Producer, Engineer, Live Sound Man
Q: I have a Pro Tools system and like to use it to clean up my 2" tape. I find it a valuable tool in cleaning up my tracks
and fixing them for mix before I send it back through my console. What are your thoughts on Pro Tools, and its ability
to mix as a stand alone unit?
A:I don't even know where to start with this question. There's about a dozen reasons why I shouldn't even touch this
Question. Least of which is the fact that I don't endorse the use of any given product exclusively. I use what I
use because it's what I use nothing more, it gives me what I want. Or it just happened to be what I had to use
at the time. That having been said , I use Pro Tools myself. However, before I go into that, I want to
address the disturbing part of you fixing the mix. Don't ever limit yourself for the sake of time by saying
to your self you'll fix it in the mix.
For ever hour you spend getting It right on the front end saves you 2 on the fix it end. And many of these
fixes come at a sonic cost as in the case of triggering drums. But that's a different question.
Your question if I'm to understand it is how is pro tools as a stand alone mixing unit?
The answer would be excellent. I use it as a stand alone mixer. But is suspect you and I have drastically
different approaches to recording. I started out on 2" tape. I hate two inch tape, a wholly inadequate
storage medium. 0 VU = + 6dBV @ 200nw that formula will be forever ingrained into my brain. It's the
hot bias for Apex 456 on a Studer. It brightened the tape up. We were at war with low end and tape hiss. So
I don't get the enamor over recording to tape and then going to Pro Tools. I ask and keep getting the
answer "the warmth". And it makes me cringe.
At the risk of stretching this question into a narcissistic rant, or a long winded story on my past, which is
off topic, I feel I need to qualify my answer. I graduated from the Recording Workshop in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Feb. 1986. It was an No Nonsense, hands on six weeks course on the technology and how to use it. Part of that
training was how to Bias the tape machines. A task I absolutely loathed. It requires a special set of
reference tapes, tone generators and oscilloscopes. Along with a complicated set of mathematical formula's as
to how to manipulate this bias. Every thing was a trade off. You never really gained anything. And you had
to do this with every set of tape before every recording and reset the machines to the test tapes, usually
marked tones. I learnd very quickly about tape hiss and high end loss due to tape deterioration. Becoming a
recording engineer was truly a labor of love. I remember One of my instructors lecturing to us on day one
about the reality of the path we as a group had chosen. "Most of you have come here dreaming of recording
million selling albums, The fact is, out of all of you, one may go on to make a career recording bands.
The rest of you will more than likely working for Radio stations editing commercials and doing Voice overs. I
remember thinking to myself " I feel sorry for the rest of you guys"
The next few years of my recording experience, as limited as it was as an engineer, was torture.
The warmth of the tape was not even a consideration. You see as the tape passes over the tape head the little
magnetic particle, called domains, literally are being wiped of the tape. Resulting in the loss of high end. Which
could not be added back during mix down because with the addition of high end Through the board on mix down came
hiss. Recording as an engineer was a labor of love.
The trick to this problem was to print the tape hot, and very "bright" in anticipation of this domains
loss, and the subsequent loss of clean highs. This was most critical on drums as that was generally the tracks
that would be laid first and take the worst beating. This was very tricky. It was very easy to go too far. With
all this guess work over the tape, getting it right the first time as far as the tracking was concerned was
crucial. Fix it in the mix was an almost taboo statement. Some things could be cleaned up during mixing with
some very expensive equipment but always at a cost,either in time or money, or sonic quality. In 1991, when
I founded dead Buddhist Dude Ranch Productions,and Produced my first album as both producer and engineer, I
was using Analogue tape. Of the many recordings i had done most were demos, or I was limited to sixteen tracks. And
layering was the big thing so bouncing down tracks was the norm. This took the concept of fixing it in the mix
out of the equation. You screw up the bounce and you screw up the album, not to mention all the time,effort, and
what's worse MONEY, that you have just wasted. So every detail of the initial
tracking was crucial. The great engineers, which I aspired to be, were not only anal about which mics they used, but
were equally anal about placement and phasing. Specific mixing console were
used for one set of tracks than another. So studios, at least the big ones had several rooms with different
consoles in each. The entire process of recording an album, which in and of itself had become an art form. Was
a carefully mapped out, incredibly laborious and time consuming process.
And the weakest link was the most crucial piece, the tape. The storage medium for the sounds captured on it. one
that was constantly deteriorating. So the day I was able to take that part of the recording process via digital
tape. I jumped all over it. I don't want to claim to be a visionary, or some sort of pioneer, but I was way
ahead of my time when I embraced digital tape. I did so at a time when all the big guns were outright denouncing
the technology as inadequate for studio quality sound and going so far as to say in some cases that Analogue
tape would always be superior
and we should abandon the technology all together. I didn't see that to be true at all, and set out to prove
it. With the help of a wealthy patron whom I won't mention, to protect her identity
I was able to use the first 32 track digital studio in Dallas as my own personal laboratory. I was given almost
absolute power to record using whatever technique I chose. It was a gift I can never repay.
And what I gleaned from that experience about digital tape, and more importantly how to use it,
put me well ahead of the bell curve of my peers. Even though I must concede that as far as 16 bit
digital was concerned, Analogue tape was more natural sounding. At the time i saw it as a trade off.
And even though there was something inherently "off" when it was all mixed down; Particularly
in the drums. I still learned a lot about how to address the lack of warmth in digital tape. So much so
that it took the jump to 24 bit before i was able to concede that analogue was superior in the sense
of natural sounding. But that was only over 16 Bit tape.
And we now live in the world of 24 bit recordings. As far as I'm concerned I was right to believe in the technology
because with the advent of 24 bit recording the argument was for the most part over. With it, all of the problems
such as the notorious zipper effect inherent to 16 bit digital which
caused problems with the reproduction of the ultra highs and lows. This is all gone.
And to be bias, Pro Tools/ Avid tech. has always been on the cutting edge of this technology.
I got my first system in 1995 and I haven't mixed in any other way since. With the exception of Big Earth's
second album which for reasons for the most part beyond my control took 2 years to record.
I'd Say dump the 2 inch Tape. learn how to capture the warmth you seek in the first place, and
select the proper analogue equipment on the front end in the way of mics and and preamp/eq's.
Capture what you want to Pro Tools and mix it there. With All the plug-ins available You can do as much if not more in
Pro Tools, Depending on the System, Than Led Zeppelin had to record Physical Graffiti, Or What
Dana Strum Had to
Record Either Vinnie Vincent Albums, For that matter.
Hope I answered you Question without boring you too much.
Peace out, C.E.
Read our exclusive interview with Vinnie Vincent roadie, Charles England. Charles tell us
about his days, on the road, working with
Vinnie Vincent and VV / Nitro drummer, Bobby Rock.
Ask Charles a Question