Sometimes people ask me a question about what software or hardware I use for recording, and I usually try to avoid giving an answer. It’s not that this stuff is boring per se - to some people, it can be a relatively interesting thing. It’s just that I’d rather talk about songs and arrangements and influences than which something compressor something something I’m using this week.
So I’m putting this down for reference. Whoever’s interested can refer to it and I’ll never have to answer those sorts of questions again. I don’t intend to do any more of these kind of posts, and will be moving onto more interesting topics of discussion soon.
For quite a few years, my main recording rig was a 350mhz G4 tower running OS 9. This was hooked up to a couple of MOTU 828s, the original ones with the blue screenprint on front. This machine was pretty capable, and was my main setup - running OS 9 and an ancient version of Digital Performer - until late 2007.
To mix, I would wire 16 outputs from the 828s into an old 26-channelsdJands mixing desk I had, a JM-10. The desk was pretty temperamental - a few channels didn’t work, or only worked on one side, but it definitely gave stuff a bit of character that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. The desk has “AC/DC” carved into its power plug - no shit - but I’m guessing this was someone’s idea of a joke before I bought it. Albums mixed in this way were Tomahawk and the Viva Computer album.
After a few years messing around (and getting frustrated with) a MacBook Pro and an iMac, I’m now on a Mac Pro, vintage 2007 or so. Loads of RAM and more storage than I’ll ever use, and it hasn’t skipped a beat in the twelve months since I got it.
After going through a few audio interfaces that were… okay, I’ve pared my audio gear right back. Currently I’ve got an Electrodyne 501 preamp feeding a Mytek Stereo96 ADC. Chris Townend got me onto this stuff during the mixing of the new album, and it’s made a huge difference in the sounds I’m getting. The Electrodyne has this beautiful creamy distortion, and the Mytek is just super, super clear. Apart from maybe adding another mic pre, I can’t think of anything I’d want to change or upgrade with this setup.
I also have a bunch of old gear that I’ll use occasionally when a track calls for a bit of spice or grit. None of this is that notable or special, just a couple of weird old mixing desks and tape decks that mangle things in nice ways.
I’ve never been much of a guitar nut - as with most stuff, my taste here tends towards the more esoteric, strange bits of kit. My favourite guitar I’ve ever owned was a 3/4 scale steel string that I bought from one of those fly-by-night Chinese electronics shops, on Collins St in Hobart. It was matte black, and had daubs of white paint on the front that were meant to illustrate cowboys sitting around a campfire. It was almost impossible to play a chord on it, the intonation was so out of whack, but for playing simple lead phrases etc there was nothing to beat it.
Electric-wise, I’m rocking a Les Paul copy that I bought off Thom from Ivy St, and a Hondo super strat that I’ve had for 15 years or something. The Hondo’s got a dragon painted on the front, breathing blue flames around its single pickup. Everyone else I know hates this guitar, but I’m still kind of attached to it. For a bass, I’ve got a weird old Japanese thing that I got from my Dad. It’s called a “Bassbeat one”, but I haven’t been able to find out anything much about it. For years I thought it sounded woolly and horrible, but in the last couple of months I’ve been using it on a few things where it’s held up pretty well.
I’ve got one hardware synth - a Korg 700s that came out of Ouse Primary School many years ago. It still has the notes written out on the keys in green texta. Like most synth of its age with a less than stellar service history, it’s beginning to get a little bit warbly and scratchy, which gives it a nice, breathing unpredictability. I This has been used liberally on all three of the Du Cane albums.
I’ve also got a TR-606, but find I only use it when playing noise sets etc, as D16’s plugins are 99% as good as the real thing, and much more convenient. I’ve also got a bunch of random noise boxes, tape decks and percussion bits and pieces too numerous to list. No actual drum kit though, I’m an awful drummer.
From when I first started recording on computer in 2001, up until early 2008, I used a piece of software called Digital Performer. It was fast, easy enough to use, and rock solid, but the plugins sounded absolutely terrible, and it took them a long time to get things working well on OS X. The main limitation I encountered with Digital Performer at the time was not being able to sequence beats easily - with the ancient version I was using I’d have to manually drag each kick and snare sample into place, and alter their volume using automation curves etc. This got pretty tedious for a full, complicated track.
When leaving for India in 2008 to work on Poets, I made the move to Ableton Live. Initially I did this just for a change, but it turned out that it gave me much more flexibility as far as programming beats and looping samples etc, so I stuck with it for the remainder of the album. I also use Ableton to make mashups, just for a bit of fun when doing a DJ set or whatever. Nothing else can compete.
For Port and Rail, I switched to Logic. It’s not as quick to get a sketch of something happening as Ableton, but it sounds great and seems a lot less crashy than the last version of Digital Performer I tried. It also interfaces nicely with Mainstage for live performance, which we’re using with the new band for the shows we’ve got coming up. I’ve been playing a little bit with Rewire, working in both Ableton and Logic. This seems promising, but I haven’t quite been able to get the flow of this just yet.
Now, kindly stop asking.