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Bedroom Bouncedown - Home Recording


our answers to the common cassetting problems

Article from One Two Testing, January 1985

our cures for common recording complaints

I've tried using ADT in mono and there seems to be something lacking in the sound. What's going wrong?

Nothing's actually going wrong, it's just that you could really do with using an extra track and putting down ADT in stereo — split your outputs so that one signal goes one side and the other on the er, other. This way you are using psycho-acoustics. What? You're exploiting the brain's ability to fool itself. In mono, ADT is only giving the brain one element to work on — a time delay. Put the thing in stereo and you're instantly adding the dimension of space, too. Brain thinks, oh, two elements or more here, and mouth says, "What a pleasant sound."

I seem to have trouble getting the sound of the synth to change much on mixdown. Is the eq on the mixer too restricted?

Synthesisers don't have too many overtones and harmonics in their sound, because of the synthetic nature of the racket. So trying to get hold of tonalities to alter with the eq knobs is much more difficult than if you were eq-ing an acoustic sound, where the instrument or voice has many more harmonic elements to play around with. What you really need to bear in mind is that you'll need to get the synth sound worked out before it goes on tape, because you won't be able to do all that much with it once it's recorded. You're just going to have to make early decisions here. Terrible world, isn't it?

I often bounce three tracks together into one to make more room for new recordings on the multitrack, but the quality suffers. What can I do to keep the quality intact?

There's no easy solution here, because every time you do a bounce you will generate more noise along with the musical information, and therefore things will become a little less precise than they started off. One thing you could try to do is plan ahead so that you're bouncing sounds together which have a similar frequency content. Thus you could try to make sure that you bounce a bass guitar or bass synth with the bass drum. Or bounce a rhythm guitar with a middle-ish synthesiser wash. If you throw sounds together from right across the frequency range the poor old tape recorder is going to have to deal with all those disparate elements and will end up making a compromise. The moral here is to plan sessions, not just bung stuff down as and when you feel like it. Anyone would think you were trying to enjoy yourself.

Even though I'm using headphones to monitor on, the tracks I've put down with some care as separate instruments are leaking into each other. Does that mean a fault with the tape machine?

Not necessarily. You should run a few checks first before you start knocking on the dealer's door. First you should ensure that your mixer procedure is correct and that you're not leaking signals by an error in your routing hook-ups. It might be worth a quick stage-by-stage run-through with the manual just to be sure that you're doing it all properly. The other suggestion we'd make is that you take a look at the type of headphones you're using.

If they're the popular "open" type, then sound may be leaking out of these and into your mikes, particularly if you monitor at loud levels. Get a closed pair specially for use with your mixer. And lastly, are you that worried about leakage, or are you just getting worked up because you've been told this is something to avoid? Does the musical performance actually suffer because of this leakage? Probably not, you know.

How far can I get away with pushing meters into the red?

It depends on what instrument you're recording. With synths, for example, the meter or LED bars going mental can be down to the inherent qualities of the sound rather than actual volume shifts (eg synths using pulse-width modulation). So do use your ears — those are the two things on the side of your head that look a little like sea shells. If the ears tell you there are no wild peaks, it's safe to assume there are no wild peaks. Generally you should try to get as much level on tape as possible, although often with things like snare drums you can put up with a little hiss and make sure you present the tape with a signal it can deal with and not distort. The compressor is often sold as a gadget which will soften peaks of instruments for you and therefore get a constant level on to tape without needles flapping around. But make sure that you actually like the sound that the compressor lends to the instrument concerned. Peak LEDs are there to be used, not to avoid. The general rule is to push as hard as you can, and if one take sounds too distorted on playback, then ease back on the level and do it again. You'll soon discover the machine's limits — remember, the machine's working for you.

I've been told that you should only add eq at the mixdown stage. Why is this?

When you're told something like this, a little LED should go on in the brain, labelled "Warning: Rule". There are no such things as rules in recording, there is only common sense. Well OK, there are rules that say if you don't turn the machine on it won't work, but rules like "only add eq at mixdown" should be examined for common sense before they're applied. Our common sense has suggested that there may well be something to this one: if you record stuff originally on to tape as flat, or un-eq'd, as you can, then you have more scope to alter the sounds at mixdown. Also, when you're mixing, you'll be able to hear all the sounds as they work together in the track, so you'll be better able to eq to suit the overall requirements of the piece of music. If stuff is fiercely eq'd when it's first recorded, often in relative isolation, it may be a pig to get sounding good later in the context of the whole track. The Japanese have not managed to market common sense, yet.

What happens if the tape goes mad and wraps itself all around the capstan, heads and rollers?

First things first. Turn the machine off. Then stop and count slowly to about 20. This should calm you down a little. Then you can attempt to untangle the tape from the innards. If at all possible try not to stretch the tape any more than is necessary to extract the stuff, but in the end you must realise that the tape recorder is much more valuable than the tape, no matter if it does contain your greatest recorded moment. So always sacrifice tape rather than attacking the heads area with scissors or knives — you should never bring metal objects that near the tape heads, anyway. Remember we are dealing with a magnetic medium here — and are you sure your screwdriver doesn't have even a tiny bit of magnetism hidden in its innards? With cassettes, you can buy something called a salvage cassette which should enable you to piece your snarled tape back together in a new case. Don't be so vicious with the controls next time, dummy.

My drum machine's snare sound does not crack enough on recordings. Any short cut to a thwacking, toppy racket?

Apart from experimenting with eq at source (and bearing in mind the earlier question's common sense quotient), we'd steal a tip from old chum Woody from Madness (yet again). What he does to keep the machine snare a-cracking is to hitch the trigger out from the drum machine's snare into a synth that has a trigger-in and a noise facility. With the synth set to noise, the snare will trigger its kshhh-type sound every time the snare strikes, and you've got yourself an altogether more robust snare sound. Best to route both signals on to one tape track, then you'll get a tight result that will give the impression of being a single, punchy thwack. Or, of course, you could bring in a drummer. They play things called drum kits and need to have a few microphones placed around them.

My tapes seem quiet and "fluttery" on playback. Whose fault is it?

Oh, almost certainly yours. You see sir, our tapes never go wrong. First you should check the tape recorder's heads, and even give them a bit of a rub-down with Q-Tips (now called Royal Families?) and a cleaner which your local stockist will be pleased to flog you. Or you could de-gauss (now called demagnetise) the heads also with a gadget that your getting-richer-by-the-minute stockist will have. Then you should see that your tape actually has oxide on it and did not cost 16p from a bloke down the market. Lastly, if you're a cassette recorder (ha ha), make sure you're not using the dreaded C120 length tapes, which are so thin they'll stretch and stretch till there's hardly anything left.

Every time I record a guitar part where I need to change an effect in the middle of a piece, the footswitch makes a big click and comes out on the tape. Should I give up and just play without an effect?

Certainly not — you're the musician, you make the creative decisions. First you might like to see if the maker of your footswitch advertises them as having "silent switching". If so, you could well have a justified complaint. Otherwise, your best bet is to time the footswitch operation with the beat of a bass drum or snare drum. With a couple of run-throughs and an ear open for the tempo of the beating drum in question, you should be able to time the switch-on to coincide with a handy mask of drum machine beat or stick-on-skin.

If you don't have drums in the piece in question, it's obviously about time you did. That moody, flowing synth piece with floating guitar part would make a very attractive dance-floor 12in hit, you know.

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Four-track Cassette Machines

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Home Is The Hero

Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Jan 1985

Bedroom Bouncedown - Home Recording



Feature by Tony Bacon

Previous article in this issue:

> Four-track Cassette Machines...

Next article in this issue:

> Home Is The Hero

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