Updated: Dec 17, 2019
I am recording my new album, Reel to Reel, on a vintage Tascam 424 four track cassette recorder. I have started recording fourteen new songs and two are completed, including the above track, 'Know', which I filmed the process of creating: https://youtu.be/mWMIHHIJVN8 I have really enjoyed the back to basics approach of recording with a four track again. I haven't used one since my first album, 'Solomon's Tump', which I recorded in 2003 - sixteen years ago!
The thing about recording on tape is that the sound reproduction is so much purer - despite the hiss that accompanies it! There's really nothing like it. That said, it has been a really steep learning curve getting to grips with the machine again. There are literally only four tracks available, so if you need to record more than four instruments, the only solution is to "bounce down" or "ping pong" the first three tracks recorded onto the remaining one, allowing you to record over the first three again. If the song requires multiple parts, it might be necessary to bounce down twice. Amazingly, this is the process that The Beatles used to record Sgt. Pepper because Abbey Road Studios only had a four track machine in 1967, so it doesn't necessarily mean that the end product is going to be rubbish! (Mind you, the Studer J37 machines they used were a lot more hi-fi than this Tascam! For an in-depth and nerdy article on The Beatles and four track recording, follow this link to Martins Hi-Fi blog.) It does compromise the sound quality, however, each time you record over a track on the tape when you perform a bounce. A nifty trick is that you can record a further live instrument or vocal part when you are performing the bounce. I added the tambourine to the song this way.
I recorded a drum beat from my Farfisa organ on track one at the right tempo, initially, then added acoustic guitars on tracks two and three (one with my Epiphone as featured in the video and the other with my Martin to give different textures), then added bass onto track four. I then bounced a mix of tracks two, three and four onto track one, overwriting the electronic drum pattern. As mentioned, I added the tambourine during the bounce. I then added electric guitar onto track two, including the main guitar solo; lead vocals on track three (which also included a second, simpler lead guitar part after the last chorus); and drums on track four. When sending the mix to my computer, I added the chorus harmony vocal. I then turned the tape over and recorded some of the lead guitar lines in reverse to add a psychedelic backwards guitar sound to the song. I then completed a final mix of all the tracks using the free recording software 'Audacity'.
The worst bit of recording with an analogue four track is that it is practically impossible to edit individual tracks cleanly, so you have to get each instrument part completely right for the duration of the song. This is why I have such a stress ridden face in the video accompanying the song! That and the fact that I had to record in little bursts of time when my family were out of the house. I had a one and a half hour window, for example, to record the drums. I had just managed to clear everything away in the lounge when they returned. Rock n roll, huh?
The most time consuming and frustrating thing was editing the videos I had taken with iMovie. I am never going to attempt that split screen thing again. It has taken me five days to edit the stupid film - much longer than it took to record the song! I still couldn't manage to get it perfectly in sync. Never mind.
I am hoping to release Reel to Reel on UK Album Day, Saturday 12th October. It will be available on cassette, CD and download. I hope to promote it with a series of live acoustic shows, performing the album in its entirety.
'Know' was written for my daughter, but is about any father-child relationship. I hope you enjoy it.
By the way, if you're thinking about getting a Tascam 424 yourself, I highly recommend that you check out Mike Parish's 424 Recording channel on YouTube. You won't regret it, you nerd!