Monday, February 24, 2014

Twenty-Five Things Every Basement Recording Studio Needs

When I was a freshman in high school nothing excited me more than sneaking out during my lunch break and heading down to the local Guitar Center in Danvers, MA to play with all the new toys and recording equipment. I would walk into that room where they showcased the huge consoles, tons of monitors, racks of compressors and dream of sitting down in front of one, moving the faders and knobs to make a record. I had no idea what any of the stuff did, but I knew that this would be a way to combine my love of music and technology into a future career. After bartering with my mom with house chores and good grades, she took me down to that particular Guitar Center where I met Thomas Moore: manager of the store by day, a Beatles cover band member by night. He showed me the way to my first cassette 4 track: a Tascam Portastudio 414. 

After fumbling around for a good two months and realizing I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, I decided that I would have to get some education in what all these knobs and faders did. I bought a copy of Tape Op and I studied that magazine like it was God’s commandments given to me by Bob Clearmountain. One of the first articles I read explained some simple supplies needed for recording in your basement studio. I rode my bike to the Danville Village Market and bought duct tape, pink string (that’s all they had), electrical tape, four 9-volt batteries and a pad of paper. On the ride back, I found a huge branch that had fallen in the road with the wood exposed and no bark, and brought it back home. With a little bit of duct tape and string, a radio shack high impedance ¼ TS microphone and a dead branch mic stand, I had started my home recording studio.

Those early days recording my friends were magical, albeit frustrating. Mics sounded like tin cans, sometimes I would record over the wrong track, and the mic stand would break and have to be repaired or cut to accommodate a different instrument. But I progressed moving on from that Tascam 4 track to Pro-Tools free, to Cakewalk to Pro-Tools 001 and up.

Thinking about what this Tape Op article meant to me, I wondered if these same sets of principles and supplies could be applied to the current set of recording tools now available. How has recording changed or stayed the same since that article came out 12 years ago? What are the other random things you might need in a modern day project studio?

1. Leatherman: An all around multi-tool that you will eventually need. You never know when you might need to survive in your studio for days on end and build fires or fix a mic stand.

2. 9-Volt Batteries: Because every pedal out there runs on them and they will most likely die because the guitarist never changed them.

3. Guitar Strings: Have a few packs on hand incase the face melting solo melts a few strings as well.

4. Guitar Picks: Keep an assortment on hand: hard, medium, soft nylon picks.

5. Guitar cables: Guitarists. Enough said.

6. ¼” to 1/8” TRS Adapters: It’s more than likely you will need to swap headphones for ear buds, etc.

7. One set of Drum Sticks: Even though you don’t play, the drummer does and sticks break. 5As are pretty standard.

8. Two XLR Male to Male and Two Female to Female Turn-around: When you run that 100 foot mic cable backwards and is impossible to re-run before a session, these will come in handy to reverse the gender of the connectors to the correct type.

9. Duct Tape or Gaffe Tape: To tape down wires, secure those lose mic stands and fix mic clips. Gaffe tape is more expensive but will not leave a residue of adhesive behind it.

10. Masking Tape or Rumble Tape: To label your tracks if you have a mixer or to label microphone inputs into your I/O. Again, rumble tape is more expensive but doesn't leave a residue like masking tape might.

11. Sharpies: They are clear and bold to stand out when labeling. Multiple colors aid in organization.

12. Cinch Cord or Heavy String: To hang aux percussion, or hang a microphone in a tight spot. Also useful for hanging blankets and other sound treatments.

13. Heavy Blanket: to put over guitar cabs or inside kick drums to provide a little bit more isolation. To use for a picnic.

14. Two DI Boxes: To convert the hi-impedance guitar signal to mic signal, record Bass or to use for a possible re-amp situation.

15. Pad of Paper and Pencils: This is for documentation. Yes pencil and paper is still faster than typing and cheaper than a tablet.

16. Digital Camera: For taking pictures of all your mic placements.

17. Spindle of CDs or Bundle of USB Thumb Drives: To burn those rough mixes, 512 MB USB drives are really cheap and you can find them in bundles online.

18. Extra Hard Drives: You never know when one will crash. Preferable a giant 2 TB minimum hard drive with a back up of your computer OS and apps. In the event of a catastrophic failure you can simply replace the hard drive quickly.

19. Local Take Out Menus: Bands get hungry too.

20. Pop Filter: An easy way to get rid of plosives and to protect your microphones from moisture when recording vocals.

21. Egg Shaker: A fantastic addition to any track when called for.

22. Tissues or Paper Towels: These are handy not only for cleaning up, but when that snare just has too much ring in it these are handy to fold into squares and tape on the head to get rid of it. This technique also works great for toms.

23. Ambiance: Lava lamps provide extra light and also create a comfortable atmosphere in the studio. Other things like plants and art help keep the mood relaxed.

24. Extra headphones: Somebody always forgets or breaks them. Keep at least one extra set on hand.

25. Tool Box: A place to keep all this stuff in!

My first recording studio: Testa Projects and Sounds. Complete with Tascam Portastudio 414

Updated 4 years later with a Mac G3 and Pro Tools Digi 001.

Updated for the final time in 2008 with Pro-Tools and Digital Performer 4 while recording on a Yamaha 01V.

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