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Hands On - Portastudios and Multitrackers (part 4)

The first instrument to be recorded will be the drum machine. It has to be this for the simple reason that you can play your other instruments in sync with a drum track, but the drum machine can’t synchronise to you.

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The first instrument to be recorded will be the drum machine. It has to be this for the simple reason that you can play your other instruments in sync with a drum track, but the drum machine can’t synchronise to you. In addition to the drum track for the song, insert one bar of quarter-note hihats at the beginning followed by a bar containing three quarter-note hihats followed by a rest. This will be your count in. Take a lead from the mono output of the drum machine (sorry - there’s usually no space for stereo drums on four track) and connect it into Line Input 1 jack socket of channel 1 on the Tascam 464, or the equivalent on your machine. On most machines there will be a switch which sets the sensitivity of the input. Powered equipment such as keyboards and drum machines will usually have a line level output, which means that, relatively speaking, the output level is high. Microphones and electric guitars have a low level output which needs more gain. (As an interesting and important aside, if you ever operate equipment which has an input level control with the control very close to zero, then it’s time to start worrying. If you can hear any distortion - unnecessary harshness in the sound - coming through then you are overloading the input at a stage in the circuitry before the input level control. The solution is to turn down the output level of the source equipment. This often happens so watch out for it).

Your next task will be to decide which track you want to record the drums on. Track 1 seems as good as any so set track 1 to record ready and set the Pan control of channel 1 all the way to the left. You should be able to meter the level of the drums now. Some machines have a switch to enable the meters to read the input signal, on others pressing the record button by itself performs the same function. It’s usually OK to set the level so that the top LED lights occasionally, but make a test recording to assure yourself that the recording comes out clean. Some meters are more forgiving than others. When you have set the level, press the Record and Play buttons simultaneously, wait thirty seconds, press the counter reset button and start the drum machine. Listen closely to the monitors and watch the meters until the drum track ends. Question… why wait thirty seconds? The answer is because the first few turns of the tape can be a bit dodgy so its best not to record on them. Another question… why listen to the track as it is being recorded? Now here we come to the most important aspect of multitrack recording. If you can do this you can be an engineer, if you can’t you’ll remain a dabbler. Read on…

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By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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