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Pat McGee on Analog Recording
I knew I wanted to record to tape before I even wrote the songs. Last year I went out and bought a turntable and a few albums that sparked the fire in me as a young boy. That re-acquaintance led to a river of creativity in the form of music and lyrics. I wrote day and night, truly inspired by the sounds I was hearing coming off the needle – almost as if I took a trip to a far away land for inspiration.
I hired the same musicians that graced these magical recordings, dubbed “The Section.” These stellar players lifted my songs to new heights and there was only one way to capture it: live and to two-inch tape.
I recall Waddy Wachtel, one of the legendary guitar players on the session, walking in the first day and seeing the Studer tape machine cueing up. He said, “Whoa, that’s bold!”
I believe there is something unique about recording to tape. It’s the perfect amount of the stress of nailing it the first or second time, knowing that we are not relying on overdubs. As in, this is it, bring your best stuff to these few recorded moments in time. In turn when each musician plays to the best of their abilities it inspires the others, lifting the song higher and higher.
Sonically, it can’t be beat for the sound I was going for. The warmth, tight mid-range, the beefy low-end and just crisp enough highs, even the subtle tape hiss is all music to my ears. The only drawback is that you have to pay for tape, which can be expensive, but when you nail takes and your recording days are very efficient, you can save money in the end by not spending weeks in endless overdub mode.
Well I had the fortunate opportunity of recording with the best in the biz, we didn’t practice a single note, but if it was any other band, I would insist that we practice before heading into the studio, so when tape is rolling we have the road map pretty well laid out to avoid mistakes and having to do multiple takes.
If someone is recording to tape for the first time, I recommend you record practice sessions on an iPhone voice memo or two-track, so you can really hear what vibe you are capturing. If you like what you are hearing, chances are tape is going to blow your mind. Technical issues are simple, as long as you have an experienced engineer.
I would absolutely use it again. If nothing else in this era of modern recording, doing things the old school way is never a bad thing, I feel it enhances the creativity. Like an Olympic athlete who needs to get a “10,” anyone can do it if you’re able to have as many do-overs as you want. In music, what might not seem like a “10” in the moment can really turn out to be an “11” in the end.
photos by David Bergman