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.