How to Get Pro-Sounding Demos At Home — Part II

By Jeff Hutchins

This month, we'll look at the basics for starting your home studio.

Most of you already have a guitar, so let's start there. New strings — new strings sound brighter, so your demo sounds better. Next, get a pickup for your guitar (if it's an acoustic). You should be able to pick one up that sounds pretty good for around $35 and up. The more expensive pickups usually have more options, such as volume and tone controls. If you have the extra money, this may be a good option because it offers more flexibility.

Next, you'll need a good microphone. A good microphone will cost around $100 and up. Mikes costing $30 to $40 seldom sound good. In the case of microphones, it is very true that you get what you pay for.

Next, you'll need something to record on. I recommend a 4-track cassette recorder such as the Tascam 424. In any case, get something with 4 tracks and a built-in mixer.

Last but most certainly not least is a little gadget from Yamaha, the QY10. With this "little ditty,"you can add drums, bass, piano, organ, strings, etc., to your guitar and vocal tracks for a great-sounding demo.

Now let's talk about how to actually get this done on tape. To start, write your song! Get out your QY10. Listen to the programmed patterns. If one is close to your song style, you're set. If not, you can create your own fairly easily using drums, bass, piano, or whatever you need.

Once you have created your pattern, or patterns, you 're ready to start taping. Record the output of the QY 10 onto track one of the four track. Be sure to use a really high quality tape, preferably chrome. A cheap tape will lose the "highs" immediately and noticeably.

When you're finished recording, rewind the tape. Now you can record another track, maybe a rhythm guitar while listening to the first track. Repeat this process for the vocal and lead instrument, if desired.

Now play the tape and listen to all four tracks. Depending on how much programming you did on the QY10, you will hear, vocal, guitar, bass, drums, organ, etc. Mix the volume of each track to our listening pleasure and you're ready to mix down to stereo.

That's right — mix down. Most people don't realize that when they record on a 4-track cassette machine that they must mix down to two tracks. Every cassette has four tracks — two on each side. On a 4-track cassette machine, all four tracks are used in one direction only. If you played a tape recorded on a 4-track on a regular cassette machine, you would hear two tracks as usual. If you then turned that cassette over and played the other side, you would get the other two tracks — backwards.

So for mix-down you have to have your 4-track and a regular cassette machine (or two-track reel-to-reel). The 4-track will have output for stereo. You decide using the "pan" control which tracks go left or right and the overall balance.

The stereo outputs from the 4-track go to the inputs on the 2-track machine you're using. You record on the 2-track while playing the 4-track and you're done.

Once you have used the equipment for a while, you can learn how to "ping-pong"— record two or three tracks onto one in order to free up the two or three tracks. With this technique, you can get the effect of having recorded on as many as eight or ten tracks without losing too much quality.

If you work with other writers, you may consider going together as partners on equipment. With enough practice, you could even rent time on your equipment to help recover your costs.

A full-time engineer can certainly do a better job than most of us at making a pro-sounding tape, but for most demos, repeat, "DEMO," you want your tape to sound as good as possible without the expense of a full-blown studio. You're trying to get your tune published, you're not trying to compete for the best production.

Next month, I'll cover some different ways to get those "Pro Sounding-Demos At Home."