no means a new one, many people have thought about it but none have previously achieved the end result. TLO must therefore be congratulated on the release of the Portastudio cassette and if all goes well other record companies may hopefully follow suit.
Personally, I found the tape fulfilled several important criteria; (1) The recording quality was good. (2) It revealed some of the process of multitrack recording. (3) It's great fun to play with! Buy it from your record shop: Bonaventura, 'When Malyndy Sings': Chrysalis stock number Record - TLOX 001, Cassette - ZTLO 001.
Feature by Paul Gilby
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