It’s amazing the thoughts that go through your head when you’re producing audio projects. As I worked on a project, today, I was transported (for no apparent reason) back to 1995 when Robert Farrell and I were working on demo recordings for what would become his first album.
On one particular occasion, we’d decided to take the quality of our audio recordings to the next level. I’m not sure how that decision came about. It was probably me (the Gear-Head that I am) wanting to use some spiffy new equipment even though my own gear was quite good and we’d perfected ways to capture the best sound from various instruments with it. On the other hand, my tape deck limited us to eight tracks of audio so it may have been that we mapped out the arrangements and decided we needed more tracks.
We regularly rented microphones and effect processors and had on a few occasions even rented ADAT systems — digital tape recording machines that made it possible to record up to eight tracks of audio on each tape. For this particular demo recording session, we rented a whole mess of equipment including high end Drawmer, dbx and Eventide processors, fantastic mics, preamps and two ADATs. We made one ADAT system the master and the other the slave which gave us sixteen tracks of audio.
The recording sessions went very well. Bob’s musical ideas were free flowing. Combined with my occassional musical idea (or mistake that was turned into an idea) and my lyrics, the sessions were a creative success. To make the most out of the time with the rented gear, I had programmed the drum machine the night before and then during the session I’d quickly get through my bass parts and then spend my time at the console.
On one particular day, the slave ADAT unit lost its mind. As we worked on one particular song, the slave unit would get to a certain point in the song and begin rewinding which killed the recording. It would rewind the entire length of the tape unless we stopped it. Then I’d have to re-sync the two units and start over, again. This went on for quite a while — always the exact same moment on the tape, always the same quirky behaviour. It made recording the song impossible and the session itself amazingly frustrating.
We tried turning the machines off for short periods thinking they needed a break. Apparently, they didn’t. This went on for four hours. Then, just as suddenly as this quirky behaviour had appeared, it stopped and the systems all began to play nicely together.
I’ve always been a Gear-Head. On reflection, though, despite the improvements in sound quality and sleek new features that new technology offers, the best work I’ve ever done has been with equipment that I’ve spent hours working with. It’s not just about figuring out what the equipment’s designed to do and how to do it, but how to make the equipment do things the way you want them to be done.
Despite the failings of my M-Audio Firewire 1814 audio card, failings that can only be overcome by using a beta driver that’s two revisions old (M-Audio promised me a fix back in August and fell silent since, which makes sense since it now looks like they’ve discontinued it) and the necessity for a USB dongle to make my Cubase software work, I love my studio. I love that I’m able to use the same equipment in my home, office and on the road.
Podcasters should be come very close with their audio gear, learn its idiosyncracies, how to work around them and take advantage of them, the sonic qualities of their headphones and speakers and how to refine their production techniques. Most of all, especially for the important projects, use the gear you know, not the gear that’s cool.
(I may dig through my old tapes and find some recordings I can share.)