A while ago in home recording history, people used to have a gadget called a 'Portastudio'. The original Portastudio was invented by Tascam, but other manufacturers soon released their own versions.
The concept behind the Portastudio was clever - use a standard cassette tape and record four tracks on it. Cassettes actually do record four tracks across the width of the tape already, the Portastudio just made it possible to record or play all four simultaneously.
Four tracks might not sound very much, but for demos four tracks is probably just the right number. Having more sophisticated technology has actually made it harder for songwriters - they are now expected to produce a demo of master standards. So songwriters spend more time on recording then they do on writing songs. Sad.
The audio quality of the Portastudio could be surprisingly good. Many ran the tape at double speed, and those with Dolby C-type or S-type noise reduction could sound almost as good as a modern digital recording.
But suppose you have some old 4-track tapes, and a Portastudio to play them on, how could you transfer them to your computer?
The problem is that the Portastudio has four tracks, and most people only have two inputs into their computers. Four into two doesn't go, so how can these recordings be transferred?
The simple answer is to record two at a time. Transfer two tracks, then wind the tape back and transfer the other two tracks. You can rearrange the tracks in your audio software so they play in sync.
With rhythmic music, it is usually quite simple to line the tracks up. If the music isn't so rhythmic, then it can be tricky, but it is definitely possible with patience.
The only potential problem is that the speed of analog recorders isn't all that stable. So even if you align the two sets of tracks at the start of your song, they might not still be in sync at the end.
If this happens, the solution will be to use one pair of tracks as a reference, then split up the other pair every ten to twenty seconds or so, so that the segments can be realigned. You might be able to get away with just one division halfway through the song.
Once you have your 4-track recording in your computer, you can process and mix to your heart's content. And perhaps add the other 40-odd tracks that the modern style of production seems to require.
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Great home recording starts with a great home recording studio. It doesn't need to be expensive if you know how to select the right equipment for your needs.