Adventures In Audio
Hands On - Portastudios and Multitrackers (part 4)

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Thursday January 1, 2004

The first instrument to be recorded will be the drum machine. It has to be
this for the simple reason that you can play your other instruments in sync
with a drum track, but the drum machine can’t synchronise to you. In addition
to the drum track for the song, insert one bar of quarter-note hihats at the
beginning followed by a bar containing three quarter-note hihats followed by
a rest. This will be your count in. Take a lead from the mono output of the
drum machine (sorry - there’s usually no space for stereo drums on four
track) and connect it into Line Input 1 jack socket of channel 1 on the Tascam
464, or the equivalent on your machine. On most machines there will be a switch
which sets the sensitivity of the input. Powered equipment such as keyboards
and drum machines will usually have a line level output, which means that, relatively
speaking, the output level is high. Microphones and electric guitars have a
low level output which needs more gain. (As an interesting and important aside,
if you ever operate equipment which has an input level control with the control
very close to zero, then it’s time to start worrying. If you can hear any
distortion - unnecessary harshness in the sound - coming through then you are
overloading the input at a stage in the circuitry before the input level control.
The solution is to turn down the output level of the source equipment. This
often happens so watch out for it).

Your next task will be to decide which track you want to record the drums
on. Track 1 seems as good as any so set track 1 to record ready and set the
Pan control of channel 1 all the way to the left. You should be able to meter
the level of the drums now. Some machines have a switch to enable the meters
to read the input signal, on others pressing the record button by itself performs
the same function. It’s usually OK to set the level so that the top LED
lights occasionally, but make a test recording to assure yourself that the recording
comes out clean. Some meters are more forgiving than others. When you have set
the level, press the Record and Play buttons simultaneously, wait thirty seconds,
press the counter reset button and start the drum machine. Listen closely to
the monitors and watch the meters until the drum track ends. Question…
why wait thirty seconds? The answer is because the first few turns of the tape
can be a bit dodgy so its best not to record on them. Another question…
why listen to the track as it is being recorded? Now here we come to the most
important aspect of multitrack recording. If you can do this you can be an engineer,
if you can’t you’ll remain a dabbler. Read on…

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