Tracking Through Tape - Why didn't I think of this earlier?

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A.David.MacKinnon
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Tracking Through Tape - Why didn't I think of this earlier?

Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Thu Jan 28, 2016 5:58 pm

I has a session today for an old friend and long time client. He's one of those wonderfully rare people who lets me do almost anything I'd like with his recordings. For this record we are working on 60's garage rock/surf guitar instrumentals. We both talked about how great it would be to track to tape but the only machine at the studio is an Otari 2 track. The next best thing to tracking to tape is tracking through tape to the computer.

Matt plays all the instruments on his records and we build them up track by track. Embracing the idea of limitations and committing to sounds we decided to go with three mics for every source we would record. They were an AKG D224 as a close mic, a coles ribbon as the room mic and a 414 in the far closet as the far/crushed room mic. I brought up all three mics on the board, assigned them all to a bus and then split the output of the bus to input 1 on the computer and to one track of the tape machine. The tape machine returns to input 2 on the computer.
For every source, I come up with a mix of the 3 mics and it gets recorded as a clean digital pass and through the tape machine (going to pro tools from the playback head while we track). I use the digital version for Matt's headphone feed but the control room mix (and final mix) is all from the tape tracks.

It's sounding great so far and has been tons of fun. I'm sure this kind of thing is old hat for lots of people but it's been a total revelation to me. I have no idea why I didn't try this ages ago.

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Post by Drone » Fri Jan 29, 2016 5:27 am

Yep, you got to read the magazine more closely. :mrgreen:
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Post by curtiswyant » Fri Jan 29, 2016 5:55 am

I've used Voxengo's latency compensation plugin for this. Calculate the delay time going from your DAW to the tape machine and back. Set the Voxengo plug to that time and enable it on your tape inputs. You can then record directly to tape and have it automatically dump into your DAW. it's not perfect, but saves a lot of time.

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Post by vvv » Fri Jan 29, 2016 2:11 pm

Sounds like fun, indeed.

Have you tried it off the record head? I recently read somewhere that a guy thought that was a cool and similar sound, relying on the tape machine's electronic's without the actual tape. Might avoid some potential issues, also.

Not sure, but I think that was the way "Street Fighting Man" was done, thru a old Wollensack, mebbe? Just using the machine as a pre ... to tape, of course. :twisted:

EDIT, I guess I'm wrong about that. :oops:
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Post by KennyLusk » Sat Jan 30, 2016 6:46 am

Some of my best sounding home recordings used a Tandberg Model 12 tape deck to pass the signal through to my DAW. The sound was so dimensional it freaked me out. Each instrument was thick and gooey and had its very own space in the soundscape unlike when you record straight to DAW. Then dumping the mix to the tape deck and playing it back on tape?...forget about it. Just beautiful.

But...there's always some noise there. That's the only drawback.
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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Sun Jan 31, 2016 6:23 pm

KennyLusk wrote: But...there's always some noise there. That's the only drawback.
Who's afraid of noise? Not me

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Post by honkyjonk » Mon Feb 01, 2016 12:21 pm

This sounds like a good idea and I haven't tried it yet. So, overdubbs are forced to line up with the original tracks? (that is, after the distance from the record to repro head is accommodated by slipping the track back in time?) What happens as the tape machine motor varies the speed ever so slightly? Phasing, flanging? No, because it's not combining with the signal that's going into the record head. Hmmmm.

What would be cool is to set up a key command function to automatically slip the track back while tracking so it goes quick.
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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Mon Feb 01, 2016 6:29 pm

honkyjonk wrote:What happens as the tape machine motor varies the speed ever so slightly? Phasing, flanging? No, because it's not combining with the signal that's going into the record head. Hmmmm.

What would be cool is to set up a key command function to automatically slip the track back while tracking so it goes quick.
Yeah. I was doing one track at a time so minor fluctuations in the tape speed don't really make any difference. I was worried that things like shakers and tambourine might reveal timing issues inherent to this method but everything lines up beautifully and sounds great. I had three mics that I was sub-mixing for every source so things that you might multi mic (like drums) were already mixed before they hit the tape.

I recorded 2 versions of every track - 1 was straight digital, the other went to tape and then to digital from the playback head. The tape tracks are delayed by about 80ms. The digital tracks were used to feed the performers headphone mix but as soon as tracking was done I just dumped them. No need to slide the tape tracks back to be in time with the digital because I'm not using the digital tracks for anything but headphone mixes. The performer plays to the digital tracks and each additional overdub through tape is always delayed by the exact same amount and as such always line up with the rest of the tape tracks.

I just mixed this today and I'm really happy with it. I had a pair of Magnatech tube comps on the 2 bus and mixed to tape. It sounds woolly in the best possible way.

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Post by emenel » Tue Feb 02, 2016 6:01 am

I'd love to hear the results of this technique.

Also, David, I'm in Toronto and if you'd be willing to do a short demo I'd love to see how this is setup.

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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:27 am

I'll post a link once the artist signs off on the master.

emenel pm me and I'll send you proper contact info. If I have a light or unattended studio day I could meet up.

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Post by honkyjonk » Wed Feb 10, 2016 7:05 pm

Wait, so, let's say you're needing to do a pretty tight punch in. You're monitoring the direct to digital version, but setting the punch in and out points on the tape delayed version right?

Does this have anything to do with CLASP?

(I suppose I could google that in the time it's taking to write this sentence, but I remember seeing the price tag one time, so I don't even really care what it is, I'm not buying it. And besides, the world of colorful speculation has taken a real downturn lately.)
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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Wed Feb 10, 2016 8:09 pm

honkyjonk wrote:Wait, so, let's say you're needing to do a pretty tight punch in. You're monitoring the direct to digital version, but setting the punch in and out points on the tape delayed version right?

Does this have anything to do with CLASP?

(I suppose I could google that in the time it's taking to write this sentence, but I remember seeing the price tag one time, so I don't even really care what it is, I'm not buying it. And besides, the world of colorful speculation has taken a real downturn lately.)
No CLASP and no real punch-ins in the traditional sense. If I need to go in and re-play a part I just do my usual sloppy pro-tools punch ins and then move the edit points on the digital and tape tracks. Or I make playlists and then comp both versions. I group the digital and tape versions of each instrument track so that I can treat them as one when I'm roughing in mixes, doing playlists or making rough edits.
I get the sense that you think that I'm tracking to tape and then transferring after each take which isn't the case. The straight digital and tape versions are being recorded to pro tools at the same time but the tape version is slightly delayed because of the distance between the record and play head (79ms to be exact). I'm just passing the signal through tape on the way to the computer. The tape is always running. When the reel runs out I rewind to the beginning and keep going. That's the reason it works. If I was transfering after the fact I'd never get things to line up from start to finish. Because the tape version is coming off of the play head while it's recording speed fluctuations are pretty much a non issue.
It's confusing to explain but pretty simple in action.

I was at the studio today working on some of my own songs and used this process on a demo. you can hear it here -
https://soundcloud.com/a-david-mackinno ... ck-bummers

It doesn't push the tape thing quite as hard as the project I was describing above but it still benefits from the treatment.

Piano is a 414 a few feet above the hammers.
Drums are an RCA ribbon out front of the kit panned left and the piano mic panned right.
Guitar was recorded with the piano mic and the amp on the other side of the room.
Vocal is an re20 and a heathy dollop of Effectron printed together

It turned out ok.

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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Sun Feb 21, 2016 6:01 pm

Here's the final product -

https://mattfoy.bandcamp.com/album/tte

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Post by emenel » Mon Feb 22, 2016 5:14 am

This sounds great... very warm and rich.

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Post by joninc » Tue Feb 23, 2016 12:17 pm

cool stuff Dave - nice CRUNCH!
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