[ LiB ]


A sign up at Wild Banana Art Project in Maui reads "Art is a private ritual gone public."

To this, my friend Skip Lunch said "It's that old tree- falls -in-the-forest thing: If an artist makes art and no one sees it, is it art?"

My answer was "Yes. Of course. I often make art alone for the amusement of myself and the Universe. But as soon as I see that it is good , my first desire is to run to share it with others."

So get out there and break a leg. [2.] Make music, make it good, and then find a way to bring it to the people , my brothers and sisters.

[2.] People say "break a leg" because it's considered unlucky to say "good luck" among theater folk.

Everyone says it, and few know what it means. It's an old show biz sayingside curtains are called "legs," and if people hooted and hollered and stamped the floor while screaming for an encore, the vibration would sometimes knock a leg over, or "break a leg ." (Tiffany says the old supports weren't as robust, and the people's enthusiasm for live theater was more robust, so the legs did actually break sometimes.) So when someone wishes this to you as you step on stage, they aren't wishing you harm.

I usually tell guitarists "break a string," drummers "break a stick," and everyone else, "break a sweat."

[ LiB ]
[ LiB ]

Chapter 11. Hardware Recording

You want to make a document of your music, and you want it to sound as good as humanly possible because a recording is permanent, and you have to live with it forever. Here we will examine the history of hardware recording and what it means to you. How to make the best out of the least. The pros and cons of home recording versus going into a studio. What to expect and what to do in a studio. How to record professional quality demos and albums at home on your own multi-track recorder.

[ LiB ]
[ LiB ]


Historically, recording of bands was done with hardware: microphones, mixers, and tape recorders, specifically multi-track tape recorders . This method is quickly being replaced by software recording, which we will cover in the next chapter. But there are still reasons to cover hardware recording, not just for historical but for practical reasons.

The tape recorder was invented by Thomas Edison (although his used wire, not tape). He also invented the microphone, the phonograph, and the movie camera (although there is some claim that he stole a lot of ideas from his employee, Nikola Tesla). Regardless, multimedia would be different or non-existent without that Edison dude.

Multi-track recording is generally attributed to jazz-pop guitarist Les Paul, the dude whom the best-selling Gibson guitar is named after. Me and my dear sweet pal of many years , fellow guitarist and writer Deb DeSalvo, once saw him play at a dinner theater called Fat Tuesday's in New York City. The man was amazing. Anyway, he was the first to record tracks and then bounce those tracks (of his guitar and his wife Mary's singing ) to another tape recorder, to "orchestrate" the parts , harmonizing with himself and playing off of the previously recorded tracks to produce a thicker, more expansive sound than one or two people could record live. One problem with this bouncing technique, though, is that the more times you bounce back and forth, the more you multiply the amount of tape noise, so there is a limit to how many times you can do it. However, someone came up with a way to make a tape recorder with multiple "tracks" on the same tape running parallel to each other. You can "tell" the tape to record or not record on a given track on a given pass and build your song up with a lot more control and less tape noise.


Woody adds, "For the record: According to Les Paul himself, he invented the eight-track recorder, the first solid-body electric guitar, the first electric bass guitar, and the use of echo, delay, reverb, and phasing . Check it out at"

One of the first commercial units was a three-track tape; later came a four-track. For a long time, four-track was the studio standard, but units with 8, 16, 24, and even 48 tracks are common in professional studios and use tapes up to two inches wide to give more space to all those tracks. The more space each track gets and the faster the tape goes, the better the sound quality and lower noise you can get.

It used to be that to get professional studio quality recordings, you needed at least $100,000 worth of gear. But now that software recording is giving studios a run for their money, anyone with a fast computer, a good sound card, and one good microphone basically has a good recording studio. The only thing the professional studio has that you don't is the big room for recording the drums, and you can find one or even just program perfect sounding drums in your bedroom without a drummer .

Four-Track Units

Four-track units are very cool. They are complete self-contained recording studios you can carry anywhere . They have a preamp , input mixer, multi-track recorder, mix down mixer, and headphone amp all in one unit. They use standard, inexpensive cassette tapes as the tape medium. With a little care you can get amazing recordings on themrecordings that are good enough to be pressed into CDs. Or, you can record your basic tracks on your four-track and then input the result into a computer for further overdubs, polish, and mastering.

Best of all, four-tracks are cheap. Since everyone's using computers to record on, four-tracks are considered obsolete. You can get a good used four-track recorder extremely cheap. We're kinda at the place where typewriters were a few years ago, and how it's really cheap to get high-8 video cameras because everyone bought mini-DV. Though I think, in a way, high-8 looks cooler . In the same way you can get a used electric typewriter for 10 bucks, you can buy a used four-track in a pawn shop for $75. The Tascam 414 and 424 are common and good, but pretty much any unit is good to start if it works.

Figure 11.1. Fostex X-28H cassette four-track unit. Photo by Gary Levitt of the band Setting Sun.


Figure 11.2. Tascam Portastudio 424. Photo by E. North.


You can't really buy a typewriter used anymore because they don't make them much because of computers replacing them. But five years ago, you could pick up a bitching electric typewriter in a pawn shop for 20 bucks. You can get a good self-contained recorder-mixer four-track that records on a cassette tape for under a hundred bucks at a pawn shop or on eBay. Or $299 new. I have friends who record records that sound bitchin' on four-tracks. And they are great to use because they make it easy to learn the basics of recording, which will transfer to recording in a real studio and also transfer to software recording.


Use name brand tape (Sony, Maxell, TDK, Memorexyou get it at a music store or online) and use a head cleaner tape or kit regularly. Also, buy some canned air and use it to blow dust out of the tape unit and the mixer knobs and sliders. Dust will kill a tape recorder. And don't smoke anything in the control room. Smoke is really bad for the tape heads.

Figure 11.3. Keep canned air on hand to blow dust out of the mechanisms. (This is kinda fun too!)


[ LiB ]