THE TALE OF THE DAMAGED DAT
Dirty Tricks to Get The Clean Version
By Arty Skye
One hot, hazy day I was about to leave work early when I got an emergency call from a big studio I often work at. It seems that the DAT mixes I had completed last week for a famous rap artist were damaged. The artist might need to do a recall of the mixes and reprint them immediately, because the tape was scheduled to go to mastering the next day. I told the studio manager not to worry, because I had recorded all the mixes into Pro Tools as we were printing them to DAT, so everything was on the system’s hard drive already. All I had to do was export the files and burn a CD and/or run the mixes in real time over to DAT. (We had also backed up to a stand-alone CD recorder, so we were well protected.)
I took a leisurely stroll over to the studio. Assistants were calibrating and connecting the Pro Tools rig to the SSL console. I said, “Don’t bother. I only need two outputs for monitoring, and no inputs.” I figured I’d be out of there in half an hour, but I should have known better. According to the master physicist Stephen Hawking, time itself is a variable, and even a half hour takes longer than a half hour when you’re in the studio. (I think Dr. Hawking called it “Arty’s Law.”)
Soon after, the artist walked in with his producer and about 10 other guys hauling gear. Hmmm. Now I was a bit suspicious. We played the “damaged” DAT, and — wonder of wonders— it played flawlessly. But they said they didn’t trust it and wanted me to burn another CD. Oh, and by the way, they also needed to do a “clean” version of the rap, which had, to say the least, explicit lyrics.
“A-ha,” I said to myself, “there’s the real motive.” I had asked them about doing a clean version while we were mixing last week, and everyone just laughed. (The chorus goes something like “I’m a%$18, you’re a 1t’$8, we’re all %$1@, so just %$18 and %$18, hey!” It’s kind of hard to understand if you take out all the symbols. You just get “I’m a, you’re a, we’re all, so just, and hey!”It’s pro found in its own way, sort of like Dante’s Inferno, only different.)
Since I had simultaneously printed all the mixes to the computer while we were printing to DAT, all I had to do was to access the instrumental version along with the a cappella vocal track, edit the vocal, and bounce the tracks to disk. The question was what to do with the curses. They didn’t want them reversed or muted, but wanted to redo some vocals and add some samples from a vinyl record. “It’ll’ only take a minute,” they said.
Now we had to calibrate the Pro Tools rig, set up the mic and headphones, get the turntable and the mixer, patch everything in, and test it. To expedite matters, I asked for only four channels on the Pro Tools rig instead of 24, and we used a Neumann U 87 instead of the vintage tube U 47 that I normally use for this rapper. (Tube mics take time to warm up to where the temperature is stable enough that the sound doesn’t change.)
We took a few samples from records, and then had the artist redo certain words in the chorus, which I then layered with the samples and copied and pasted into all the choruses. I matched levels between the tracks and bounced the mix to disk, exported the files, and burned a few CDs. All in all, it ended up taking about three hours. They were very grateful that both the studio and I had hooked them up for free.
About a week later, I got a call from another studio asking me about what rentals and setup I wanted for the upcoming mixes for this artist. It seems that the artist had booked this studio instead, feeling no loyalty to the last one, which had provided a free Pro Tools HD system and three free hours in its SSL room on the day of the fabricated “emergency.”
Moral: Beware of “damaged” tapes. Think twice before giving your services away for free. And remembering Arty’s Law.