Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Thursday, 23 May 2013

#5: Record, Rewind, Remix

A recent Facebook interchange with an old university pal inspired me to write this. We were chatting  about all things ‘synths and samplers’ and I mentioned a remix that he did of one of my tracks back when we were students. This then brought up memories of what drew me to go on the Popular Music and Recording Course in the first place up there in Salford.

By Gavin Rothery.
Taken from a photo of me
at the recording session. 

Towards the end of my fifth year at school, I was lucky enough to be involved in a recording session at the studios at Salford University. The large soul band I was in at the time, run by our music teacher, spent a day there recording several songs. This was the first time I had been inside a recording studio and was my first experience of recording on this sort of scale. We spent most of the day recording various parts of one song – a cover of Joe Cocker’s ‘The Letter’ followed by a live session of various other songs. I chatted with the guy who engineered the session and discovered that he had just graduated from a course at the university where recording such sessions was part of the coursework. He also told me of other parts of the course including recording your own song in a studio, and then doing a 12” remix of it. This sold it for me. A course where one of the requirements was to remix a track sounded not just “up my street” but parked firmly in the drive. I had to apply for this course.

Fast forward five years and following a successful application and many hours dabbling in the studios, performing gigs in the bar and befriending other musicians, the time had finally come to do such a 12” remix.  Not only that, but we also had to remix someone else’s track requiring us to swap 24-track master tapes with other students. A bit like when after a pub quiz you swap the papers with another team to do the marking.

Among several tracks I had put together in the studio, the one I worked on for this particular part of the course was a song called ‘Making Mistakes’. I had originally recorded it as a four track demo with lots of sequencer lines but now in the studio I laid down the individual parts from the synths using SMPTE code to trigger my sequencer from the master tape to keep them synchronised. I added various vocal parts and also brought in Matt Bellingham, a friend on the course, who put down some guitar parts and effects. One effect I wanted was some screaming feedback, which meant cranking up the volume of the speakers so it would pick it up from his guitar. It was quite tricky to cover our ears while either playing or controlling the desk.
Once the track was finished and had been mixed down, I could then go back to the multi-track tape and work on a remix or two. Because I was recording in analogue I couldn’t really rearrange the structure of the track without cutting and splicing the tape – something I didn’t really want to do. So I recorded the mix in two parts and then pressed pause on the cassette I was mixing down to while I rewound the multi-track tape machine to do the next part. As for the mix, I used mute buttons and faders to bring the various parts in and out and did it all live to tape.  These days with all the audio parts on the computer, you can chop up and change around various bits and easily add new ones but this wasn’t so simple with a big reel tape going round. So it meant a lot of planning out on paper and my hands flying over the desk, pressing a few mute buttons at once, throwing up a fader, tweaking an EQ knob here and there to get a filtering effect. It was great, great fun and sadly one I’ve not had opportunity to repeat since.

As for remixing someone else’s track, the one I chose was a song called ‘Kiss Me Kill Me’ that had been written and recorded by Adam Dineen (friend, keyboard player in Production, later flatmate and even later work colleague). This was a different approach where I sequenced a new version of the song, and then using the sampler in the studio took various parts of his multi-track tape including each vocal line and guitar solo and then recorded them together with my parts. I even changed the structure of the song making his bridge section into the chorus.
However, another approach was one by Dave Williams who asked to borrow one of my recordings for his remix submission. He took ‘Making Mistakes’ and proceeded to do something really quite inventive. He sampled lots of various sounds from the track and built up a version using them with new sequencer lines playing those sounds.  So to me all the sounds were familiar including the snatches of vocal and so forth, but it was still something different and fresh and exciting to hear someone else’s take on one of my songs. I recently dug out the tape and gave it an airing for the first time in many many years. 

The last year of the course was definitely the best year I had there. I was more acquainted with using the studios, I had expanded Production into a three piece line up for a few gigs and I was writing and performing more as S-cape. Handing in the final coursework of bound essays, manuscripts and recordings was a relief on one hand but also very sad as it meant the journey from first sitting in the studios with the engineer had now come to an end. 
While recording, editing and mixing at a computer is very convenient and can still be fun, a little part of me does miss the days of pressing buttons on various boxes in a studio at breakneck speed while doing a live mix. Maybe one day I’ll do that again.