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Home Studio People-Don’t trash your VCRs!

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Several of us here on Blogcritics dabble in the art of home recording. Hopefully we can use this as a forum to share tips of the trade. Here’s a tip I stumbled across during the past week or so. Maybe you other home recording buffs have heard of this before, but it was new to me.

I’ve always had problems recording drums. My problems with drums usually aren’t in mixing or tone. I’ve always been able to get the sounds and mixes I want, even recording onto 2 tracks I’ve been happy with my sub-mixes. My problem comes with capturing the fatness of drums. I love big fat sounding drums. Especially snare and toms. The only time I ever really was pleased with the drum sounds I got was when I tracked on a 2-track reel to reel recorder. I’m timid to do that though because I suck at lining up the tape right and I can almost always count on one of my tracks being muddy. Usually the right channel. Maybe I need my heads cleaned.

Either way, a friend told me of a great easy way to capture the fatness of drums without dicking around with reel to reel tape decks. He said that if I have a Hi-Fi VCR with stereo inputs, I can use that to record drums. He said that because VCR tape is so thick, 1″ tape I believe, it really makes the drums sound fat. Now, I was a bit skeptical about this. My main concern was with input monitoring. How do you monitor a VCR to make sure you aren’t peaking out? Duh!

VCRs are built with an automatic volume setting. It’s impossible to peak it because it has some sort of built in compression. I don’t understand it really, but I know that when I tape something on my VCR, I don’t have to worry about setting the volume too loud or too soft. I also thought, well why is a VCR going to get a warmer sound than say, an ADAT recorder that uses the same size tape? Duh again! Adat recorders, although they use tape, are digital recorders. VCRs are analog. I love me analog drums!

Now I realize some of you are slow to do drums on 2-tracks. I mean, once you track the drums, you’re stuck with that sub mix. For some of us, that’s not a problem. For some of us, it’s an issue. I found a solution. Most of us are using computer based programs like Sonar to record anyway, so there’s no reason why we can’t gather several VCRs and track drums on a bunch of machines running at once. Hi Fi VCRs are common, I’m sure everyone in your band has one laying around their house.

Granted, there will be serious timing issues in play back, so the best way around that is to dump the tracks into your computer and use the software to line up the tracks to perfect timing. I know what in Cakewalk and Sonar that’s not a hard thing to do at all. Especially on something as hot as drums.

I have yet to try all of this out yet, so if I were you I wouldn’t try this technique on your next paying project, but it’s definately something to experiment with. Heck isn’t that what 90% of home recording is anyway? Experimenting? I plan to try this out this weekend because my band has some demos we need to finish before the end of November. I’ll let you know how it works out. All I know so far is that my friend tracked his entire album on VCRs, and it sounds sweet.

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About Andy

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    I am pretty sure that I remember reading that Def Leppard recorded one of their albums onto video – it was either Slang or Adrenalize – for exactly the reasons you mention here.

  • http://www.whiterose.org/michael/blog/ Michael Croft

    I’m pretty sure commercial VCR’s use 3/4″ tape, but it’s still phat. Use the two hour (slowest) mode and don’t go for the 160 Minute tapes. Otherwise you’re compromising exactly the virtues you’re seeking.

  • andy

    cool. I knew it was close to an inch. thanks for the tip for tape. we start tracking on saturday. I”ll let you know how it goes

  • Perry Perdis

    Standard home video recorders are 1/2″ including the Hi-Fi VCR’s.
    Commercial Video machines range from 3/4″ to sometimes 2″.
    I have used both in the past,mainly taping bands and public access TV, but the video does make bass and drums sound
    very full. Let me know how it works out for you.

  • andy

    I wondered how this would work for bass guitar. I like a nice rich creamy sound. I’ve always had trouble getting that sound.

  • Eric Olsen

    super interesting Andy, thanks!

  • http://www.citizenkeith.com Citizen Keith

    Have you tried using compressors? Most multitrack sofware comes with a free compressor plug-in. A hardware option is FMR Audio’s RNC (a.k.a. Really Nice Compressor) which you can find for $200.00. It gets rave reviews as the best compressor under $1000. I have two!

    The great thing about using real compressors is that you have control. Combine that with using 1/4″ or 1/2″ two-track tape and you can get some excellent results. With the VCR, you’re at the mercy of it’s built-in limiting.

    Still, it’s a good idea, and one that I’ll try!

  • andy

    Yeah I use compressors and things like that too, not on tape though. I usually let natural tape compression or saturation do that, but then you really compromise a lot. Im gonna have to buy an external compressor soon. Until then, I’m gonna experiment w/ VCR.

  • andy

    here’s a tip though. I thought of this in my head, so I don’t know how it’ll transfer to tape. Remember that if you make the signal TOO hot into the machine, you’re gonna get a harder limiter and kill dynamics. YOu may not be able to peak a VCR, but you don’t want the limiter to ruin all your dynamics because the signal is too hot.