Tape Hiss Can't Stop Us!
No one can deny that in the past decades audio technology has evolved greatly. We've gone through wax reels, vinyl, tape, the CD, and now we often just send our music magically through the air. These changes in medium do however, leave us with a problem. What if our music is still on tape or vinyl and we want to play it on our fancy new iphone? I'm Spencer Miles the owner of Spencer Studios in Lancaster, Pa and today we are going to talk about a recent audio restoration project I had the opportunity to work on.
A repeat client of mine reached out with a unmixed track that was recorded on tape a whopping 23 years ago. The tape had been converted to digital but nothing more. Tape hiss was rampant, and the bass guitar part somehow didn't make it into the digital file. The 2000's were unique historically due to advancing technologies which led to the start of the loudness war generating a truly unique sound character from over compression. Let's take a listen to what I had to start with.
The first step was to remove some of the tape hiss. The difficult part about this is when you remove tap hiss you often EQ out a lot of the frequencies which are important to the music which can result in a dull mix. One has to be careful not to over do it. Once I had a handle on the hiss I sent the cleaned track back to the artist so he could record a new bass part while tracking with the original. In the meantime I used an AI algorithm to separate the vocals, drums and an instrument track consisting of the original guitars so that I could have a greater ability to mix not just master the track.
The new bass parts were back and it was time to fit them into the mix. At first no matter how I mixed the levels even with a side-chained multiband compressor the bass guitar just wasn't fitting in the mix right. After some brief thinking I realized just a hint of distortion was in order as the new recordings were too clean harmonically. I created an instrument bus and compressed with a bus compressor using a 4:1 ratio, just like that the bass part fit right in. The client went as far as to say I had "artificially aged it." I considered this a success.
Once I finished processing the vocal and drums as I normally would I essentially had a instrument and vocal bus. I did my normal side-chaining and volume automation however what really brought things together was just a wee bit more bus compression to glue it all as one solid mix. To add some life back in some slight harmonic distortion and a convolution reverb placing the band into a live room did wonders but not without some slight hiss. I'd rather have a little vibe hiss than a dull mix.
I moved into mastering and added some slow compression with a minor amount of EQ to get that over-compressed vibe combined with some soft clipping and boom, it was straight out of the 2000s check it out!
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