Somewhere along the line,
around 1995, I
discovered you could record sound into your computer. At first, I bought
an inexpensive Roland synthesizer, and it came with some kind of software and a cable
that let you plug it into your sound card and record. I just wanted
the synthesizer, you know? I wasn't expecting
anything else. I didn't know. The wire and that
little diskette looked innocent enough ......
Well, they never should
have sent me that disk with the synthesizer.
Never. Never, ever.
I discovered MIDI, and some of the mystical
things you can do with it. I also discovered that the more money you
spend, the more you need to spend. So I went a little crazy and
started spending. I believe this problem is universal: once you start,
where do you stop? The more you look, the more things you find to buy.
Then, 3 weeks later, you're shopping for another rack to fill up with all
these new toys that just came out. Never once did I slow down and consider
the fact that I really didn't need 38 condenser microphones to record
keyboard tracks by myself.
Naturally, I discovered that a
fast computer wasn't an option - it was a necessity. Faster, faster.
New computers, ultra wide SCSI drives, fill up the memory slots.
Still not fast enough, they just came out with a new Pentium chip, but this
motherboard doesn't support it.
Who needs GIGA-hertz? We need
ATOMIC-hertz! Faster, faster, faster!
Overclock? YES - overclock! But wait! A true
digital audio recording computer should only be used for recording ....
now buy a dedicated recording computer - this one stands on a pedestal,
no email, no internet, no nothin' - just fast. Lots of cables, too. Record music.
What about those other 4 computers? We don't need them anymore - too slow.
Get rid of them, sell them. Oh dear God - we lost HOW
much on the old computers? What's the balance on the other
credit card, the secret, emergency one? Make more room for more
I got Cakewalk - at that time,
it seemed the best recording software system available. I spent money upgrading
every time they came out with a new version. When sanity finally arrived, I
stopped upgrading. I probably spent enough on Cakewalk upgrades to buy a
used BMWs. Since Cakewalk should have a bunch of other support equipment, I
discovered I couldn't possibly live without:
Mackie 8 Buss - 32 x 8 mixer with meter bridge and stand
Mackie Sidecar -
equipment rack to match the mixer
Mackie HR824 powered
Yamaha DS10 Electronic
Drumset - snare, hat, 4 toms, cymbals, kick and hat pedal with stage
Alesis DM5 - rack mount
electronic drum module
Alesis SR16 - electronic
Roland XP-10 - 61 key
Kurzweil pc88mx - 88 key
Roland JV1080 - rack
mount synthesizer with option cards
MusicQuest 8 Port/SE -
rack mount 8 channel MIDI input/output module
Wave 8/24 -
rack mount 24 bit recording interface - 8 analog audio inputs and outputs per
Behringer AutoCom MDX
1200 - rack mount 2 channel dynamics processor
DigiTech Studio Twin -
rack mount 2 in 2 out multi effects processor
Whirlwind 50' custom made
snake - with MIDI, mic, audio, and headphone lines
If this list seems like it's
complete, don't fool yourself. The Mackie mixer has so many inputs and
outputs, I knew I needed a few patchbays in the rack to control what was going
where. With the patchbays, I wouldn't have to move the mixer to plug and
unplug anything. Wiring it took a week, $1,500.00 worth of XLR and
balanced phono plugs, and about 1000' of cabling. Keep spending, don't
At first, I bought a set of
Roland VDrums. Then I changed over to the Yamaha set. I also used two
32x8 Mackies for awhile, but that was really getting
Cables all over the floor
conclusively proved the need for a custom made snake. On the
"synthesizer wall" is a stage box, mounted on the wall, and a 4"
hole through the wall which is a PVC flange fitting, attached to the inside
wall. PVC pipe runs outside, and around the building to the "mixer
wall", where another 4" hole through the wall ends in a second PVC
flange. That's where the snake runs.
I happen to be very Un-Shure, so
I spent lots more money on AKG and Rode condenser microphones to augment my
collection of Sennheisers and EVs.
picture for fullsize view
I cut the "homemade instrumental
tracks" entirely with the computer. Using the equipment above, (plus a small
mountain of equipment unmentioned) I played drums, bass, horns, keyboards,
and several kinds of percussion parts. Using audio input
(microphones) - I played Hammond B3, Hohner clavinet, tambourine, handclaps, and various
other percussion parts. Most of the tracks are primarily MIDI, but they all contain
audio. Many tracks were transferred from MIDI to audio so they could be
No "looping" was done
at all - I played parts straight through - and made mistakes by the thousands.
Very little quantizing was used - if I went off time, I'd just re-record that
track and pay more attention. I found it's really hard to play with an
electronic drummer, and don't like it at all. Can you tell I grew up on
analog recording? I did edit a lot - that was
mainly erasing parts from certain sections of songs. I was great at
erasing! I also used cut and
paste to experiment - mostly with drums - by moving entire parts to different synthesizer voices: for example an existing snare drum part to a completely
different sounding snare drum on a different synthesizer. I didn't
actually count them, but I think I had about 2,500 drum sets inside all those
I also used headphones as
infrequently as possible - instead, I'd put the mics and Leslie and amps out in
the "isolation room" (that means the workshop or the bathroom), and
chase around the rattles that I didn't know would happen. Who cares about a
Typically, I'd record the drum
machine to start - as a kind of "click track", and record a basic
keyboard part, usually piano or a simple bass line - these would be replaced
later. Then I'd do either bass or start the drum parts, and delete
the drum machine track, either partially or entirely. Not being a real
drummer, I did the drum parts in separate pieces: kick, then
snare, hat by itself, fills, cymbals, and bell later on. From there on,
once I had a foundation to work from, it was just a series of trying different
parts, and if I liked them - they stayed. As you can hear, very little
echo, little or no compression, and no effects are used.
I did notice that
these tracks sounded quite a bit better - much more realistic -
playing back from Cakewalk than they do after converting to mp3 format.
That compression will kill ya.