Keyboard Magazine "In The Studio" Making Your Demos Count
Whether you've been recording at home or in a "state of the art" 24 track studio, unless you are signed to recording contract, all of your recordings are considered demos. A demos is a demonstration recording proving to a prospective investor, record company, etc. that you have a product that is commercial enough for release as a record. Now that we've clarified what a demo is I would like to get to the point. What I would like to establish is a format for recording a demo and then after having been signed to record label, not having to record the track over again and possibly losing the initial feel that got the deal in the first place.
I would like to start off with some tips for recording on four track. If you are using live drums, print them on one track and print the other three main instruments of the rhythm section on the three remaining tracks. If you need additional tracks for other overdubs and everyone always does! ), bounce the four tracks down to one or two tracks on another recorder ( preferably a 2 track machine or a cassette deck). Then bounce back the mix from the 2 track onto another section of the 4 track tape. This procedure eliminates erasing the original rhythm tracks. Four tracks is always a compromise but then again you make the best of it. Bouncing from deck to deck will add another generation of tape hiss to your final product but it will preserve your rhythm tracks ( the "feel" ) with enough separation so that you can bounce the initial 4 tracks up to a 24 track redcorder later.
If you are using a drum machine the procedure is different. Print the sync track of the drum machine on one track and the three most important rhythm section instruments on the remaining three tracks. Over dubbing the other three tracks can definitely be a royal pain in the "a" since you always have start at the beginning of the tune to sync the drum machine. Because of this procedure punching in is impossible. Then as mentioned above bounce the 4 tracks to a 2 track and then back onto the 4 track later on the same reel of tape. Before you make the bounce to the 2 track, sync the drum machine up to the 4 track and afterwards overdubbing will be as normal.
If you read my last two articles ( January and February Keyboard) on sync tone, click track and SMPTE sync boxes then you can use use those procedures to allow all of your drum machine and sequenced keyboard instruments to be part of your home demo without having to take up more than one track on your tape recorder. Then guitar, bass, percussion and/or vocals can be recorded on the remaining three tracks. This will eliminate the need in many cases the need to bounce down to a 2 track and then back again. If you make use of MIDI Clock with your drum machines and sequencers, you will be able to overdub as normal. If you are fortunate enough to own a 8 track, the need to bounce down is very slight. Especially if you also own a sync box for your drum machines and sequencers. In many cases to cost of a 8 track recorder, sync box, drum machine and sequencer is more economical than owning a 16 or 24 track recorder. Your recording/mixing consoles will have to have enough inputs to accomodate the total number of instruments on tape plus what has been programmed into your drum machine and/or sequencer. You will also have to own enough synthesizers to perform your demo in one pass if they are not recorded on separate tracks tape. With careful planning you can over come all of these obtacales.
Now some of you may be asking at this point "Why?" Well the answer is "To preserve the original groove and avoid having to do the same work twice". All studio experienced artists know how fustrating it can be to try and duplicate a magical performance that you had originaly recorded at three o'clock in the morning in your home studio in your underware. Only now you have to contend with a producer's and a engineer's input. I'm not negative at all on being able to duplicate the feel of the original demo over again in a 24 track studio, I'm just giving tips to those who have had this problem. It also seems a big waste of time to have to do the same work over and over again.
Using drum machines and sequencers in the demo recording process is the best way to conserve on energy and finances. The machines can capture the performance of your home demo and then later reproduce it in the 24 track studio. This is pre-production at its highest level. You can spend more time on the individual sounds of your synthesizers in a 24 track studio if all the keyboard parts had been recorded at home as part of your original demo. In some cases you can save up to $10,000.00 of studio time. This savings can be put in your pocket or into more studio hours for vocals and/or the final mix.
I think the biggest problem that most people have recording at home or on any less than 24 tracks these days is that the sound is not professional. One would be astounded to know what records where bounced up from 4, 8 and 16 track machines. If your attitude about the equipment you are using is on a professional level than there should be no reason why you can't create tracks that can be used on record. Granted one does need a good recording console, microphones, outboard gear and a good acoustic enviorment to record live drums with ambience. The cost of the above is quite prohibitive for the small or home studio. But drums are truly the only instrument that requires all this. With sampling technology what it is today one can get around this by recording live drums any where and triggering great sampled sounds later. The drum machine has made its mark in the home studio and the professional studio because of just these reasons.
Even if you don't intend on using the drum machine in a 24 track studio later it makes a good guide track. If all the synthesizers have been sequenced and error corrected and/or quantized to taste then it is an easy job to have the drummer overdub to those tracks turning off the drum machine tracks. If the headphone mix is right than the drummer should feel like his is jamming with a band. The only drawback is that he has to follow the band and therefore can not have any influence on the bands performance. With practice all this can be overcome.
As far other instruments and/or vocals are concerned, you would be surprised at what can be recorded at home at transfered up to 24 track. Guitar, bass, synthesizers and vocals especially! If you don't own a great microphone console or compressor you can learn to record great vocals with moderately priced gear. Later in the studio those tracks can be doctored up to a certain degree. The perforance always comes first! Many musicians never get over the "other side of the glass" phobia in the studio.
Worse come to worse if you don't own any multi-track equipment but make a great demo even on a ghetto-blaster, you can try this. Bounce the entire mix of your demo onto the 24 track and use it as a sort of click track. This technique was used to make alot of the K-Tel sound alike records. The record that was to be copied was first printed on the multi-track and then each part that was to be copied was overdubbed onto a separate track. As each part was overdubbed, only the new part and the original mix ( the click/feel track ) was monitored. After all the parts to the arrangement where added the guide track was wiped and the original feel thus preserved.
Not every one of the above methods are for everyone, but I hope that if you could a least grasp one of the above ideas and put it to good use then I've accomplished what I've set out to do. In many cases the producers input can more benofical for a better groove. But if you wish to capture the initial feeling that got you the record deal these tips can denfinitely help. Good luck and take home recording more seriously!