In the intro for the Tape Op book you mention how you used to battle the old analog tape machines to get good sounds. You seem to like both now though.
Well, everyone is saying digital is getting better and better. People forget that analog is getting better and better too. It's not static. Now, people are waxing lyrical about those great records in the '70s and '60s and how they sounded, that analog sound. I cut my teeth on 4-track - in those days you couldn't record at an elevated level. Analog tape really distorted. It sounded like shit. It distorted, it wasn't just saturated. There's a point where there's saturation and then you can go beyond saturation into pure distortion. So you had to record conservatively if you wanted to get a vocal where the tape didn't automatically d-ess it, or the kick drum didn't just disappear completely. On the way in it would sound like a big kick drum, but on the way out it'd be a few dBs down if you hit the tape too hard. So it was a delicate balance to record. It was a real art, you had to know your tape, you had to know that machine you were on, the console, the meters. The meters especially were always deceptive. That was the hardest thing for me to find out, the difference between a VU meter and a PPM meter and what that means in terms of level. It was so many factors when you were recording in those days. You had to be very, very careful. Nowadays, you just fucking slam the tape. There's no parameters anymore. Analog is great now. It's really super, and it probably will get better - if people want to invest in it. So anyway, about 30 years ago, if you went beyond 0 level it was trash. And now that some of the early analog rock things are on CD, you can actually hear the distortion, not just the saturation, but the distortion. The oxide was so bad compared to what it is now, I used to actually see a little mountain of oxide after a long day's mixing. EMI made their own brand of tape in those days, and I worked on [Wings'] Band On The Run album as an arranger, and Geoff Emerick told me that when they came back from Africa so much oxide fell off that tape that you could hold it up to the light and see through it. You could see shapes through the tape. So the first thing he did was he put it on an 8-track deck and he copied it over to a 16-track machine. And he had to compress every single track because of the drop outs. So if people are waxing lyrical, if they think that's romantic… you know now they freak out if there's a drop out in digital or something like that. In those days it was a constant battle against that poorly made tape. So you're constantly doing a salvage job. If your kick drum comes back, you wouldn't just monitor it that way. You'd have to put a little EQ on it, a little compression, whatever to make it sound as big as it did when it came in. And the joke was like when the group came in, they're only hearing the playback, but you heard how it went in live, and when it came back it wasn't quite as good. Now, say what you want about digital, but basically, what goes in comes out. So if the kick drum is slamming in digital, it's going to slam on playback too. So people are mistaking a medium for a craft. What we did was we used our craft to make that shit tape sound good. That's what we did.
You had Malcolm upstairs designing equalizers…
Yeah, Malcolm Toft and really you had to be… you know musicians were like five times what they are today in those days. There's some great ones that are dead now, or maybe too old to work, and I learned from the best guys, including Malcolm Toft. He taught me ever so much. But you know, when people talk about analog what they're talking about is that process, from beginning to end. Like in the 4-track days we'd have to bounce it to another machine - that's like three or four generations. That's not a beautiful sound after a while. But analog does have a smooth sound to it. The low end can be nice. But again, it's not what's going in, it's what's coming out. It's a little unpredictable, also unmeasurable. And I could accept that. But when digital got really good, that's when I made the switch. I admit in the early days, 16 bit… my first CD I heard I said, "This is terrible." The first batch of CDs that came back I said, "This is no advancement in sound." But I think both mediums are getting very close to each other, and 5 years from now it'll be laughable that you even can compare the two. I've done some hot, warm digital recordings where I've even fooled the mastering engineer, because I'm using my old techniques. You could use tube pre amps and compressors and even plug-ins to fool the ear. And I will admit that there are some people that are blessed or maybe cursed with super sensitive hearing, but that accounts for maybe two percent of the population. Most people have my hearing. Most people aren't going to analyze music that closely, sonically. What they're listening to is the song and the artist. The band. So you can get crazy with this. It's almost an unarguable topic when it comes down to what the end result is going to be. These days it's still CD, you're not making vinyl anymore, at least not like they used to. So it's that long chain of processes that people call analog but it's not analog, you know.