Back in the mid 2000s, the majority of my music-technology knowledge and experience consisted of staring wide-eyed at an impossibly complicated mixing desk during a few drab hours in a South Yorkshire recording studio.
Before being told where to stand when recording vocals for my then-band, and, shortly after that, where to sit to listen back to our (ropey) first EP, I was only just getting my head around songwriting at that point in my life, and still trying to grapple with chord shapes whilst running in fear from the impenetrable complexity of music theory. The art of recording, then, was a concept that didn’t really enter my mind.
At that point, the songs I wrote were largely geared towards high-energy live performances. On top of my futile attempts to look cool and sound cool, I was also trying to conquer both the ever-present terror of stage fright and the fear that someone might realise that I wasn’t actually very cool at all.
As the years passed, my interest in recording was piqued after hearing the self-produced records of other local bands and by my growing levels of satisfaction with what I was writing (by now, at least a couple of the songs in my band’s repertoire weren’t too bad).
I’d recently started a degree and so, with a fat student loan burning a hole in my pocket, I strode into Doncaster’s Electro Music and asked for some multi-track recommendations. It wasn’t long before I was presented with a rather clunky-looking, but very substantial 8-track Portastudio: the Tascam DP-01.
The DP-01 was a semi-digital successor to Tascam’s earlier – and undoubtedly more historically significant – audio-cassette multi-trackers. The DP-01 had two inputs (which suited my simple vocal and guitar leanings at the time), tactile faders and individual-track effects, plus a colossal 40GB internal hard drive and EQ/panning.
Bouncing eight tracks to one was also a possibility, one which allowed me to continue adding more and more elements to my early compositions.
Now I suspect you might be reading this thinking, ‘of all the possible pieces of music technology you could have talked about, why is a barely remembered and relatively modern piece of budget recording tech getting the Rewind treatment?’
Well, from a personal point of view, as an ordinary, daunted but inquisitive music maker, the Tascam DP-01 served as something of a gateway to the world of multi-track recording. Using it opened my eyes to effective song building – mixing counter-melodies and crafting soundscapes with those rickety plastic sliders.
I soon associated it with a physical, performative approach to the mixing process, continually (and often dramatically) adjusting sliders during the final bounce. From around 2005 through to 2008, the DP-01 was constantly out and wired up in my bedroom: a sort of ‘Abbey Road North’.As time passed, I began to increasingly utilise the DP-01’s USB Out, which allowed for the exportation of bounced MP3 files. With the digital master, I’d load it into Mixcraft on my new sound-card-equipped PC and slowly but surely, I began to develop an understanding of music-production software.
Alas, once I’d purchased a Lexicon Alpha interface and Cubase 4 (or possibly 5), the DP-01 was largely confined to a lonely place under my bed, where it gathered a fine coating of dust.
The DP-01 is still under my bed, albeit a different bed in a different room. I have moved it around with me, just in case the need to record in a traditional, screen-free way ever grabs me (as it does around twice a year!). A perplexed ex-girlfriend once asked why I still had this hulking great plastic wedge under the bed, and why didn’t I just sell it? “Sentimental value,” was my response. “But you can’t be sentimental about a piece of technology, it’s not possible,” she replied. I sighed…
One thing we’ve tried to emphasise in this series is that it doesn’t matter if the tool being highlighted served a pivotal and seismic role in the wider industry. If it affected your journey as a music maker, and helped you to understand concepts and develop your art, then it’s well worth talking about. The Tascam DP-01 might not be the most revered piece of technology, but for me, it opened up a whole universe of music that I’m still exploring.