I finally got the opportunity to record a band on tape last week. From 10 till 6am on the 4th of May, I fought a battle with ancient technologies and won. It was my first time actually recording onto tape, and it wasn’t easy.
There’s so many things you get used to in the digital world, how easy it is to set up projects, to route signals around, to edit. All of this was hard in the land of tape. You have to think a lot more about what you’re doing, what you’re patching where, what will happen to the signal. We have a few mishaps, but the recording went extremely well.
I was recording Anne Groen (She’s amazing, go check her out on Facebook!) and her band. They’re a psychedelic prog rock band, in the vein of something like Led Zeppelin. It just felt right recording it onto tape. They speed up and down during the track, and change time signatures, but doing it to a click felt too rigid and just didn’t suit them. I tracked them live, with limited mics, 12 for the whole band, drums, bass, guitar, acoustic and vocals.
I used the good ol’ Glyn Johns method for the drums, mostly because this had been used on a lot of Zeppelins records admittedly. I also tracked the vocals and acoustic in the same room of a blaringly loud electric guitar. I originally planned to over dub them vocals and acoustic, but the spill from the electric guitar actually sounded great, so I kept the original take. It took us two run throughs of the song to get the perfect, imperfect take. It had so much energy. When a band knows that everything they play counts, that there is no beat detective or melodyne, you get a different vibe. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. The whole band playing their hearts out together has a magical quality. Hence the title.
Tape brings something to the table. You may not like the hiss, or the way it fucks with your sounds, but you have to appreciate it’s finality. When working with tape you have to do a lot of your EQ and compression on the way in. To get the right gain structure it’s essential to compress anything very dynamic and if you EQ any highs once you’ve recorded onto tape you’ll be bringing up tape hiss. This in itself is magical. It’s hard to make decisions in the digital world, everything can be undone, but I don’t think ctrl z is out friend. Working this way has really inspired me to make decisions and stick to them.
The record isn’t mixed yet, but it’s sounding great. The pleasure of doing so much on the way in is that when you’re done tracking the band gets to listen to something almost finished. It’s a great feeling. Tape is good, I encourage any of you who have access to a tape machine to go try it out, you might find some magic in the magnets too.