Magazine Archive

Home -> Magazines -> Issues -> Articles in this issue -> View

Article Group:
Recording World

33 Recording Tips

Article from International Musician & Recording World, September 1985

What to do to get tip-top tapes from our master of the mastering, Steve Toke

Home recording can be creative and satisfying but how come it takes you longer to do it than everyone else? Here's a few hints on how to do it quicker and better...

The enquiring mind: it's a wonderful thing. We at IM like to think of ourselves as a clearing house for ideas, innovation and creative thought; a kind of inspirational information service for musicians; Rock 'n' Roll's answer to 'The Prophet'; a turning point for contemporary musical form — but even still with more pictures to look at than proper grown-up magazines.

But that's enough about us. What about you — what do you think about us? Certainly, shyness has never appeared as a blot of any significance on your collective landscape, and each month we gratefully receive your written views on a wide variety of topics ranging from such things as synths, guitars, home recording and PA etc, to other things of really disarming insignificance and down right impertinence.

Basically though, you all want to know how to do it better. The nature of it, of course, differs from letter to letter, but there's a general theme of thirst for improvement running through these communications. After a careful study of all correspondence received over the last six months, we have developed a programme of correlation that has allowed us to put in order of intensity your needs and desires. We now have a model of the kind of help and advice you really need — and it's frightening, not to mention sectionable.

However, apart from suggesting that most of you try to avoid doing joined up writing until you've really got the complete alphabet fully under your belts, I think we're better off pretending that what you really need is advice on home recording, etc. With regard to the other things, try eating less protein.

1. Clean — Everything. Make sure every part of the tape path is clean. For this it is worth investing in one of the cleaning kits available from the likes of Teac or Fostex which should include separate cleaning fluid for both the metal components such as heads and tape guides and also the rubber of the pinch roller. Don't use anything on the pinch roller that isn't designed specifically for rubber. A hard, perished roller will give rise to all sorts of unpleasant tape speed inconsistencies. Never use anything abrasive, especially on the heads, but do make sure that you've removed all traces of carbon from the corners of the tape guides; if it's been given a chance to build up over time, it can be very obstinate. Apart from the machine, keep your own hands reasonably grease free for when you're handling the tape, especially when editing.

2. De-Magnetise — just switching a tape machine on and off will leave a degree of residual magnetism on the heads — you don't even have to use it. In operation the heads and the other ferrous parts of the transport will be magnetised by the repeated passings of the tape. This field will significantly effect the quality of your recordings and it's worth de-magging the whole transport at least once every session. Make sure you get a reasonably powerful demagger especially if you are using larger tape formats. Make sure that the tape machine is turned off, and that all tapes are well out of the way. Turn the demagger on a couple of feet away from the machine, and then very slowly move it in until it's almost touching the heads. If it doesn't come with one, fit a rubber hood over the tip to prevent scratching (rubber insulation sleeving is good). Run the demagger very slowly over all relevant parts and then draw it away a couple of feet before turning it off. The capstan itself (unless it is ceramic) will also become magged-up, but because it is directly connected to the larger mass of the capstan motor it will usually be necessary to actually remove the motor as a whole to fully relieve it of its residual field. If you felt sufficiently moved, you might like to do this every few months to ensure optimum performance, although in fact even with pro studios very few actually bother.

3. Align — Mechanically: To do a complete alignment you really need some test equipment, but if you have a test tape, there is a simple way to check azimuth, which is one of the most important settings. Using the test tape, playback the 10kHz tone from the two edge tracks of the machine (tracks 1 and 2 in the case of stereo) and combine them into the same speaker for listening. Carefully adjust the playback head azimuth screw for maximum level. Then, simultaneously record a 10kHz tone (a very high synth sine-type wave would be okay if you have no test oscillator) on the two edge tracks of the machine. While monitoring from the playback head, adjust the record head azimuth screw for maximum level.

Electronically: Simply buying good quality tape doesn't ensure good performance. If its design allows it, the record side of the machine should be electronically aligned for a specific tape. Again, for full alignment you need a pre-recorded test tape which will include instructions for aligning the playback side of the machine. As a quick check, however, you can assume the playback side is okay, and test the system as a whole by recording (for instance) 100Hz, 1KHz and 10KHz tones and checking that they playback at the same level you recorded them — again a synth will do if you don't have a test oscillator. If it doesn't check out to within a couple of dBs at all three frequencies it's worth seeking professional advice to see what's wrong.

4. Cassettes — Use a good make of chrome or pseudo-chrome. Never use C120s, they give terrible print through, and stretch with use. C60s are preferable.

5. Tape Storage — To reduce the subjective effects of print through, store tape end out (on the right hand spool), and if you have time, spool off in the play mode as opposed to fast wind; an even pack is much kinder to the tape.

6. Connect — Don't buy cheap mains or audio connectors, they will ruin your life with a whole range of intermittent failures and spurious noises. Ditto for cable. Take great care over the soldering if you make up your own leads; it's very important to make good connections. Only connect the screen at the source end of the lead (ie at the outputs) to avoid hums.

7. Cables — Keep your audio cable runs away from mains cables and power supplies to help preclude mains hum. If they must cross try to make it at right angles.

8. Metering — Don't put blind faith in your metering, different types of signal will either over or under read. See how much level you can get on tape without distortion, and aways keep it as high as possible. If you have a 3-head machine, simply listen back off the playback head as you're recording. It's worth a lot of effort, tape noise can become very intrusive.

9. Stereo Sound-On-Sound — If you only have a stereo machine and you can find a friend in a similar situation who also has a simple stereo mixer, you can bounce between the machines in stereo, adding an extra live part each time, thereby maintaining a stereo recording with sound-on-sound facilities. There's always someone somewhere with an Akai 4000D or similar.

10. Track Plan — If you know how you want to record a piece, plan out on paper how you are going to use the available tracks, making sure that you don't get into a situation where you are bouncing from an adjacent track, ie from track 3 on to track 4.

11. 2-Track Bounce — If you're using 8-tracks or more, and you have a good quality 2-track machine, you might like to record on all 8 tracks (for instance) and then mix down on to the 2-track. This mix can then be put back on to two tracks of the multitrack on a clean section of tape. This gives you two extra tracks to play with before committing to a first mix and you also preserve the original multitrack recording should that mix turn out to be disastrously wrong in the light of subsequent overdubs.

12. Bass Bouncing — Sounds with a high bass end content will give the most trouble when bouncing. Add them as later 'post bounce' overdubs when possible.

13. Add On — To save tracks, you can actually mix in another part live, as if it were a 9th track, as you bounce or mix.

14. Tune — Acoustic instruments can be difficult to tune. If you intend to use one or more, ensure that you tune to them in the first place.

15. HF Boost — With most home recording equipment you will lose a degree of high frequency content along the way. Therefore, give everything a little more top than necessary on record, and wind it off again for the mix. In this way you will also help to reduce tape hiss.

16. Sweep Clean — If a certain frequency band of a sound is annoying you by ringing or honking, a sweep equaliser can be used to identify the frequency and reduce the effect: turn the gain of the equaliser full up, and then sweep the frequency control back and forth until you hear the ringing/honking peak, and then pull it out with the gain control.

17. Effect Decisions — If you have a limited number of effects units it is important to make decisions concerning sounds as you record them. If, for example, you only have one delay line and you want both a repeat on the snare drum and a doubling on the vocals, you simply have to apply the effect at the multitrack stage. You can't wait for mix down.

18. Creating Space — When multitracking parts in an attempt to create a spatial effect, use a delay line in front of your reverb device to create different pre-delays on each track — the longer the delay, the bigger the room. This will give each one a slightly different position in the room with reference to the listener. A multitap delay can be used to send a series of time-separated signals to the reverb unit on record.

19. Gated Reverb — Just in case you hadn't realised yet, that big snare (or anything) sound can be achieved by putting the output of the reverb unit through a noise gate. Thus you get a full sound of short duration.

20. Natural Reverb — If you don't have a reverb device, do try different places around the house, especially the bathroom, to see what they sound like. To give an electronic instrument more life even once it's been recorded, try, at the mix down stage, playing it back through a miked-up speaker in a live room. The new sound can take the place of the original recording or simply be added in with it. Again, use a delay to create a bigger space.

21. Pseudo Stereo Reverb — Splitting the output of a mono reverb unit, putting it through a delay and panning the normal and delayed outputs to separate sides of the stereo image creates a sense of dimension. Also applying different equalization to each side adds separation.

22. Monitors — If possible, mount your speakers across the short dimension of the room, equally spaced from the corners. The HF drivers should be approximately at ear level and the cabinet should be angled in to form an equilateral triangle (three equal sides) with the monitoring position. The wall behind the monitors should be reasonably absorbent to high frequencies to ensure clear stereo imaging. Even some draped cloth or blankets will make a difference.

23. Gain Structure — When setting the desk up, position all the channel and group output faders at their zero level points and then adjust each channel's input trim pot to achieve the correct output level to the multitrack. This might not be possible with extremely weak or strong input signals over which you have little control, but as a basic scheme it ensures a good gain structure for the mixer and means that if you accidentally nudge a fader, you always know where it was originally.

24. Keying — If you have a noise gate with a key input, try keying odd sounds on to other instruments as you record or mix them. Some classics: white/pink noise onto a snare to brighten it up, or a low frequency tone on to a bass drum to give it weight.

25. Varispeed — Make sure you have something recorded at normal speed as a reference track before using varispeed — otherwise there'll be grief at a later stage.

26. Deep — If you want your voice to sound a little more macho, try speeding up the tape a little when recording the vocal.

27. Double — The above trick can also be used to make you sound like two people.

28. Tape Echo — If you have a 3-head stereo machine you can use the delay between the record and replay heads to create repeats and echos: using an auxiliary send simply record a signal on to the machine while simultaneously mixing the played back signal, with its inherent delay, back in with the original signal. Returning the delayed signal back to the recorder again will create repeat echos.

29. Mikes — Defter to have at least one acceptably good mike than several bad ones. Vocals and acoustic instruments will be a struggle without one.

30. Two Mikes — If you can afford it, a matched pair is useful for stereo recordings.

31. Miking — Don't be afraid to use two or three mikes placed at varying distances when recording an instrument amp, also mixing in the direct output if it has one.

32. Acoustic Piano — Keep your playing simple, and hit the keys very firmly to give a fuller, brighter sound.

33. Save Tracks — When bouncing, you can mix in another live part as you bounce thus saving a track.

More with this topic

Browse by Topic:


Previous Article in this issue

The Producers

Next article in this issue

Teczon four-track

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...


International Musician - Sep 1985

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Recording World



Feature by Steve Toke

Previous article in this issue:

> The Producers

Next article in this issue:

> Teczon four-track

Help Support The Things You Love

mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.

If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!

Donations for April 2024
Issues donated this month: 0

New issues that have been donated or scanned for us this month.

Funds donated this month: £7.00

All donations and support are gratefully appreciated - thank you.

Magazines Needed - Can You Help?

Do you have any of these magazine issues?

> See all issues we need

If so, and you can donate, lend or scan them to help complete our archive, please get in touch via the Contribute page - thanks!

If you're enjoying the site, please consider supporting me to help build this archive...

...with a one time Donation, or a recurring Donation of just £2 a month. It really helps - thank you!

Small Print

Terms of usePrivacy