Warning: Techno geek information!
I did quite a bit of work on the old Tascam 8 track recorder. I used a couple of the old Teac sound boards, model 3 I think, my trusty JBL 4312’s, a Shure sm81 mike a Sony dynamic mic, a few cheaper Shure mics, AKG headphones and the Ensoniq sequencer/synth. I also had a Teac 10 band stereo EQ with a nice big spectrum analyzer display. I use that to this day. And I also used a set of Auratone monitors, and various effects, compressors and such
When I upgraded, I ended up with a 16 track 1 inch Tascam running at 30 inches per second. Sounded great but ate a bunch of tape. I also bought a Ramsa 20 X 8 recording console (big heavy thing) and a Kurzweil k 2000 workstation, as well as assorted Roland synth modules. This is the setup that really allowed me to record larger groups and still maintain control of individual sounds at mix time. I invested in some good mic’s and more robust headphone system. I could really do some orchestrations with this set up.
From there, the last real upgrade was going to 16 tracks of AKAI digital recorders. They had a card that output time code so it was not necessary to stripe one of the tracks so the sequencer could follow it. I actually had two of these setups and could lock them together to give me 32 digital tracks. I never used more than 16 tracks plus the 32 sequencer tracks. This was my last big upgrade before going to Pro Tools.
As a side note here, during this time I ended up using DAT (digital audio tape) recorders for my mastering. Hated them. The most finicky recording platform I’ve ever seen. It was the same with those DV (digital video) tapes. Used them both and loathed every moment of both of them after the machines got a few months old. I have spent thousands of dollars on DAT machines (at least 5 of them) over the years. Did I say I hated them? I ended up using a Fostex master CD recorder. A little quirky, but it was very reliable.
I developed some time saving ways of working over the years. I’ve also developed a few ways of looking at the recording process:
“Nobody but the people in the room at the time know how a recorded sound was really created”
When my wife and I recorded our 5th release, I sent one of the first finished copies to a fellow musician and recording artist. He called a few days later, and said he really enjoyed the tape. He then asked “are those real recorded drums or a drum machine?” My comment was “if you have to ask, what’s the difference.”
Another time I had recorded an A Capella gospel quartet and used a X/Y mic configuration at about five foot off the ground, about four feet away from the group and them standing next to each other, after a bit of moving members back or ahead to compensate for their individual volumes, we came up with a working setup and proceeded to knock out the whole recording in under two hours. No headphones just the singers listening to each other. When I took it to another area studio to transfer it to a medium I didn’t have access to at the time, the engineer was amazed at the sound and depth of the recording asking all sorts of technical questions on how I did it.
Recording solo acoustic guitar has always been a challenge. I like stereo when there is only one acoustic, with different methods of achieving a good stereo image. X/Y in front of the guitar always works well, put the mics up and move things around until you get a nice balanced image.
I have been fond of using a combination of a mono microphone with a direct signal from the guitars electronics. I like the fishman aura stuff, put a good microphone on the guitar, also record a direct signal through the fishman box, put the mic signal to say 75% right and the direct to the left. Gives a nice stereo acoustic sound that can be manipulated.
Some engineers put three or four mikes on various parts of the guitar, many times with great results. I don’t do much of that.
Don’t be afraid to try something twenty or thirty times if necessary to achieve the sound you are looking for. Nobody will ask how long it took to get the sound, they will just enjoy it.
I’ve used boxes and buckets for drums, crazy instrument tuning, microphones in all sorts of weird configurations, used duct tape and toilet paper to tame a banjo, had a person hit a steel bar with a hammer and so on. Whatever it takes.
Always try to get a group to assign just one or two members to be part of the mixing process. The hubris of us musicians should never be taken for granted.
Never let a drummer see your track sheet if you use the term ‘kick’ for the bass drum. They can be quite obstinate.
Trust your ears and your instincts. They will serve you well.