Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

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DenBaitos
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Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by DenBaitos » Sat Mar 19, 2011 12:42 pm

Hi,

I am building a little studio with analog gear and still have to purchase a mixer and something to (multi-track) record my songs. I know it is possible to have a multi-channel audio interface on the computer, but I prefer to record all my tracks in an analog way (from analog mixer to tape). I like tape hiss and recording to tape makes it possible to slightly distort drum sounds by recording them too loud and playing them back at lower volume (I can't imagine the latter would sound well in a digital recording environment, correct me if I'm wrong).

So my first question is: are 8-track tape records still made? If not, are they easy to find on the second hand market in perfect condition?

I kinda figured out myself that the most easy way to record 8 tracks, was to buy an 8-bus mixer. In that way I will be able to group sounds onto 8 channels and record these as seperate tracks to tape. I would connect the 8 outputs from the tape recorder to the mixer (on 8 free channels) and add effects while mixing the thing off at a later time.

Are there special things I have to take into account when buying a mixer and 8-track tape recorder?

Note that I am quite new to the audio/producers world.

Thanks,
Maarten

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by Stab Frenzy » Sat Mar 19, 2011 4:27 pm

Hi.

I suggest you start with a multitrack digital recording interface before you decide you want to record to tape. Recording to tape is a giant world of hurt, especially if you're doing electronic stuff where editing and mixing is important. It's easy to romanticise recording to tape but the pros (apart from how cool tape machines look) are easily replicated in software (I recommend McDSP Analog Channel for a hot tape drum sound) and then cons are seldom spoken of but actually really painful. Here are a few:

- Tape is expensive. Like stupidly expensive compared to hard drive space.
- If you're mixing down off tape you lose high end with every pass. You might have everything perfect except one thing that you want to go back and change, then next pass you want to turn up the highs just a bit cause it's getting dull.
- Editing. You any good with a razor blade? That's what you need to be to edit with tape. Getting a smooth fade on only one track? It's a work of art. Want to drop in and fix a bung note? You get one chance cause punching in erases what you had before.

If you've never used tape before it can be easy to think that it'll be fun to use and things will come out sounding great, but it's actually much easier to f**k things up with tape and mistakes are more costly. If you're just starting out recording stuff it can be very frustrating.

There is a reason that people record to DAW now, and it's that the pros for it far outweigh the pros for tape. I've done a few sessions recording to tape, all of which were one take, band playing together live type deals, and then we've dumped it to Pro Tools for the mixdown. A few guys I know who used to be staunch punk rock eight track tape guys have now discovered that nice mic pres with transformers into a good audio interface (the RME Fireface 400 is fantastic for the money) sounds as good as if not better than tape, and with much less hassle.

I know if you really wanna use tape you're going to do it anyway, but I thought I should let you know what you're getting yourself into at least before you put any money down. Good luck with it whatever you decide on, and remember the sounds you put in are more important than the medium you use to record them.

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by DenBaitos » Sat Mar 19, 2011 5:08 pm

Thanks Stab Frenzy for the insight. Note that I'm very open minded and open to any argumentation not to record on tape. You listed a few drawbacks that I was not aware off. Additionally, I don't know anything about digital recording so that's why I was first thinking about recording on tape since I know what you can do with tape and which sound you can achieve. I don't know how much trouble it is to achieve that sound, though...

Maybe I should look for some more info on how to record from an 8 bus analog mixer into an 8 channel digital interface. I am a bit worried about sound quality, but I assume there are numerous of threads on this board covering the issue. I am willing to spend a buck for an interface that would truely capture what is coming from my board.

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by DenBaitos » Sat Mar 19, 2011 8:23 pm

Do machines exist that are able to record 8 tracks simultaniously to a normal tape (a normal cassette, type I or type II) and are able to play all tracks back seperatly (i.e. a machine with 8 mono inputs and 8 mono outputs)?

In that case some of your arguments would not stand anyomore, I guess. Recording would become very easy. And tapes are still readily available. But I really wonder if such a machine exists...

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by optimus prime » Sat Mar 19, 2011 8:56 pm

I used to think that 4 tracks was the maximum for regular cassette tape, but it turns out there are 8-track machines that record to regular cassettes. I think the most popular examples are the Tascam 488 Portastudio and the Yamaha MT8X.

Image

Image

I understand that trying to fit 8 channels onto approximately 4 millimeters of tape width causes a lot of problems like crosstalk, muddy sound, etc. It's considered demo technology. I've never used an 8-track machine, but I've heard records made with those, and they all sound pretty much terrible, though the problem might be with who's using them, not the technology itself. Here's examples of recordings made on 8-track machines:











The SP track sounds exceptionally good, but it may have undergone big-budget restoration. I personally love the lo-fi sound, I think it's really warm and charming.

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by Stab Frenzy » Sun Mar 20, 2011 2:14 am

DenBaitos wrote:Do machines exist that are able to record 8 tracks simultaniously to a normal tape (a normal cassette, type I or type II) and are able to play all tracks back seperatly (i.e. a machine with 8 mono inputs and 8 mono outputs)?

In that case some of your arguments would not stand anyomore, I guess. Recording would become very easy. And tapes are still readily available. But I really wonder if such a machine exists...
That just changes the availability of tape issue, it's still more expensive, editing is destructive (not to mention that it's pretty much impossible to edit individual tracks on a cassette tape) punching in erases your previous take, etc.

Also squeezing eight tracks onto a cassette tape doesn't really result in the greatest sound. If you want a decent sound you should be aiming for at least a 1/4" reel to reel, if not half inch.

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by tallowwaters » Sun Mar 20, 2011 2:25 am

DenBaitos wrote: Recording would become very easy.
Truly spoken by somebody that has obviously never recorded to tape before, especially cassette. If nothing else, it'll make you appreciate a DAW environment even more when (and you will) switch back.
Brains can be used like a "stress ball," but only once.

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by space6oy » Sun Mar 20, 2011 3:02 am

optimus where did you hear that smashing pumpkins did mouths of babes on an 8 track? i REALLY doubt that...

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by optimus prime » Sun Mar 20, 2011 6:31 pm

space6oy wrote:optimus where did you hear that smashing pumpkins did mouths of babes on an 8 track? i REALLY doubt that...
Here are some quotes from the Guitar World 1997 interview (source):
Billy Corgan wrote:[About Marquis of Spades] The band never really liked this song. They were always snickering at it, but I always liked its sheer brutality. It was recorded live on my 8-track cassette recorder, on which I've done almost all my demos since before Gish.

[About Mouths of Babes] During the year and a half of Siamese Dream touring, we tried to work on all sorts of new songs. From all the endless jams and tapes, this song and 'Marquis in Spades' were the only ones that survived. A favorite at soundcheck with nonlyrics forever. Another heavy metal victim, or at least too much like a Siamese Dream track.
Now if you listen to Marquis in Spades you'll hear that it sounds pretty much the same as Mouths of Babes, which is why I concluded that they were recorded the same way.


A bit more on the demos from the 11th entry in Billy Corgan's MySpace blog/diary:
Billy Corgan wrote:We record our demos on an 8-track cassette unit...Jimmy's drums take up 4 channels: kick, snare, and 2 overheads...one channel is for left for her bass, one for James' guitar, one for mine, and the last one for vocals...I never sing 'live' for the demos, opting instead to add the vocals later...the general idea is this will force me to write words and have to sing them to finish the songs...but when we play, I sing 'blah-blah' lyrics mostly so there is something there...once the band goes home, my ears ring for hours and the room takes on a chill which makes living here all the more ominous...

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by space6oy » Sun Mar 20, 2011 6:38 pm

crazy. thanks for sharing. i wouldn't have guessed it was something they'd done that long before releasing.

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by Z » Sun Mar 20, 2011 7:29 pm

In the 90's, I used my Tascam 238 Syncassette extensively. Nowadays, I use them (picked up a couple more) to lay down ideas. Soon, I plan to start tracking to a MSR-16 I bought a couple of years ago once I get me new studio set up.

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by nogginj » Thu Mar 24, 2011 12:31 am

I think you have your mind in the right place. If it's inspiring, do it. Digital will always win the spec debate but does it inspire you to hit that record button like tape does?

One good thing about tape, especially cassette, is that you CAN'T edit it too much afterwards. That's one of the main reasons I like tape because once it's recorded, it's THERE, and you don't spend endless time tweaking. Learn to play it right the first time ;].

I wouldn't try to find an 8-track cassette machine. Seems rare and expensive and potentially crappy.

I do know of modern, commercial albums that are all from cassette, but nobody would guess that. Tape is still really huge OFF the internet.

A 4-track reel to reel is probably a good idea, or an 8 track 1/4" machine is an option...it will have cassette quality. So I guess a 4track cassette is equally a good an idea. But take note that some of these machines are absolute pieces of s**t....the quality in the machines varies wildly in that market.

For some reason, I never used to see reel-to-reels, then about a year and a half ago I kept seeing them over and over...the machine I have seen the most of is the black and orange tascam that does 8-tracks to 1/4" reels, and has a matching mixer to go with it. I have never found one for sale, but the 5 people I know that have them obviously have.

Tape is really fun to work with, because, like you said, you can abuse it and still get usable results. I say go for it. If you can find one of those black and orange tascam 8 tracks, awesome.

I almost forgot though, finding tape is kind of tricky. And it helps to have a demagnetiser. Where are you? I have found that location is the biggest factor in determining what's available.
In that respect, a cassette 4 track sit right in the middle as probably your best, cheapest, most realistic option. And even though you keep talking about 8 tracks, you will learn to work with 4. My good buddy and master of cassette recording actually has a technique that allows you to record 10 tracks to a 4 track machine losing only one generation I believe. It's pretty complicated but it works and sounds great.

And yes recording to tape is super easy...plug in and hit record! Yea it can get more complicated but not by much and nowhere near as much as it can with a computer.

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by b3groover » Thu Mar 24, 2011 2:16 am

If you've never recorded before, I say go for it. Why not? Then when you get frustrated by what you can't do, you can get an inexpensive DAW and thank the Technological Gods!

I started on a Fostex 4-track. From there got a Teac 4-track 1/4" reel to reel. Then an original blackface ADAT. Then an AKAI harddisk recorder. And finally to Cubase. I don't miss tape at all.

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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by 3rdConstruction » Thu Mar 24, 2011 3:39 am

I also used to record to a 1/4" 4 track open machine, the faithful & humble Teac 3440, then 1/2" 8 track mixing down to 1/4" half-track. Although I loved the extremely subtle high end hiss of the first pass of a first generation recording, the hiss quickly built to annoying levels. I've ruined recordings by f**k up on punch ins. I've had the reel run out just before the end of a great take. I ruined the motors on my 1/2" machine by wobbling the reels during mix down. And because i always wanted to layer things like a two-bit Phil Spector knock-off, I was forever frustrated by the limit track count.

I'm astounded by what even a cheap program like Reaper will let me do, like editing a single track without touching adjacent tracks, sliding things back & forth in time, and the joyous wonder of non-destructive editing with cross-fade edit points.

I'm sure that to someone new to it, recording to tape can be a fun exploratory exercise, and absolutely there can always be a role for tape in someone's studio. But I'd say just don't blow a whole lot of money on it & don't expect to be satisfied with tape as your only means of recording.
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Re: Multitrack recording on tape: anyone still doing it?

Post by tallowwaters » Thu Mar 24, 2011 12:05 pm

3rdConstruction wrote:I also used to record to a 1/4" 4 track open machine, the faithful & humble Teac 3440, then 1/2" 8 track mixing down to 1/4" half-track. Although I loved the extremely subtle high end hiss of the first pass of a first generation recording, the hiss quickly built to annoying levels. I've ruined recordings by f**k up on punch ins. I've had the reel run out just before the end of a great take. I ruined the motors on my 1/2" machine by wobbling the reels during mix down. And because i always wanted to layer things like a two-bit Phil Spector knock-off, I was forever frustrated by the limit track count.

I'm astounded by what even a cheap program like Reaper will let me do, like editing a single track without touching adjacent tracks, sliding things back & forth in time, and the joyous wonder of non-destructive editing with cross-fade edit points.

I'm sure that to someone new to it, recording to tape can be a fun exploratory exercise, and absolutely there can always be a role for tape in someone's studio. But I'd say just don't blow a whole lot of money on it & don't expect to be satisfied with tape as your only means of recording.
+1 You summarized it quite well.
Brains can be used like a "stress ball," but only once.

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