Analog Tape Is Back!

Aug 4, 2010 4:28 PM, By Blair Jackson



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“I use tape every day,” says L.A. producer/engineer/musician Dave Cobb (Shooter Jennings, Brooke White, Oak Ridge Boys). “It’s funny because I was one of those people who about eight years ago slowly stopped using tape. I thought digital sounded fine, you can work faster, more conveniently. But the records that have really inspired me the last couple years have been very, very tape-centric. I think Jack White is kind of killing everybody right now—he’s the guy who is making the coolest-sounding records around, whether it’s the Dead Weather or The Raconteurs; he’s the guy to beat right now. His records sound honest and real, and in a way he’s making something that is very traditional sound modern and exciting again.

L.A.-based producer/engineer/musician Dave Cobb says he uses tape every day.

L.A.-based producer/engineer/musician Dave Cobb says he uses tape every day.

“I just did a record in Nashville by these two girl singers—the Secret Sisters [Laura and Lydia Rogers of Muscle Shoals, Ala.]—and the whole record is supposed to sound ‘period,’ like it’s from 1957 or something. So, of course, I wanted to go analog on it, but if I turned in a budget that said ‘12 grand for tape,’ people would have a heart attack. That’s the way it used to be—you would allot $10,000 or $12,000 dollars for tape. Nobody gets that anymore.”

For Cobb, too, CLASP aided his return to the sonics of analog tape. “It’s changed my work flow dramatically,” he comments. “CLASP allows me to use the same tapes—my favorites are these old [Ampex] 456 reels I use over and over—and dump each take I do immediately to Pro Tools. I like to do pre-production in the studio where tape is rolling the whole time while bands are working out the songs, and I couldn’t do that if I strictly stayed on tape unless I had a huge budget and a big pen to mark down the times between each take and what was special about them and all that. The CLASP allows me to run tape, keep creating playlists inside Pro Tools, and then when I’ve got what I need I just comp it together.”

For the Secret Sisters’ forthcoming album, which was cut at Blackbird, Cobb also enlisted ’50s Nashville players like steel player Robbie Turner and pianist Pig Robbins for that extra dose of retro authenticity, and he used “old-school” tape effects: “One thing I don’t ever go without is tape slap,” he comments. “I use a lot of slap and feedback slap and distorted slap and reverse tape stuff and flanging. I have two 2-track machines in the control room so I’m constantly messing around with those. For instance, a 15 ips slap always works with any tempo of any song for some reason. I don’t know why it is, but you can put it on the drums or it will help to tie a vocal with a track. Even if you barely hear the slap and it’s buried, it still has a way of making the vocal sit. My heroes are people like Geoff Emerick and Glyn Johns and Andy Johns, who really pushed the limit with tape effects. I think there’s nothing that beats them. There’s no digital box you can buy, no plug-in that sounds like a tape slap.”

ATR Magnetics

Blair Jackson is the senior editor of Mix.

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