Magic In The Magnets

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. 

                                     Image

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.

Good luck,

Liam.

 

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2ube and Tape

So I thought I’d give you an update on what I’ve been up too this week. It’s been filled with stress, but the good kind. The kind you feel when the pressure’s on to do well that helps drive your passion.

For me this week it’s been a live streamed gig. At uni we have a weekly gig called The 2ube (Odd name I know, blame LIPA managers) that I help run. And every few weeks we have the great pleasure of livestreaming the whole thing. I say pleasure, but really I mean the feeling of wanting to pull your own eyes from your skull. It’s a lot of fun, but also a lot of work and most of the time everything that can go wrong does so. This time I was in charge of mixing the broadcast mix, for the whole world (Or the 200 odd people who listened anyway) to hear. Due to the usual chaos that ensues at this event, we only got half a sound check for the broadcast mix, meaning we had to mix the 11 piece band live from scratch, along with some others. But luckily, apart from a few hiccups along the way it mostly sounded good. I was mixing alongside my friend Sophia and I feel we did a really good job overall, but like i said, de-eyeing almost happened.

So after that I’ve been “mastering” the live performances that sounded decent. Originally we hoped to get five multi tracks out and recorded into Pro Tools, but as so often happens in the audio world, the ancient gods of recording had other plans so that didn’t work out. I say mastering loosely, because I’m essentially trying to improve on my live mixes using EQ, some stereo spreading and then limiting them. It’s actually working out surprisingly well. I’m sure I will post the results in a few days.

I’ve also been in the studio this week, learning how to use a tape machine and recording with a band. The band was just standard affair, it’s a folk band and we were recording guitars and vocals. The tape was more interesting. If you’ve never used a tape machine before I really suggest trying to get a hold of one and giving it a go. It really makes you feel like an actual sound engineer. Getting the screwdriver out to align the beast was a lot of fun. I love tape. It’s such a hassle and possibly not worth all the effort these days but It does sound great. It’s nothing particularly noticeable either, some slight harmonic distortion and roll of on the high frequencies but there is some magic in that magnetic strip.

One of my current projects is to record and mix a band full in the analogue domain. It’s more of a challenge for myself than anything, but they sound very Led Zepplin and I just couldn’t help myself. You’ll probably hear more about this later when I may have less hair due to ripping it out over this recording.

Anyway enough of my ramblings. I’ll leave you with a link to the livestream I mixed and hope you have a great week,

Liam.