This is how a tape recording session is done – “My fear of recording on the analogue was proved in vain”

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Do we need to play everything live on one take? Can a wrong note be re-recorded? What if our skills are not enough and it all turns out way too difficult? These are some of the questions that many musicians have before the first tape session. And oh the joy when during the recording they wake up to the fact that the worrying was completely needless. This blog post tells you how a full analogue tape recording session at Astia-studio goes. And you’ll notice that in fact it is a lot more pleasant, emotionally easier and also faster compared to recording on the DAW. This is how a tape recording session is done – “My fear of recording on the analogue was proved in vain”.

You should continue reading if you haven’t experienced a recording session on tape or if you have reserved one but don’t exactly know what to expect. Then on the other hand if you work on the DAW only, you might want to avoid this post asI’ll introduce a lot faster variant where not even a split second is spent on editing, reamping, cleaning up the tom tracks and tuning the vocals.

I expected the session to be highly challenging. Recording technically challenging extreme metal without a metronome at a high-class studio did create pretty huge expectations. After the first few takes it became clear that playing in a great facility with easygoing atmosphere was unbelievably great fun! Throughout the session negative moments were at minimum and the whole session just kept on rolling. I’ve never experienced such a relaxed and pleasant session anywhere else.
–Mikko Saviranta, guitar/Vanguardian

Tired of the cold an hollow sound of digital?

This is how a tape recording session is done
– “My fear of recording on the analogue was proved in vain””

I started recording in 1993 and the next year a company named Astia-studio was born. For quite some time music was my deepest passion until something happened, and for some 15 years it had no effect on me. For that I blamed myself thinking that I’d become hardened and emotionless as even my most favorite albums didn’t move me in any way.

Read more: Isn’t music giving you goosebumps either?

I ended up doing thorough comparisons between the analogue and digital recording mediums. Eventually it led me to the point where in spring 2017 I had no choice but to quit both the recording on DAW and mixing from files. The difference was simply too huge. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the “gospel of the analogue signal path sound” with vast amount of musicians who have come to me from all over the world.

I honestly didn’t know how huge a difference recording on the analogue was compared to modern digital dabbling… All I knew was that from the first Carousel Full Of Faces release on I wanted to do things as genuine and honest as possible. And what could be more suitable than doing it full analogue as the roots of rock ´n roll. I found Astia-studio’s home page and read about both the place and master Anssi Kippo himself. That’s when I knew this was the right place for us…
–Nicky, vocals & guitar/Carousel Full of Faces

I was completely tired of the endless editing, double and triple tracking, tuning the vocals, cleaning the tom tracks, combining takes, waiting for the cross fade calculations among many other things that the studio work had treacherously turned into. I yearned for the times when music and the recording process was a blast. Times where instead of the endless editing we’d focus on the music and the emotion it delivered.

In short, the difference to recording on the DAW is this: from the tape recording you can not only hear, but also smell and taste the music.
–Sakari Soisalo, bass/Vanguardian

Let’s get things rolling and I’ll guide you through how a tape recording session is done at Astia-studio.

I was pretty nervous whether I could deliver long and accurate takes in a way that would work out. By the end of the session all those fears are gone as they are replaced by the joy of how music should be made. As a band, all together, capturing the moment and getting it done surprisingly fast!!! I never would have believed that we’d have all four songs mastered in just four days. And sounding like they do now!
–Mikko Järvinen, guitar/Erävesi

Case study Carousel Full Of Faces @ Astia-studio A – control room
The guitar playing vocalist Nicky from Carousel Full of Faces at Astia-studio A control room enjoying what was captured on magnetic tape in 2020.

Before the recording

I always ask the band to deliver a live recording from the rehearsal place before the session. This helps to hear how, instead of the home demos, the band really sounds. It also allows me to emphasize the good and improve the weak parts during the session.

When the producer hears only the Cubase demos, there’s no way of knowing how the band sounds in real life. This is why I prefer a live demo. It’s also very useful from the production point of view, but on this blog post we’ll only concentrate on following how the tape session goes.

Before entering Astia-studio I thought that the process would be a lot more painful. Meaning very long studio days, countless swear-words and compromises. It didn’t take long for me to realise that these expectations were proven wrong already during the first day. The session went much better than I ever could’ve dreamt of.

The only “bummer” was that I completed all the drums so fast. I would’ve been more than happy to play more than just on one studio day.
–Tino Jäntti, drums/Vanguardian

When the session lasts at least a day, I recommend the band to arrive at Astia-studio on the previous evening. Without additional payment we’ll set up the backline, I’ll set the mics, tweak the sound for recording which usually is 95 % final, and then finetune the headphone mixes. Once we are all set, it’s time for the test take. It has proven to be a great way to get rid of the fear of recording on tape. Without any exception, each musician is amazed how awesome everything sounds – including their playing. Might it just be that being so scared wasn’t necessarily needed?

Vanguardian drummer Tino Jäntti at Astia-studio's drum room
Tino Jäntti from Vanguardian getting his drums captured on magnetic tape at Astia-studio A drum room in 2021.

On a tape session: recording on magnetic tape

The most common misconception is that when recording on tape you need to track all instruments at once. And then if there is even the slightest mistake everyone must record again. In reality it is possible to compile the vocals, guitar, bass, keyboard and so on even one bar at a time! This is not what I recommend, but from the technical point of view it is possible to do.

Before the first session I thought that the whole band records all together take after take until the result is satisfying. And that none of the instruments would be recorded afterwards. The idea was very distressing.

…it was surprising that you actually can create a solid track from separate takes. Meaning that one take from the beginning to end isn’t necessarily ending up on the song as it can consist of several takes.
–Snake, guitar/Serpico

Usually I record only drums on one take from the beginning to the end, even though this might sound frightening to some drummers. To me it’s super funny. If you are too scared of performing live, then tape recording isn’t for you. Yet, a question arises: how is it even possible to do any proper modern metal recording on tape where you have no option for editing?– The answer is simple: very easily!

Tape recording works great in modern metal. The lack of editing, vocal tuning and drum samples did create a very honest and emotional result.
–Markus Martinmäki, vocals/Vanguardian

Jarmo Nikku enjoying the mix at Astia-studio control room
The legendary guitarist Jarmo Nikku at Astia-studio A control room enjoying what was captured on magnetic tape in 2020.

You mean that editing and vocal tuning isn’t a must?

Countless times I recorded a band playing live on both the DAW and tape. When playing back from hard drive the drummer usually spots a few poorly played bass drum hits, the guitarist and bassist are not satisfied with timing on a couple of places and the vocalist demands either vocal tuning or re-recording. When listening to the very same take from magnetic tape the drummer is smiling as the bass drum seems to be spot on. The guitarist and bass player are doing their best to find the chords with bad timing, but cannot spot them. And the cherry on the cake is the smile of the vocalist who is happy as there’s no need for re-recording or tuning his parts. To everyone’s amazement both the playing and singing sounds great.

When recording on the DAW small mistakes are emphasized and become huge mistakes. From the music captured on magnetic tape those small mishaps seem to disappear almost completely.

To my confusion tape recording was a lot easier compared to digital. When recording as finalized sound as possible using the analogue methods, you can avoid the vicious circle of the digital recording. In the DAW you have too many options to a never-ending tweaking that still leaves the sound cold and lifeless.
–Markus Martinmäki, vocals/Vanguardian

Tired of the cold an hollow sound of digital?

On a tape session: tracking drums

Have you ever thought what the term rolling means? To what it might refer to? Yes, the hard drive rotates too, but originally it meant: “the tape is rolling please start playing“.

We usually record drums quite fast. In a creative atmosphere and when the moment is right, it is possible to complete the drums for a full-length album in just one day. Most drummers might agree how cool it is when the weeks of painstaking drum tracking is completely absent.

Recording the drums has never been this much fun! All the emotion and your signature style is captured on magnetic tape in much greater detail compared to any digital platform. And that is as cool as it gets!
–Tino Jäntti, drums/Vanguardian

I warmly recommend that during the basic tracking the whole band is playing together. What could be a better way to destroy the drummer’s enthusiasm than to play that to do it alone to click track or a poorly played pilot guitar? Then again, even if you had the whole band coming from the DAW to the drummer’s headphones, the instruments would not be interacting with each other. That and the annoying sound of the metronome will kill any positive thoughts about playing the drums.

Read more: To Metronome Or Not

The magnetic tape captures a lot more than just the sound while the digital medium captures the sound only. If you want to deliver the unique energy and sound of your band, I highly recommend recording on tape.
-Jani Järvelin, drums/Serpico

Case study Carousel Full Of Faces @ Astia-studio A – rumpuhuone
Carousel Full of Faces at Astia-studio A drum room in 2020.

On a tape session: recording the basic tracks

Having the whole band play together makes the recording process feel a whole lot different. The band is at the core of the activity; a group of dear friends together doing what they love the most. This helps the drummer to deliver with much better energy, and most of the time we’ll get a keeper bass track too. In the best case scenario even the guitars too, yet often – maybe due to the tendency of playing too fast aka ahead of others – the guitars usually lock-in much better when recorded separately afterwards. Yet, there definitely are exceptions to this “rule”.

Once the drums are successfully recorded we’ll fix the possible mistakes from the bass track, if such were captured on the magnetic tape. From here on we have two options on how to proceed. The first is to complete one song with all instruments and vocals. The other is to complete the bass for all songs.

Pre-filled guitar map makes recording much easier. This means that way before the session the guitarists make clear marks about the tracks they need. When recording on the DAW it’s very common to double and triple almost everything except the drums. This isn’t needed when recording on magnetic tape as even a trio of drums, bass and guitar can sometimes sound so full that there’s no need for any additional recording.

We all know how tired an 8-hour studio can make us. It is a pretty cool experience when you don’t reach your daily note quota and don’t feel tired at all as I explain on Do You Feel Drained After A Day At The Studio? – Learn About The Cause And How To Avoid It blog post.

Recording on tape was liberating. One remarkable difference was that every evening during our previous (digital) session I was totally exhausted. I had no energy to listen to or concentrate the whole day as my head felt stuck. I assumed this to be no different at Astia. The surprise was huge as my ears didn’t get tired at all, my mind was clear, and even after a long studio day we continued listening to music from vinyl records. Kinda like craving for more.
–Mikko Järvinen, guitar/Erävesi

Overdubbing the bass and guitar

The bass and guitar overdubs are usually done like this: instead of the control room the musician is playing in the live room. In addition to headphones the musician also feels the music thanks to our 3.000 watt PA system. With very few exceptions the musicians are literally in flames as instead of the studio they feel like playing the coolest live show ever!

The recording was damn easy. Everything sounded awesome from the beginning and just kept on getting better.
–Ville Mikkola, drum technician & inspirator/Vanguardian

I do not recommend recording each part separately as then the energy and emotion of the parts will feel wrong. Instead of editing and capturing a part at a time we’ll play the song from the beginning to the end until musician gets into the flow state of mind. Sometimes it doesn’t take long and then there are times when it can mean a vast amount of takes. You might agree that nothing else matters except that we’ll get the best possible performance recorded.

The lack of editing etc. is almost unnoticeable. These are some of the things that make both the recording and mixing on the DAW more time-consuming. Yet, they are completely avoidable when you get the most out of the musician already during the recording. And here’s the joke of the year: Anssi edits using the tactic of tiring.
–Sakari Soisalo, bass/Vanguardian

That’s very well said. Editing is often used to calm the too fast guitarist down. The tactic of tiring is a great way to guide the musician towards the flow state of mind. If you haven’t experienced a full analogue tape session with me Sakari’s joke might not necessarily make sense. Yet, those who have experienced how I “edit”, know exactly what he means.

Sakari Soisalo from Vanguardian at Astia-studio A drum room
Sakari Soisalo from Vanguardian at Astia-studio A drum room in 2021.

Effect pedals and changing the sound

DAW provides you with unlimited amount of individual tracks and sometimes that means trouble. When each song has over 100 tracks, you should stop and consider where you went wrong and if there was something you could do differently.

It’s pretty common for the guitarist to wonder if we’ll record each guitar sound separately on a different track. They sometimes tend to have dozens of different sounds during a song. Usually, instead of that, guitarist will change the sound on the fly and instead of 20 separate tracks we’ll end up having just one whole track from the beginning to the end. The matter of whether each part needs to have a different sound is a whole another discussion…

Still, the guitar tracking is usually the most time consuming even when recording on tape. Usually it is due to the fact that the drummer and bass player rarely double their parts. Yet, the guitar is often at least doubled, meaning that we’ll have a separate rhythm guitar on the left and right speaker. In addition the solos, melodies and clean parts might sometimes need tracks on their own. Hence the guitar recording takes longer compared to other instruments.

Case study Erävesi - vocal recording
Mia from Erävesi at Astia-studio A vocal booth getting her vocals captured on magnetic tape in 2019.

On a tape session: recording vocals

Unlike what we are used to when recording on the DAW, tracking vocals on magnetic tape is usually surprisingly fast. On a normal session, when the preparations are done right and the vocalist is in the correct mood, we capture the lead vocals on 1–3 takes. In recent sessions musicians that are used to working on the DAW request to double the lead vocals. Even though it’s not what I recommend, it’s good to do a simple comparison; record a double track and listen to the song both with and without it. Your ears are your best tools and you will hear what works and what doesn’t.

The sound should come from the musician and there’s no point to “improve” it with plugins. The loveable genuinity comes from the real thing. Not from ones and zeroes.
–Markus Martinmäki, vocals/Vanguardian

No matter which platform you record on, it is essential to mean what you say and deliver as energetic a take as possible. If vocal recording lasts hours or in the worst case several days, it’s impossible to do each take with both maximum emotion and energy. This is why the vocalist should get into the mood of the song before entering the vocal booth. It is highly recommended that the vocalist includes a full meaning to each word not only in the vocal booth but why not anywhere and always. Especially during the recording this reduces the amount of takes.

I brought “En Usko Enää” (I No Longer Believe aka The End Song) to the session and considered putting an end to the band activity. But I’ll be damned, the desire and passion for making music was reignited. From now on this is the only way Erävesi will make recordings as we do not make any compromises.
–Mia Erävesi, vocals/Erävesi

Here is an example of a typical album session flow:

  1. Recording basic tracks live with the whole band playing all together.
  2. Once the drums are done we’ll divide the songs in sets of two or three depending on the style/mood/tempo. This helps to minimise the strain on each musician.
  3. We’ll record either the guitars and bass, or bass and guitars for the first set excluding the solos.
  4. Keyboards are always recorded before vocals.
  5. In the evening when guitars are completed we’ll usually track lead vocals for 1–3 songs.
  6. After lead vocals we’ll go back and forth between the guitar solos and backing vocals.
  7. Once the recording is completed it’s time for mixing and mastering.

If instead of an album session we’ll work on a few songs only, once the drums are recorded we’ll complete all tracks for one song at a time. Instead of a conveyor-belt-style-work this keeps us focused fully on each composition.

Tired of the cold an hollow sound of digital?

A tape recording session: anything but a time-consuming process

Lets recap on what is possible when recording on magnetic tape.

When recording on tape it is possible to:

  • Capture all instruments and vocals together on one take
  • Capture the bass, guitars, keyboards and vocals separately in small fragments
  • Re-record a note or whole part on bass and guitar that were tracked live along with the drums
  • Record several optional takes of the basic track
  • Record several optional takes of individual instruments and vocals
  • Deliver the emotion of the musician to the listener
  • Get great results in a short amount of time

And let’s also check a few important points that make both recording on and mixing to tape a lot faster compared to DAW.

During mixing I understood how important it is to have a great-sounding source. The mixing process seemed unbelievably effortless and needed only small tweaks as the recorded sound was so good and needed literally no fixing whatsoever!
–Mikko Saviranta, guitar/Vanguardian

When recording on and mixing to tape you will not spend a second on:

  • Editing
  • Replacing real drums with samples
  • Cleaning up tom tracks
  • Reamping bass and guitars
  • Endless double-, triple- and quadruple-tracking
  • Tuning the vocals
  • Recording 100+ back vocal tracks
  • Tuning 100+ back vocal tracks
  • Timing and copying 100+ back vocal tracks to other choruses
  • Mixing 140+ individual tracks
  • Mixing 10+ mix revisions

When the musicians have done their part with rehearsing, arranging and pre-production, mixing from tape is a lot faster compared to DAW.
–Tino Jäntti, drums/Vanguardian

Indeed. Back when I still was willing to mix music recorded on the digital, it was common that the tweaking was never-ending. You might know the feeling where mix revision 7 or maybe 11 is the one that the band finally accepts. Unlike most studios and engineers, I recommend that each member is present at the mixing. This way you can have your say on the mix and without exceptions the mix revision #1 is what the band ends up using.

I expected old-school methods and equipment. At Astia-studio these expectations were exceeded in a very genuine way. My fear of recording on the analogue was proved in vain.
–Markus Martinmäki, vocals/Vanguardian

Serpico recording The Chosen Four album at Astia-studio A – Anssi Kippo
Anssi Kippo at Astia-studio A control room capturing Snake from Serpico on magnetic tape in 2020.

This is how a tape recording session is done at Astia-studio

Thank you for your interest towards tape recording. I hope that this post will help you understand the process and get rid of the unnecessary fears or prejudice towards it. Recording on magnetic tape is definitely your thing if you too are tired of the fakeness that seems to surround our everyday life in nearly every department. Tape recording is the way to go when you want to deliver the listener your music, playing and singing as genuine and honest as possible.

I never could have imagined how huge the difference between recording on magnetic tape and DAW is. I’m not sure if I want to track digital ever again.
–Tino Jäntti, drums/Vanguardian

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The tape session at Astia changed my attitude to as positive as possible. This is once again the coolest thing ever, just as it was when I was a teenager! This is what I’ve always wanted to do!
-Jani Järvelin, drums/Serpico

Would you like your music to stand out from the masses and for once be satisfied with both the recording and mixing? Click here to contact me privately and let’s continue from there. Thank you very much and all the very best!

Tired of the cold an hollow sound of digital?

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Astia-studio is a full analog recording studio located in eastern Finland with over 25 years of experience. Bands and artists from all over the world including the USA and the furthest corner of Russia, Vladivostok have arrived to us for tape recording sessions.

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