This is the fifth installment in guest blogger Frank Klepacki’s series on music production. Today Frank discusses adding analog aspects to digital recording. If you missed Frank’s previous post on the role of the music producer, you can read it here.
For a great while now, people have been making music digitally. Whether they transitioned over from analog, or started digitally from the get-go, it’s a reality, a convenience and, moving forward, will be the norm of how music production is introduced to future generations.
While today’s up-and-comers making albums in their bedrooms and garages may never know what it means to cut tape or use a large format console, there are some ideas worth sharing to help and encourage their decision-making when recording in the future.
This is not intended to be an analog vs. digital debate, this is simply a basic suggestion of options that blend the best of both worlds.
Let’s start with the heart of your system – the interface. This piece of gear is the essential bridge from your microphones and MIDI controllers to your recorded tracks in your DAW of choice, converting the analog to digital signal. Some interfaces have different bells and whistles, but basically that is why you have one. However, if you are simply running mics straight into it and tracking, you could be missing out on an opportunity to warm up your tracks – and the best way to do that is with tubes.
This is where the analog component comes in. Back in the day, there was no digital choice. You plugged mics into a preamp, then perhaps into a compressor, EQ, a channel on a mixing board, and that signal went to an analog tape machine. Right there, your signal is going through a handful of analog sources before the track is recorded. The more analog signals, the more noise you would potentially introduce in the chain, so top–notch, quiet gear was important. Then you could push the signal level onto tape, giving you the effect of natural tape compression. You have to appreciate how people who came from that school of engineering were used to achieving that sound, and were not too keen on accepting the digital age of recording that followed.
Admittedly, in its infancy, digital recording was a big contrast by comparison, as it indeed came off as harsh sounding. But we’ve come such a long way since then. The software plugins and emulation that is achievable out there have really helped in adding the warmth back to the tracks we make today. But in my opinion there is at least one very important piece of gear that you should use for warmth from the start, and that is a tube preamp.
If you run all your mics through tube pre’s before they hit your interface, you will have that warmth the human ear desires added to your tracks immediately. There are so many great tube pre’s to choose from, all you have to do is pick out the best quality pre’s for your budget. On the high end, it doesn’t get much better than the Avalon VT-737, especially if you’re focused on having one great pre. If you need multiple channels, especially if you’re tracking drums on a regular basis, in mid-range pricing I enjoy the TL Audio Ivory 5001, as it has 4 channels in a 2-space rack and warms things up nicely. On a much tighter budget you might consider the PreSonus Studio Channel. Spending any less might mean sacrificing quality.
In Frank’s next installment he’ll continue to look at using analog equipment in the digital studio – look for Part 2 next week!
– Frank Klepacki
Frank Klepacki is an award-winning composer for video games and television for such titles as Command & Conquer, Star Wars: Empire at War, and MMA sports programs such as Ultimate Fighting Championship and Inside MMA. He resides as audio director for Petroglyph, in addition to being a recording artist, touring performer, and producer. For more info, visit www.frankklepacki.com