One of my earliest childhood memories was seeing my uncle’s reel-to-reel tape player in his basement. He also had an 8-track player, and of course, a turntable. What I remember was how the music sounded on those devices, and to this day I love the sound that they reproduce.
When I’m making beats, however, I’m always on the lookout for some vintage sounds, whether it be from an old horror movie, or a vinyl record, because I want that same sound again. Not too long ago though, I thought of the perfect way to bring everything together – sample myself.
Audio cassettes and even compact discs are pretty much gone. I know there’s been a small resurgence of independent labels putting out their latest releases on cassette, and that’s a great idea, but it’s basically a dead medium. Compact discs have been hanging around for years now but that too, is dead.
Even though cassettes are no longer used, there’s still plenty of people that own cassette decks, and you probably have some old, dusty unit in your house somewhere too. If you do, then use it! There’s absolutely no reason why you need to keep it lying around without being used, so why not use it to your advantage and add it to your current studio setup?
It can be a bit hard to find audio cassettes nowadays, but actually, a place like Best Buy sells them, so I’m sure you can find them online (although they may be a bit pricey).
The main benefit of recording to audio cassette is of course, the sound quality. You will get a much thicker, low-end sound, but at a cost – tape hiss. This is fine if that’s what you want, but it’s something to remember when you do it. You could of course, cut back on the hiss by fine-tuning your deck, or fixing it in your DAW when you bounce the analog sound back in.
There are many plug-ins and emulators that can give you a warm, tape sound, and they do a great job, but using an actual cassette deck is much more genuine. Plus it’s fun! It changes things up for you, and who knows? You might get inspired and come up with other creative ways to record yourself.
With almost every producer on the planet using some sort of computer-based setup in their studio, it’s no wonder why not many use old gear that’s been lying around. Computer-based DAWs are much more powerful than some old, beat up 4-track recorder, and that’s understandable. But just because you have everything digital, doesn’t mean that you should abandon old gear.
If you were to take a listen to some old Hip Hop albums, such as Black Moon’s “Enta Da Stage”, you can obviously hear how lo-fi it is. The whole album is gutter, and it’s because back in the early 90’s, they used vintage gear as well. So basically, at this point you would be doing the same thing – using old gear. And you would be sampling yourself.
Recently, a friend of mine did a track where he recorded some digital sounds onto a cassette, then he dumped that back into his computer DAW. From there he chopped and EQ’d whatever he had to do, then finished up his beat.
That’s great what he did, but it’s not just about sampling a digital sound. My idea is to actually record yourself PLAYING something onto a cassette (or any other old medium). This way not only will you be recording digital sounds onto analog, but when you go to sample that cassette back into your DAW, it will be like you’re sampling someone else’s composition.
Some of you might think that there’s no difference between recording a digital sound versus a digital performance, and maybe there isn’t, but I think that if you’re looking for that vintage sound, why not just record the whole thing onto cassette?
The other option is to not only record your performance, but why not record your entire mix to cassette? Now we’re getting somewhere.
It really comes down to what you’re trying to achieve, though. Let’s say you have a drum track, a bassline, and you want to add piano. Are your drums and bass digital? Because if they are then it would make no sense to have those digital and your piano analog. They won’t go together.
So if you want to have an analog sound, then go ALL analog. Or go all digital, but don’t do both.
But since I’m referring to recording and sampling on analog cassette, then why not go all the way and dump your whole performance onto tape? If you have one of those giant 2-inch reel-to-reel mixdown decks that recording studios use, then you can go with that, but most likely you will be using a cassette deck.
Let’s say you have an MPC Renaissance or Maschine. You have two choices:
Record each track separately onto cassette.
Record yourself playing your beat manually onto cassette.
The easiest way would be to have all your tracks done and ready in your DAW, then you could solo each track and play them one by one while you record them to cassette. Then you can dump them back into your DAW, and mix it all down from there.
The other option is more for those of you that are good at playing the pads on your Renaissance or Maschine. If so, then you can record the whole performance onto cassette, then dump that back into your DAW. The only drawback is that you now have a 2-track performance, so there’s no way you can isolate each track if needed.
Whatever medium you choose (cassette, reel-to-reel, SP12, MPC60, etc), you will get that vintage sound. There are sound kits that you can buy where the producer of the kit has done this exact method, and that’s why you have sounds in those kits that sound like they’re from an MPC60 – because it was processed through an MPC60. So why not do the same for your own productions?