Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Limiting... Yourself

I was thinking about the bad old days of recording to four track tape. That would be my teenage years spent trying to get my bands recorded with a Tascam or Fostex on cruddy cassette. The good old days would of course the Beatles doing the same thing but with better gear and more creativity.

While our endeavors and theirs were separated by a pretty wide gulf of talent and experience we both had to make the same decisions. After you filled up a few tracks you had to bounce, either to another machine (which was not always available) or more likely to whatever free tracks were left. Record drums and bass, bounce them down to track four. Record two guitar tracks over those, bounce them down to track three. Record lead and backup vocals on track one and you're done.
 
In both cases this lead to mono recordings although the Beatles did have some of their material panned for separate stereo releases but those weren't like the stereo we think of today. If you wanted to do a true stereo image you had to record the drums in stereo on one and two, then record bass while bouncing down to three and four, then bounce back when you recorded vocals. It was a lot of generations and the noise would really add up.
 
(I'm sure someone will jump right up and correct me that there are better methods for doing this. The point is that it's tedious and you loose a little bit every time you bounce.)

There's something to that mode of thinking that you get in though. How many engineers today are good enough to commit to a drum mix before they get down to recording bass? Who today would have the guts to go ahead and record drums, piano, and trumpet on the same track? If you look up some tracking sheets from old sessions you'll find crazy stuff like that. People were forced to make decisions and commit to sounds and levels just so they could function. It's a far cry from the nearly unlimited capacity for tracks we have today with our DAWs.

So here's what I propose. Try recording something with just four tracks. No cheating. If you need to free up tracks you have to bounce them down to another track before you can move on. You'll have to decide on EQ and level as you go. Have you got the chops? It's a fun exercise. Unlimited resources aren't always freeing. Sometimes limitations open up more creativity.

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