Cassette Mix Tapes to Logic Pro
Eight track tapes were perhaps the worst delivery method ever for music--well besides today's online lo fi streaming. All my friends were into them but I didn't buy into it.
I never bought one eight track tape. Instead, I started creating mix tapes on my three head Hitachi cassette deck, one head dedicated to recording, for the tennis team bus trips during my teenage years at Marble Falls High, west of Austin, Texas. The tapes would be a mix of Dire Straits, Eddie Rabbitt, Clapton, Beatles, Springsteen, Earth, Wind and Fire, Santana, The Eagles, Parliament, Jim Croce, Jethro Tull, Bread, and much more. I'd hook up a battery powered cassette deck to the huge 18" woofer I clandestinely borrowed from my mom's Motorola hi fi to . She never missed it. The woofer had a massive magnet so all I had to do was stick on the metal roof at the back of the bus and the entire bus became our speaker cabinet. Yes, I've been messing with sound and recording for a long time.
I moved from those cassette recordings made in my boyhood bedroom (and later in my college dorm room) to the present rig, a Mac Mini with a solid state drive using Apple's proprietary Logic Pro software--only 200 bucks! I use a Focusrite Safire Pro 40 analog to digital converter so you can take the acoustic sounds and deliver them to your computer. Between those two moments in my recording evolution I've recorded onto a Tascam Porta 02 four track (my mixer was a Tapco with a real nice spring reverb), an Alesis ADAT, a Tascam MX2424, a MCI 24 Track 2" Tape machine (I even gave the 16 track heads a couple of spins around the block). For those of you are recording junkies I'm sure you can empathize with my journey. For those of you who are not, just note that I was always obsessed with tone, sound and music.
I used to love the favorable comments my 4 track tape mixes would inspire, "What studio was that recorded in?" "I love the lush reverb sound." I took that 4 track tape overdubbing and experience into The Recording Workshop classes I took one brutally cold winter in Chillicothe, Ohio. It was during those frigid days I learned two valuable lessons that every sound person should learn:
1. Basic signal flow (from instrument to microphone to "tape" to speaker or monitor and all various points along the way like trim, eq, effects, fader and more). If you understand the different ways that sound can be affected from your voice or instrument to the ears of your listeners then you will begin to create more pleasing recordings and you'll have more enjoyable live shows as well. For example I lightly compress my Collings guitar with my dbx 166 before it goes through the analog to digital converters. Some of you who are not musicians should note that compression is when you lessen the volume of loudest sounds and boost the quietest sounds it's use in radio and on every TV show you watch.
2. The concept of sweepable EQ (used to reduce the most undesirable frequencies or to boost pleasing frequencies). This is such a simple concept but you'd be surprise how many folks running sound professionally either don't understand the concept or do not possess the ability to differentiate between undesirable and pleasing frequencies. For example, I might tame the "boominess" of my Collings by cutting the 250 to 265 frequency just a tad. You'll notice a significant difference in the tone by simply cutting it 1 to 2 dbs. If you cut too much it will sound unnatural.
Here's a track I recorded then mixed in the box using Logic Pro X software; the upright bass was recorded by Mark Epstein, the fiddle by Kurt Baumer, and the organ parts and harmonies by Rex Schnelle. The dominant instrument in the track is the guitar. I used an internal K & K condenser mic in my Takamine through a Mogami cable, into my Demeter tube mic pre-amp, then I hit the dbx 166 lightly before sending to my Focusrite Pro40. Yes, I used Mogami patch cables at every point.
As to my current setup; you can spend tons more, but I chose the Focusrite converter based on that company's reputation for sonic quality, Sweetwater.com's staff's own recommendation, and after reading the many positive reviews online I bought one. At that time I owned a workhorse IBM ThinkPad laptop which I was quite fond of. I plugged the Pro40 into the ThinkPad and I couldn't get anything to work. I found a list a bass guitar neck in length of modifications I needed to do to my laptop to make it work--deal breaker! I was just about to return the Pro40 but I was persuaded by the fiddler in my band to see if he could make it work with his Macbook Pro at our show at a local venue. He plugged it in and within 5 or 10 minutes, I swear, we were recording. I bought a brand new MacBook Pro that same week and converted to Apple's Logic Pro soon after. I suspect that any negative reviews on the Pro40 are from PC users. Incidentally, I use my iPhone as a remote control to so I can record in a more isolated area than my Mac Mini desktop workspace. I certainly hope that PC recording has become more user friendly but I'm not going back. I may eventually upgrade to the Focusrite Red 8Pre but for now I'll keep things just as they are. It's working.