Transfering home 4-track recordings to a professional studio

For my next piece of advice, let's assume you (the producer) have laid down the required tracks needed 4-track style. It's all recorded through, the signals are dialed in, and the general seal of approval from the close knit circle of friends is money. Now what? Well...it's time to make moves and put your money where your mouth is...dog. If your songs/ideas are rehearsed and formatted, this next step in the recording process shouldn't be a problem.

Enter the next stage

Just for a moment, I'd like to address your new role as:

The role is an odd combination of organizer, manager, and artist. Take into consideration the level of responsibility placed on your shoulders. The role requires you to delegate authority, to be prepared, and be creative musically. The producer must remember the master of ceremony's (The MC) job is to make sure what he/she is saying is both entertaining and enjoyable to the listener. The lyrics are the key ingredient (potatoes) and the music production is like the added flavor. (gravy) There must be an understanding between both parties, an understanding that everyone benefits from each other. The MC gets credit for being dope and the producer gets credit for bringing the phatness.


DON'T get caught up in the politics. DON'T think because an MC can spin lyrics around your beats he/she is God's gift to the human race. DON'T think because your beats are so tight that it couldn't be done without the help of others. A true MC can rap over anything. DON'T let this music business get to your head. Balance is crucial in this game! Be patient and understanding, yet firm and focused when dealing with artists and sound engineers.

Let's talk time and money. You have to figure each song will take 3 to 5 hours of studio time to make. Studio costs range from $25 to $50 bucks an hour, you do the math, but 3 to 5 hours is a safe estimate providing the pre-production is tight. If you can come up with the ducats, then you must reserve the studio time in advance. If you choose to record vocals, double check to make sure the MC has his lyrics on head with pre-planned overdubbing. If additional tracking is needed...like DJ scratching or live instrumentation...it helps to rehearse with the collaborators. Before the appointment, talk with your studio engineer about what you are going to bring to the studio, what the engineer needs to do to enhance the mix, stuff like, "the bass needs to be beefed up on Track 1" or "make sure the cymbals are crispy on track 2," because if you talk shop (work related jargon) you can avoid a whole lot of mess. Communication with the studio engineer makes life easier. It will help give him/her an angle to work, and that is what the engineer sees in your project...work. He/She is getting paid per hour and the person's name is on the line, nobody wants to put out wack product, so stay in touch with your studio engineer. Do you feel me? The engineer is a main component in what ever project you attempt.

Personally, I worked with my studio engineer track by track. I lined out each track straight to the mixing board. (Some 4-tracks vary, but most provide you with outputs for sending signals separately) Each individual track was manipulated, compressed, and equalized. These pre-recorded tracks already had a certain sound to them, so understand that the engineer cannot alter the existing tracks very much...however, there is plenty of room to accentuate their good qualities. It takes about an hour to transfer 4-track work to a realm called digital audio.



Please Note:

The folowing advice is now considered a dated process ("Chained Reaction" was recorded in this manner in 2000)
but the recording equipment mentioned is still quality and affordable to the average consumer nowadays.
For an up-and-coming producer...it would be a nice starter kit to lay down tracks.


This brings us to the ADAT machine. Now, don't be afraid of the alphabet soup studio equipment, stay with me here.

An ADAT is a multi-track digital recording machine. An ADAT records music via super VHS cassette, yep that's right, the same cassette used to tape movies on your VCR. A single super VHS cassette gives you 8 tracks total to play with. After transferring your initial 4 tracks, it will leave you with 4 extra tracks to lay down vocals and a live instrument or two if you choose.

Heck...you can skip the cheap 4-track all together and just go out and buy this machine. Back in 1992 is retailed for $3,500, in 2000 it retailed for $1,500...9 years later you can find one on ebay for a couple hundred bucks.

So let's press rewind and keep this basic. You have 8 available tracks to record live instruments, samples, and vocals to ADAT. Once everything is tracked, you're ready for the next step...mixing it down to the DAT machine.

Digital Audio Tape (DAT) is one of the highest quality formats for recording mix downs.

Back in 2000, The music industry didn't want this type of format to reach the hands of the general public. Why? Because the sound quality is crisp and clean. The music industry made it clear to the manufacturers of this machine to keep the prices well above $500 brand new. A simple 60 min. DAT tape ran over $10 retail.

Those prices are a thing of the past in 2009. Sniff around the internet for some deals and you can walk away with one for less than a hundred bucks.

The point is, when you do have the final mix on DAT, it is a top quality digital recording. The DAT tape acts as the "pre-mastered mix" to give to the mastering engineer.

I want to make this clear to anyone who is reading this; the final mix is one of if not the most important step of the recording process. This is where you have to really tune in with your ears. A good engineer can help you in this area, but ultimately, you the producer have the last word. When listening to the song over and over again, ask yourself some questions, are the vocals to loud? Is the bass to thin? Are all instruments balanced proper? Stuff like that. In the end you will know what suits your tastes, if you created the beat, you will know how it should sound.

I'll warn you again, the process is tricky. What sounds dope in the studio maybe to bass heavy on your home stereo. Ask your engineer for a cassette/compact disk dub before you give it the "stamp of approval." This dub cassette/compact disk acts as a tool, don't let your friends duplicate it for listening enjoyment, it will spread like wildfire in the underground. Play it on your car stereo, home stereo, and don't forget the walkman/ipod. Listen to it a dozen times...minimum...to give you a nice overall picture. If you like it and you have strung together a few songs..... you're ready for the last step. Bookmark this web site & check back for "Production Tips : Final Mix & Master."

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