If your recording budget is super tight but you have some killer material you need to record, and there’s nothing around but an old the TASCAM Portastudio 414 MKII, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I will guide you step by step through the process I used to record my old band’s first EP. The year was 2006 and we were just starting out.
Since we were a DIY band with a punk ethos fidelity wasn’t as important to us as getting the magic onto that recording.
While I was somewhat proficient working with DAWs back then, everything I had recorded up to that point was created using loops and overdubbing, no more than one track at a time. Instead of investing in an audio interface with enough channels that would allow us to record while playing live, we opted for going the analog route.
The obvious advantage was that it was a cheaper alternative and it would save us from living in the box. However, the tradeoff would be audio fidelity and the inability to edit digitally. Since we were a DIY band with a punk ethos fidelity wasn’t as important to us as getting the magic onto that recording. And off we went!
Tascam 414 MKII 4-track cassette recorder
Mike from 424recording has an excellent video showing how he gets his TASCAM Portastudio 414 MkII.
You will note that much of the gear that I purchased was from Samson brand line. Samson has never been known to create professional-grade quality equipment but for me, the cost was a major factor and Samson’s equipment was the best bang for my buck.
Step 1 – Get Your TASCAM Portastudio
Without the ability to record your work you cannot move forward. I bought a used Tascam 414mkii analog cassette 4 track recorder from eBay for about $70 and a 10 pack of audio cassettes from the local electronics store. Try buying cassettes in 2019.
Step 2 – Have a Working Recording Space
We were tracking drums, bass, guitar and vocals in the rehearsal room that Saturday. And blocked out about 6 hours of time in the largest rehearsal room they had. Needless to say, we didn’t have a fancy studio space but space worked and the price was very reasonable. The rehearsal studio was equipped with the several all-purpose Shure Beta 58A microphones
Step 3 – Miking the Drums
With only 4 “¼” inch inputs to play with on the Tascam, I had to be creative. (Remember to get some XLR-to-¼ inch adapters in order to connect the mics to the Tascam.) I knew that the drums would require several microphones but I only had one input to spare on the recorder. To solve this problem I bought a Samson S-mix for $50
I placed one microphone by the kick drum, one above the snare and the last one above the kit. All the microphones were run into the S-mix and we tweaked the drum mix until we got the balance we wanted.
Step 4 – Miking the Guitar
This was an easy one with only one available input. The guitarist had his pedalboard and amp set up. I placed a mic on his amp and ran that microphone to an available input on the Tascam.
Step 5 – Miking the Bass
I was pretty ignorant about the benefits of a DI (direct input) box at this time. I was aware they existed but for whatever reason, the use of a DI box for the bass did not calculate into my equation at this time. Instead, I ran a patch cable from the ¼ inch output of the bass amp into the ¼ inch input on the Tascam. Please note that this will only work if your bass amp possesses a ¼ inch output.
Step 6 – Miking vocals
Given that vocals are typically overpowered by the sounds of other instruments in the mix, it was important that the vocalist had the ability to hear themselves in the mix. Just as important was for the other band members to hear the vocalist to know when the cues for the changes would occur. To resolve this issue, in comes the Samson S-split at $50
By splitting the microphone signal for the vocals I was able to connect one of the S-split outputs directly to the Tascam, utilizing another XLR-to-¼ adapter. This allowed the vocals to remain balanced in the mix.
The second S-split output was routed to the PA in the rehearsal room and played at low volume. This enabled all the musicians to monitor the vocals while the low volume ensured minimal bleed of the vocals into the other instrument microphones
Step 7 – Headphone Mix
We are almost there. Now that we are all mic’ed up we need to make sure the band can hear the mix since we are not amplifying the mix through speakers. The Tascam only had one ¼ inch headphone output. I needed to take one output and make it four outputs. The Samson S-amp solved that problem for about $60. The limitation was that no one could customize their mix but each member could adjust their individual headphone volume level.
Step 8 – Record with You Portastudio
Insert a blank cassette. Make sure all your input levels are loud enough but not distorted.
Hit record and start rocking!
How to Clean a Tascam 414 MKII 4-track Cassette Recorder
If you need help with your TASCAM Portastudio 414 MkII, here’s a little on maintenance from the guys at 424recording.com. Big shout out to them.
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