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PAUL JOYNER: Recording In A Basement

Readerzone By Paul Joyner
Published April 1999

PAUL JOYNER: Recording In A Basement

Name: Paul Joyner
Studio Premises: Basement Room at home
Main Equipment: Alesis ADAT & Fostex RD8, Tascam M600 32:16:32:2 desk with VCA automation, Apple Mac G3 with Korg 1212 I/O & Emagic Audiowerk8 I/O cards, Yamaha Promix 01 digital mixer, Akai S3000XL sampler, Roland JD800, JV880 & D70 synths, Wilmslow Volt, Spirit Absolute 2 & Tannoy DC100 monitors.

Paul Joyner is typical of many of our more serious readers, in that he has graduated from running a personal studio to doing engineering and production full time. After starting his music career playing in local bands, Paul was bitten by the recording bug when the group he was then with went into a local commercial 24‑track studio to make some recordings. Eventually he set up a modest studio at home, based around a Commodore 64, which has steadily evolved into the impressive setup he has today. Paul now specialises in collaborative projects, mainly with artists who he thinks have commerical potential, the idea being to jointly develop material to a point where it can be presented to record companies with the ultimate aim of getting a record or publishing deal.

Around The Studio

Paul's Yamaha Promix 01 digital mixer.Paul's Yamaha Promix 01 digital mixer.

As his studio has progressed, Paul has built up a lot of useful experience with equipment and recording techniques, as well as developing his own working methods, which now blend traditional tape recording with computer‑based hard disk recording, arranging and editing. Over to him:

"My current setup is geared towards mixing, remixing and post‑production rather than tracking, as my basement studio is all in one room. I can record vocals, guitars and so on, but drum kits are impractical. The studio is based around two ADATs, one of which is a Fostex RD8. I chose these because compatibility between studios is important these days, and it's useful to be able to just take an ADAT tape and a track sheet to another studio. The main desk is a Tascam M600 32:16:32:2 analogue console. It has full 16‑buss routing, and there are 32 EQ'able monitors that I use as additional line inputs for synths or effects returns. I actually feed the ADAT recorders through the first 16 channels so that I can both monitor and mix on the same channels. The EQ also sounds nicer than on a lot of desks I've heard, and having balanced insert points helps keep everything really quiet. My main monitors are the Wilmslow Volts, which are pretty accurate as well as having a sensible bass response, though I also have a pair of Spirit Absolute 2s and Tannoy DC100s for comparison.

"The Tascam console is fitted with Optifile Tetra VCA automation system, which controls mutes and levels. Local status switches next to the faders allow individual channels to be dropped into and out of record mode when updating mixes. You get a better degree of automation with a digital desk, but I like the analogue interface, and to me the sound is more musical than the digital desks I've tried so far, especially the EQ. I use my Fostex RD8 ADAT as the sync source, as this can output both SMPTE and MTC directly. The SMPTE Out feeds directly to my MOTU MIDI Express interface to sync my sequencer, and the MOTU SMPTE out clocks the Optifile automation.

"I have a Macintosh G3 fitted with a Korg 1212 I/O and an Emagic Audiowerk 8 card running Emagic Logic Audio Platinum. If I'm doing a job entirely on the computer, I use the Audiowerk8 card to provide eight separate analogue track outputs, but for bigger jobs the Korg 1212 I/O is brilliant because it lets me get all eight tracks across to the ADAT and back again in the digital domain, all in one shot. Often I'll start by recording on the ADATs so I can leave the computers off to avoid noise. Then I'll transfer the audio to the computer via the 1212 I/O if it needs editing and further processing. I could mix the audio directly from Logic Audio, but I prefer to move things back to the ADAT, as it frees up hard drive space and once it's on tape, you know it will still be there tomorrow. It also allows me to take the tapes to another studio if I need to. As a rule, the only thing that runs live from computer during a mix is the MIDI sequencing data.

"I also have a Yamaha Promix 01 digital mixer, which is used mainly for monitoring the Audiowerk8 and 1212 I/O analogue outputs from the G3 or for submixing if I need the Promix's automation or the on‑board effects. With the Promix, the computer setup is almost a self‑contained studio in its own right. I do also use the Promix's faders as real‑time MIDI controllers — for example, for controlling the onscreen mixer in Logic Audio. In effect, you can set up and save several different virtual MIDI control surfaces as Snapshots, which is useful if you have other MIDI devices you'd like to control. I've set up my own mixer map in Logic's Environment page — there was a map that was supposed to do this on the Logic support disk, but I could never get it to work properly!

"I've built up quite a good selection of outboard, including a Lexicon MPX1 which I've just bought, a number of good‑sounding Drawmer units, and an SPL SX2 Vitalizer that's great for adding life and punch to a final mix. I'd really like a Lexicon PCM91. I'd also like a TC Finalizer for mastering, though I'm keen to see what the new Drawmer digital processors can do. I feel there's still the need for good hardware, even though most things can also be done in software these days. I have friends who have home studios based around Cubase VST and rely entirely on computer‑based processing, but I've yet to hear a good software reverb that doesn't soak up all the power of a fast computer.

"For sound generation, I have an Akai S3000XL, an Ensoniq EPS16+, a Roland JD800, a Roland D70 and a Roland JV880. I particularly like the JD800 because of its real‑time fader control and because fader movements can be recorded over MIDI. It sees a lot of use when I'm working on techno or dance material and it also has a very big sound compared to, say, the D70 or the JV880.

I feel there's still the need for good hardware, even though most things can also be done in software these days.

"I chose the Akai sampler because they're so widely used — so as long as anyone I'm working with uses the same media as me, they can send samples or audio files on Zip, Jaz, or Syquest Ezflyer cartridges and I can pick up the project from there. Also, there are innumerable commercial sample CD‑ROM samples available in Akai format — CD‑ROMs play an important part in remixing for me, and I have a carefully selected library which provides the kind of sounds I can't get from my synths. I have a minor sampler problem at the moment, which is that my S3000XL is temperamental about SCSI — it takes ages to recognise that there's a Syquest Ezflyer 230 drive in the SCSI chain. Before Logic Audio appeared, I used samplers for flying in vocals and other phrases to recordings, but now most of this kind of work is done on the computer.

"I also have the free version of the Pro Tools 3.4 software which is useful for some editing applications, though to be honest I can do just about everything I need to do within Logic Audio, including compiling whole albums. Having said that, I've just started using BIAS Peak which looks really good for mastering, so I may move over to that. I'm really keen to see what's new in v2.0.

"I master onto both DAT and CD‑R, with Tascam DA20 and Fostex D5 DAT machines so that I can clone tapes, and a Marantz CDR615 CD‑R writer. Unlike consumer CD‑R machines, the Marantz isn't plagued by SCMS and it uses cheap data discs rather than expensive consumer discs. It can also produce PQ‑encoded masters that can be used for duplication. I generally compile my CD‑R masters using Logic Audio Platinum, as this version offers non‑destructive crossfades, which are useful both for handling routine fade‑outs and for fading one track into another. When a collection of songs is complete, I transfer digitally via the Korg 1212 I/O to DAT, re‑edit and re‑number the DAT IDs, then finally burn a CD‑R using the Marantz CDR615. It's important to check the DAT IDs are in the right place before you burn a CD‑R, as these are used to define the CD track start points."Although 24‑bit, 96kHz recording seems to be the current rage, I don't have any real complaints about 16‑bit, 44.1kHz linear digital recording. With most pop music, a dynamic range of 16‑bit systems is more than adequate, especially when you see how small the dynamic range of a typical pop record is. And I've never owned an analogue 2‑track mastering deck, other than basic cassette machines. However, I am considering buying a 2‑track Revox so that I can bounce my mixes off it to warm them up a little. Alternatively, there is a lot of valve gear, or even valve emulation software around, so I might find something there that will do the job equally well.

Working Methods

Paul's main desk, a Tascam M600.Paul's main desk, a Tascam M600.

"I get a variety of material when I'm starting an arrangement or remix project. Stuff arrives in several formats — DAT, CD‑R, hard disk, MIDI files and so on — and sometimes it'll be just a few vocal phrases. Some people don't even send a demo tape, whereas others have a more complete existing arrangement that they want you to reinterpret. Obviously, I talk to the people I'm working with to see what's required. Then I have to decide whether to add to what they've sent me or whether to strip the song back to the vocals and replace all the sounds with new ones. I'll also change musical parts, bass lines, drum programming and so on until I get something that I think is working. Every job is different. I know a lot of people stick to a formula when working on new tracks, but I always try to look at each new song in a fresh light.

"Usually I'll start by finding the key of the vocals and then run them live against a straight drum loop. Getting stuff in sync is not generally a problem because when I put phrases or loops into Logic Audio, I'm able to use the 'Set Tempo by Object and Locators' function to get the right tempo straight away. If something needs to be tweaked, I can use the Digital Factory in Logic to change the tempo or pitch, though if it isn't far out, I might load it into the sampler and use the pitch‑bend wheel to fine‑tune it. Likewise, if I need to timestretch or compress, pitch‑shift or change the formants of the vocals, I'll usually go to the Digital Factory, although I do also rely on the Antares Auto‑Tune plug‑in — one of just a couple of VST plug‑ins I've got. It's invaluable for correcting intonation on vocals, and the quality of the results is extraordinary, providing what you have is reasonable to start with. Once I've got the vocals right I can add the instrumentation.

"I keep an eye on all kinds of noise in my studio; as I've just one room acoustic noise can be a problem if I'm working with a vocalist. Acoustic noise within the studio is about as low as I can get it, though computers always make a racket. If I need quiet for a few minutes while doing something critical, such as recording vocals or acoustic guitar, I just put a rug over the computer if I need it to be on, though you can't do this for too long as the heat soon builds up. Then I set the mic up as far from the computer as I can. More often I'll record vocals onto the ADATs first so that I can leave the computer off, then I export the recordings into Logic Audio via the Korg 1212I/O card's optical interface so that I can cut and paste to try new arrangements. I only have a feed for one pair of headphones at the moment, which the singer wears, so I set the monitors at a very low level so that I can just hear them. A headphone splitter would probably be a sensible investment!

"Noise is also a concern to me in a different way, when mixing. Gain structure is a hugely important factor when setting up mixes. Many people are unaware of the amount of noise that can be generated by even the best console if it isn't set up properly. In addition to setting the input gain trims, I also unroute any channels and sends that aren't in use — a trick I learned from SOS!

The Future

The layout of Paul's basement studio.The layout of Paul's basement studio.

"Though I seem to be quite busy at the moment, I'm always on the lookout for new collaborative ventures, and in the longer term I'd like to set up an independent production company. I've made a few useful contacts via the forums on the SOS web site, and I'm keen to receive demo tapes with a view to starting new collaborations because I know there's a lot of good material and good performers out there."

The Logical Choice

"Logic Audio was the obvious sequencer for me over Cubase or any of the others because I used Creator/Notator on an Atari for years, though I also have Cubase VST to maintain compatibility with people who prefer to use that. Logic was overwhelming at first, but it's actually very 'logical' when you get into it. The MIDI side is stable, the Time Machine is invaluable for making pitch or tempo changes, and now that you can use VST plug‑ins, it's incredibly powerful. The timing is always spot on and I've learned to find my way around it very quickly. I also like the way I can name my synth patches in the Environment, and I make a lot of use of markers and key commands to streamline operation. The only limitation I've found with Logic Platinum to date is that if you run the Audiowerk 8 and the Korg 1212 I/O extensions simultaneously, you can't perform some audio editing functions, such as digital mixdown."

Digital Hygiene

"A significant part of my work is done on the Mac, and the G3 has turned out to be very reliable, though my previous Macs have also been robust. I don't use the G3 for anything other than studio work, which obviously helps to keep the system clean. There are no games! I also use Extensions Manager so I can have a different setup for Internet access, CD‑R burning, Logic Audio and so on — this way there are no superfluous extensions active that might cause problems. I've read articles in SOS where people have complained about the timing of Logic, but I've always found it rock‑solid, so I can only think they have loaded too much onto their systems."