Ancient History: My First Digital Audio System

Sometime in the mid-nineties I decided to build a computer dedicated to digital recording. No, I’d never built a computer, and no, I’d never really engineered myself or anything. I just had so much music in me and wanted to be self sufficient (or as self sufficient as an artist can be).

Back in the ancient days in LA, I worked in a recording studio in exchange for recording time. I ran the front desk and did a good amount of free recording in there. Over the years I’ve recorded in a ton of nice studios, but – gasp – engineering? As a songwriter my brain tends towards visions and lyrics and dreams…but that analytical side was perhaps a bit atrophied from lack of use. 🙂

So as the parts arrived in the mail, I realized that I was in ‘way over my head. But I kept assuring myself, it’s not brain surgery, right? So there I sat in the floor surrounded by computer stuff and manuals with a screwdriver in my hand. I think it was the days of windows 3.1 – when plug and play was more like plug and pray – everything had to be configured with jumpers and manual IRQ settings – it was a quick course in intensity, persistence, and patience.

I vacillated between intimidation and confidence…It took many days to get it together, and more days to get it configured but eventually – viola! I was ready to tackle learning the recording software.

I started with SAW Pro and it was ahead of its time, written in machine language that allowed it to run “underneath” windows – faster and more available tracks. It was and is a great DAW program, initially it was thought of as the Pro Tools for PC (back when protools was only for the mac). Today, of course, there’s a lot of programs and I’ve used a lot of them, but back then, I could call the company and talk with Bob (its creator) personally. He’d give me a few tips and sometimes even call me back to check. Can you imagine that happening today?

Anyway as I built the computer and learned a bunch of computerese, I found my dreams changing. It was as if my brain were becoming more (left-right) balanced. A little unsettling, but also really exciting to amp up my brainpower. And how empowering! It was like, as a mystically minded singer I’d never imagined that I could “get” such techie stuff. I figured I’d just sing, write songs, play a little guitar and keyboards, and somebody else would deal with the linear stuff. Seems like a lifetime ago.

Not that I’m a great engineer. I’m not. But between my knowledge of digital audio computers, Brian’s knowledge of arrangements, textures and sounds, Mike’s pro audio teching skills and Richie’s ability to think completely outside-the-box, this recording is coming together.

And it’s way sweeter than the ones I did on my own.

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One Comment

  1. This story is so encouraging thanks for posting it. It makes me feel like you’ve climbed a mountain and so can I. Tackling new things that are so completely foreign to you can be intimidating as you’ve said. Thanks for sharing.

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