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Monday, August 30, 2010

A little off topic...

So I didn't post on Friday because I was in a studio working on some new songs with my buddy Scotty. I am in a couple of bands and some of them write new material.  While there I had some experiences that paralleled what I write about here so I thought I would share them.

So the first evening I'm there we bring in two experienced musicians: first a drummer and later on a bass player.  The drummer was very good and had a large repertoire so we had him play a number of short tracks based on our instructions for what we wanted to do.  We had a fairly standard set of mics hooked up: snare, bass, toms, overhead.

So this was all tracked into a DAW which is basically (in this case) an IBM PS/2 with an audio front end that acts like a big tape recorder that can record 16 different microphones at once.  We probably recorded about 8 different drum track sections.  Now the DAW, being older, was fairly limited in what else it could do besides record the tracks.  It didn't have the "modern" PC-esque cut/paste/drag interface and it really operated like a tape recorder - once it was recorded that was basically it except for recording over it.

A little later on the bass player showed up.  So we backed up the DAW to the first drum session and tracked the bass player on his own tracks (the DAW could play the drum tracks so the bass player could hear them and record the bass parts at the same time).  The drummer and bass player also did some combo tracking after we had captured the bass work for the original set of 8 or so drum tracks - so probably all told there were about 12 usable grooves.

So now we've got a lot of great material all tracked (recorded) into this DAW (which was a TASCAM SX 1).  So Scotty says "let's go back and pull out such-and-such - I really like that".  So we wind back and play around a bit and realize that what's there is itself not really a song.  It will need to be cut up into pieces and redone to be useful.

So I foolishly say "just put that over here on my Mac and I will pull out the grooves in question."  And the fun begins...

So "Chicago Dave" - the guy running the DAW - says "we'll have to bounce the audio over to your Mac." (This means hook the audio in on my Mac up to the audio out on the DAW and play the music into the Mac - which would take a long time because there are 8+ tracks at 30+ minutes each and my Mac can only do two at a time.)

I say "No way - there has to be some what to just copy them over - they are both computers..."  Blank looks.  So I say - "where's the manual?"

After digging around I discover the DAW has a network port (Ethernet) and it can act as an FTP site.  Fortunately I always travel to studio sessions with a big bag of goodies - among which is an ethernet cable.  We hook up and bingo - we're into the SX 1 FTP server.  After some poking around we figure out the how the names of the tracks on the screen match the files and we pull them onto the Mac.  (This ancient PS/2 thing sucks as an FTP server - type a "get foo.wav" command where foo.wav doesn't exist and it goes belly up.)

So now the files are all on the Mac.  I open up Logic Pro (which I use) and load the tracks and sadly they don't line up right.  Some start sooner than other and some start later - an artifact of how and when the record button was pushed (there's no need for the recordings to line up across tracks like drum and bass - just the sounds - so their might be 10 seconds of dead time before drums and only 2 seconds before the bass).  What a mess...

So "Chicago Dave" says "Let me mix down the drums to two tracks that line up."  So we do this, re-run the FTP, and now the Mac has workable data for cutting and pasting to form the base of the song.

After the cutting and pasting of the basic rhythm tracks is complete its time to reload this into the TASCAM.  So I think "What would the chances that just uploading these files will do the trick - about zero." so we track the Mac version back into the TASCAM and start recording the additional tracks there.

By the next day we've got all the rest recorded in the TASCAM.

Now Scotty says "hey, I want to take home a copy of this to mix".  (Scotty and I have learned over the years that having backups of irreplaceable performances is a really good thing.)  So back to the FTP to pull down all the new tracks onto my Mac.

So today I'm back in the office with all the tracks safely recorded onto my Mac.  Later on I will push them up to one of my FTP sites so everyone else can download them for mixing.

So I ask Scotty - "how did you do this last time?" (I wasn't at this studio last time.)

He says "Oh man - I had to bounce each track out to my little hand held recorder two at a time.  It took a lot of concentration and forever to do it."

So what's the point of all this? 

Well, like anything else it seems like technology runs ahead of what people understand how to do with it.  In this case the TASCAM, while a great device for recording, was not a great device for doing other things like cutting and pasting, exporting audio or importing audio in files.

While it was possible to come up with a solution it was a bit tedious and ugly - better than none at all - but still it took a while to get things working smoothly the first time.  This parallels what else I write about here.  There is almost always some solution - but it may not always be the best.

Finally, once you start down a road you may find yourself committed before you realize it.  In this case the drums and bass (which was very, very cool) were locked into an antiquated device that was not friendly with how we wanted to work.

1 comment:

  1. ... and what percentage of your studio time was spent making music vs messing with technology? Yes, we do see this a lot in print production environments - folks figure out how to get things done and then then just repeat that method over and over (for years sometimes) because it works. Taking a step back occasionally to assess what you're doing, and why, and to consider better ways is something everyone should do, no matter the enterprise.