Music Recording with Cubase

When I was about twelve or so I got a tape recorder for Christmas.  It was a cassette recorder and it came with a small pencil microphone.  Really the only thing you could do with it was to record something by placing the microphone in front of it and pressing record.  If a good song came on the radio, you’d record the radio by placing the microphone in front of it.  Of course somebody would always walk in to the room and start talking to you and you’d get all angry, “You just ruined this song!  I’ve been waiting all day for it to come on!”

One time I figured out a way to record something, then turn the tape over and play it backwards.  I remember getting dad to say some mumbo-jumbo into the mic, then flipping over the tape and hearing him say, “I am crazy.  I am crazy”.  I almost peed myself.  He was not so impressed.

Much of what recording I did early on would involve trying to rig up this or that in to some kind of home tape recorder.  For a while my brother had this old reel-to-reel stereo recorder that had this big green eyeball thing that would measure the recording levels.  It was cool because you could do sound-on-sound on sound.  That meant you could record something and go back and record over the same track a second time.  Not multi-track recording, just using the same track twice.  If you made a mistake on the second pass you had to start all over.  And there was no way to control the balance between the two passes.

By the time I was twenty I had the chance to record in a real recording studio.  The studio had one of those six foot long mixers you see in pictures.  It was all analog and you recorded on to two inch, 24 track tape.  This was the state of art in the late 70’s and I have to say it was a bit nerve racking.  On one of the first takes the engineer commented that my meter was off.  (He meant that I was not on the beat.)  I certainlywas nervous, but relaxed after a while and the rest of the session went pretty well.

Because recording time was so expensive we went in completely  prepared and we played very tightly.  But to me the session seemed very sterile.  During one guitar solo I threw an unplanned four beat riff in the middle of the solo.  The guitar player looked  at me in horror.   A look I’ll never forget.  Listening to it decades later still makes me laugh.  I thought I was brilliant! 😉

A few years ago I decided to try to record some demos so I bought an eight track digital Tascam Portastudio.  For a gumper like me this was completely amazing.  For a few hundred dollars I had more technology than The Beatles had while making Sgt. Peppers.  Unfortunately, I don’t have quite that level of talent to go with it.

Sadly, it didn’t take long for eight tracks to become horribly inadequate.  Before long I was doing six tracks and bouncing them down to stereo then doing six more and mastering.  How George Martin ever did this with four track tape highlights his genius.

The other problem with the Portastudio is that you can only record two tracks at one time.  This is not a huge issue if there is just one person recording themselves.  But as soon as you try to record a band, you’ve got a problem.

So the next toy to buy is the Tascam US-1641.  This is a USB audio interface.  It allows you to connect multiple analog audio channels to computer based recording software.

The Tascam comes bundled with Cubase 4-LE.  Cubase is one of the more popular recording packages and it appears to be very feature rich.

My biggest beef with Cubase is it’s licensing model.  It requires that you make a connection with a remote server to install the license.  During the process my computer crashed and the license became corrupted.  I then had to contact their support department to re-enable my license.  Then my computer crashed again and now it was the weekend.  So I had to wait for Monday to get further support.  After I got past these problems I had to go through a series of driver updates, firmware updates, license manager updates, software updates and registry tuning.  Basically nothing that came out of the box was update-t0-date versions.

The single easiest thing that Cubase/Tascam could do is to contain the licensing in a mac address in the Tascam unit, so you can’t use Cubase without the controller.  Cubase made a huge issue in licensing a product that is basically free. [end-of-rant]

I finally was able to convince my band to spend the time testing out this process.  I came about three hours early and setup eleven channels in to the Tascam.  This included  two dynamic mics, a kick mic and an overhead small condenser mic on the drums, an SM-57 on each of the two guitar amps,  stereo XLR’s direct from the keyboard amp, DI’d the bass and two monitor channels from the PA.

The only technical problem I had was not being able to get enough gain out of the four balanced inputs on the back of the unit.

Once we started recording I was completely amazed.  After all the problems I had getting this software installed, it performed perfectly.

Once we had the base tracks down, we retracked the drums.  This is partially because the drummer is the main vocalist.  And also to get better isolation of the drums.

After that, we tracked the vocals with a large condenser using closed back headphones.

Overall this process was very positive.  My band-mates that started out being skeptical ended up being quite impressed.  And they all thought the process was a lot of fun.

Suddenly, there are plans to buy more mics and more headphones.

Hey Tascam guys.  If you can just fix the installation process, this is one fantastic product!


Please share your thoughts on digital recording and these products in particular!

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