The Zoom MRS 802
I’ve just spent a weekend of intense noodling, overdubbing and mixing. The Zoom has many plusses: an amazing array of distortion/lead guitar sounds and effects, chorus and reverb settings (including one that mimics the Budokan’ acoustics; that’s one for my new album). It renders Marshall distortion very accurately, the 9002, the 900 series etc; but also Fender Twin and vintage blues and crunch sounds (I borrowed an Epiphone Les Paul for the occasion). Because everything’s recorded and treatable digitally, it doesn’t matter how crappy the room (or bathroom) may sound acoustically, the Zoom can mimic different kinds of microphones and boost the signal accordingly (and then with the reverb/echo options, you can get a pretty professional sound, depending on the mic used). That said, it can’t automatically tighten up a sloppy, flu-ridden vocal or fix a rubbery rhythm track (see conclusion). The effect algorithms are plentiful and on the whole reasonably productive, except they can’t be applied across the board to a recorded track (I wanted to distort stuff after the fact) — or maybe I just hadn’t figgered out how. The drum machine has hundreds of patterns made redundant by the lack of drum sound variety — it’s all the same heavy, late 80s rock sound which is so wrong for reggae or jazz, for instance. I didn’t have time to start programming the drums, it looks a bit too consuming and the (track) buttons aren’t really conducive to bustin’ out a rhythm pattern — but there’s heapsa editing and fiddling functions which lets you stretch, crop and drop fills accordingly, with the option of using other drum samples. Also, having eight tracks is plenty of room to record, and then there’s virtual takes on top of each of these, and a handy bounce function for wittlin’ it all down. The mastering leaves a neatly professional sound which can be burnt and played straight away.
Having said that, I gotta underline exactly how
absorbing home recording can get. (Mind you, this was the first time I’ve ever done any recording like this: thirty years old and I’d never
had my hands on so much as a four-tracker. Very strange.) It’s more involving and concentrated than internet pornography or Photoshopping. I lost track of the rest of the world for two days, and in that time gained a raised respect for the recording process, the work and time involved, and for studio hounds like Prince and Brian who pull this off naturally. And to the singers who can sing a line cleanly and evenly. It’s much easier to write music this way, with multiple tracks to back and play against, than to figger stuff out in the head in advance (I don’t have that kind of head). Respect also to those artists in particular who personally record all
the instrumentation of a song this way (Prince again, and Lenny Kravitz in a token way though I’d rather exclude him, Toms, Matthew Sweet (further to which, these artists all give bass the right weight in the mix. Coincidence?)). Working a song from the rhythm up is no mean feat. Which is probably the strongest lesson I’ve taken away from the Zoom: you can’t do anything without a perfect rhythm master. Recording a rhythm section of drums and bass concurrently works around it, but you’ve gotta be damn precise: it’s infuriating putting rhythm or percussion on a track after the guitar, for instance.
I’ve been a fan of production sounds for years, but I’m listening to music in a new way now: from the production up, as it were, and not from the feel of the sound down, which is regrettable really, but like guitar playing, once you’ve got an idea of how it’s done you can’t but listen to a solo from the technical POV. Nothing well-produced is so worthless as to leave nothing of sonic value; I found myself listening to November Rain
thinking… nice structure and contour, amazing guitar tone (Slash, I love you). Also, I love getting into the politics of the mix, the balance and priority and control over sonic depth; how you mix determines the mode and order of representation. But after spending in excess of four hours on a 2-minute little snippet of noise (and bashing out three of these in a day), and wailing for hours with the heavy-overdrive in my cans, I wanna get into the big league of audio production even more. It’s one area where creativity and ability marry soul to sound.
(By the way, here's a Zip
file of the results.)