Hands On - Portastudios and Multitrackers (part 5)
Apart from merely mechanical tasks like pushing buttons and setting levels which obviously have to be done correctly, being able to monitor properly is the most important part of the recording engineers job and modern musicians should be able to do this too. You understand the difference between the words to hear and to listen. The former means that your ear has detected a sound, the latter means that your brain is processing it. To monitor is one step further advanced. It means that you are listening so intently that you will notice even the slightest fault in the recording on the first pass. To be absolutely sure you will monitor during recording and again when you play back the take. If there is any sound that shouldnt be on the tape, such as a slight click perhaps, now is your chance to do the take again and correct it. If it doesnt seem like much now, it will when you have heard it a hundred times as you build up the song. Each time you hear that click it will appear to increase in magnitude until you are waiting, sitting in agony on the edge of your seat until it has passed. And when you play your recording to someone else it will be even worse.
When you have recorded the drum track to your satisfaction - your absolute satisfaction - then its the turn of the guitar, or whatever the main instrument is that your song is based around. An acoustic guitar will need to be miked up, so connect the mic to channel 1 (Im choosing channel 1 again just to prove that you can record from any channel onto any track) and, if there is the appropriate switch, select mic or high sensitivity. Its usually best to monitor on headphones using two pairs, and a splitter if necessary, if someone else is plucking the strings. Route the guitar to track 2 by record enabling that track and panning channel 2 to the right. Make sure that track 1 is not in record ready. Of course, youll set the level before you start, and when you do start youll hear the hihat count in and everything should go smoothly.
...or punch in as Americans - and the equipment manuals - call it, is where you fix a fault in a track by momentarily dropping into record from play and then out again. If there is a fault in the guitar track you should be able to get some good practice straight away. I believe that all modern cassette multitracks have provision for a drop in footswitch, for lone recordists, so off you go to the shops again because youll never manage guitar drop ins without it. The procedure is easy, just play the track from a convenient point before the dodgy section and hit the switch in any gap in the part, or where a slight glitch will be covered up by other instruments. Its usual to have several goes at getting the instrumental part right, but make sure you hit the switch at the right time or youll erase something you didnt expect to. Dropping out of record is a bit more tricky because it usually creates a gap in the recording, so youll need a longer gap in the part. Very often you can only ever find places to drop in, and you have to perform from the drop in point to the end of the song each time. Listen carefully to the result when you think youre done. Its very easy to get unwanted sounds or gaps on the tape, and you might as well correct them now while youre all set up.