Home Recording Retrospective

An acoustic duo I know has been asked to bring backing tracks to a certain bar gig so they’d sound more like a “band.” Though they do mostly covers, they have a unique sound that would be destroyed if they just brought in a bunch of Karaoke tracks or some such – any backing tracks they make would have to reflect their sound or it would defeat the purpose. And home-made or custom backing tracks that don’t suck take time to make.

At the same time, I know countless songwriters who are trying to make their demos sound just a little more convincing.

And at the most ambitious end of the home recording spectrum are the independent artists trying to make products to sell, or at least to give away in return for e-mail addresses.

The point is that, there are a lot of reasons for home recording. And the technologies for doing so have gone through at least three major “industrial revolutions” since I started dabbling in it almost fifty years ago. But the principles of understanding your tools, planning your arrangements, etc. haven’t changed at all, really.

When I started to explain to my friends how they could make tracks that would allow them to retain their unique sound, it got me thinking about all the technologies and approaches I’ve used over the years. It also led to questions from other folks that I realized would take all of my time if I just answered them willy-nilly. So I put together a series of articles describing the “history of home recording,” at least as far as it pertains to my life.

Yes, there is some nostalgia for old tools I treasured but outgrew and replaced. And most of the approaches I poured hours and dollars into “getting right” have been superseded by easier and less expensive ways of doing things. But I believe that anyone who wants to go down this potential “rabbit hole” ought to be willing to learn about all the options first, including things that worked before HD recording, before MIDI, and even before multichannel tape recording. For that reason, I included detailed diagrams of most of my setups over the years, just to help folks think logically about how they’ll do their setups for maximum productivity and minimum confusion.

In a way, it also exposes that, for most of my life, I seldom had anything like the money I needed to do things “right.” In some cases, it’s a little embarrassing to show you the compromises I had to make. It will be even more embarrassing when I get my old tapes transferred to my hard drive so I can share the different recordings I made with various setups. But I also know that exposing my weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and workarounds in something like this usually inspires other folks to think, “If he can do that without any resources (or common sense) to speak of, what’s holding me back?”

I may write an article on how I would do it today if I was just, say, starting out with a laptop and entry-level software, to give more folks courage to try. But in the meantime, the resources I have so far are listed below. As always, if you have any corrections, comments, complaints, etc., please use the Contact page to get in touch.

  • Home Recording Memories, Volume 1, 1968-1977 – The first of a series describing my own experiences with home recording, starting with a two-channel tape recorder and moving – eventually – through multitrack recording, MIDI synchronization, and full-blown DAW. The first volume talks mostly about doing multi-track recording BEFORE consumer-oriented multi-channel recorders were available (much less affordable).

  • Home Recording Memories, Volume 2, 1968-1977 – The second in the series, focusing mostly on the forces that led to multichannel home recording being possible. This includes a discussion of the history of tape recording and the various formats used, which might help “fill in the gaps” if you’re ever working with old-timers who know about such things and are constantly talking “over your head.”

  • Home Recording Memories, Volume 3, 1983-1987 – The third in the series. This volume talks mostly about the ways normal people used home four-channel decks and the way I used them. There’s also an overview of the difference between Dolby(r) and dbx(r) noise reduction, as well as how I used to plug dbx units into my setup. It ends with a description of a real recording session I did for friends about 1985, using a Dokorder 8140 and a bunch of contemporary toys – including a drawing that shows how I plugged everything together.

  • Home Recording Memories, Volume 4, 1988-1995 – The fourth in the series. This volume talks mostly about the ways I started incorporating MIDI sequencing into my setup. There’s a basic description of early MIDI developments and how I used MIDI sequences to create backing tracks for my public performances and demos.

  • Home Recording Memories, Volume 5, 1996-2008 – The fifth in the series, and the last one for now. This one talks about moving from MIDI-assisted multichannel tape recording to MIDI-assisted software-based hard disk recording.
  • Paul

    About Paul

    Paul Race has been writing and playing all kinds of music since the 1960s, though he tends to favor acoustic and traditional songs. He has created resources like CreekDontRise.com, ClassicTrainSongs.com, and SchoolOfTheRock.com to help other musicians get a good start on their own journeys.

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