Shop Talk: Multitrack Tape Recording

My first multitrack audio recorder was the Tascam 244. My dad was a sales rep for the company in 1982, and he brought a sample of the unit home from work one day. I consider that moment to be the start of my production career. The 244 pretty much marked the beginning of the home-recording movement, allowing anybody to record and layer up to four instruments on separate tracks- without an external mixer and a huge tape machine: the Tascam 244 combined everything into one portable box. If you needed to record more than four tracks, you could mix 3 of the tracks down to the 4th track, then start recording again reusing tracks 1-3 for new sounds (this is called ‘bouncing’). More technical specs here.

I recorded my first album, Up On The Rock, on the Tascam 244 in 1989 at the University of Iowa, right from the comfort of my Hillcrest dorm room. I also remember recording a cover of Jim Croce’s ‘Operator’ as well as a horrible attempt at Duran Duran’s ‘Save a Prayer’. The evidence may or may not be floating around somewhere.

I later moved on to the Sansui WS-X1 machine which had 6 tracks. This was used to record the Go Figure album with Andrew Weiss and Jim Berry in 1990. After that, I graduated to the Tascam 488, which still recorded to a standard cassette tape, but offered a spellbinding 8 tracks! I recorded over 150 songs on that machine between 1991 and 1996, then moving to digital a few years after home computers had gotten really good at running audio software.

I have all the master tapes from the sessions on the Tascam 488, and for a while hoped to transfer these songs into the digital domain to clean them up. The unit was not able to output its 8 tracks simultaneously (it has only 4 outputs), and exporting 4 tracks at a time then syncing them up later… yeah… a little tricky. Times 150 songs. My particular unit was also in grave need of repair. It was not remotely cost-effective to rehab the poor thing, so in 2016…

… I saved the master tapes, and tossed the recorder. I’m now firmly in digital audio land, but am not opposed to occasionally printing my finished tracks onto 2″ magnetic tape to add a bit of the warmer analog feel.

In the coming weeks, I’ll break down the basics of multitrack recording in the digital domain. See you then!