Doing it the old school way..?

Been really inspired by this box, having never really used hardware samplers. I’m interested to know if people can tell me anything about how people were using these back in the 80s/90s kind of pre-DAW. So would people have run the outputs in to a desk and driven/eq’d on there, and just done some effects as sends like reverb/delay? Then sent to a tape or DAT to record? Really interested to hear from anyone who actually used to do it back then. I’m interested in trying to limit myself to doing it like that. Especially house music like Todd Terry/MAW but also hip hop etc. Anyone got any knowledge jewels for me? :pray:


Generally speaking the recording methods between the late 80s and late 90s changed quite a bit. By the last few years of the 90s people were using protools a lot in professional settings and a nice desk to track. That said more low key productions were being done in the late 80s early 90s on portastudios and a lot of ADAT.

My personal feeling is that while the methods may have changed a lot during the early to the late 90s (because computers became capable of recording around that time) I never got over an interview with Butch Vig about the first Garbage album where he said they tracked a lot of stuff through the Akai S1000 but for the final recording one was done to tape and one to protools, to see which was better, Pro Tools won which surprised him. So that was the one they used.

I have a few portastudios and there is no doubt that makes for a less clean recording. But the bottom line is that source device matters more. Recording at 45 and pitching down to 33 is what gave SP1200 the sound it’s known for no matter how it was tracked to the finished product.

Todd Terry in particular used a 4 track cassette initially and then moved to Tascam 32/38 reel to reel. He said it took days to do the edits on tape.

Some producers also used the Mackie CR1604 and hit it hard.


Thanks for that context, so I guess it’s more the late 80s I’m wondering about. Like the Todd Terry stuff, what other FX would he have been using apart from the 1200, desk and the tape? (Definitely don’t plan on doing any tape editing now though ha)

There is an interview with Todd where he talked about what he was using and it sounds like the early days he mentioned a 4 track cassette and primarily reel to reel.

"I had a reel-to-reel. Everything was reel-to-reel for me. I would go in there and I would bug out for six-and-a-half minutes, or I would bug out three-and-a-half minutes and I’d just do some craziness and then I’d edit it. I wanted to make records interesting every minute-and-a-half. That’s what I tried to do. Do a really hot minute-and-a half/two minutes and just loop it three times.

When you say you were editing, you mean with a grease pencil and a razor blade?

Yeah. I was splicing and dicing. A lot of those records are basically edits. It was me editing into the part. I would sit there and edit the record – I learned editing from Mike Delgado and Franklin Martinez at the time when we was doing the Masters at Work stuff. Sometimes when I couldn’t find them I said, “Alright, I have to edit this myself.” That’s when I started getting into editing. But my editing was really straight cuts. I couldn’t do tricks or nothing that. I just edited right on the beat."

As Terry pointed out there is a reason it’s not done like this anymore he called it “r*tarded” (exact quote)

I wasn’t here but my guess is people were doing basic stuff with their SP and let sound engineers do the complex part of the job. Because of the cost and the knowledge needed to use equipment and to make a recording.

You may add compression to your FX list.
In the book Sp1200 the art and the science, there is an interview of Jamey Staub, engineer responsible for recording and mixing a lot of Pete Rock classics.

For example it is written what’s in the capture below.

Rather than artists interview, trying to find sound engineers interview may give you more information about gear and production techniques.

30 years later, I think it is better to use modern technology for mixing, mastering especially in a homestudio environment. Personaly, I tried to go the analog route a few years ago. I had a 24 track desk and a Revox reel to reel. Considering the maintenance needed and cost, it was a nightmare. Especially the reel to reel. Good thing you’re already thinking about avoiding it imo. :slight_smile:


Thanks that’s interesting, didn’t know about that book will check it! And yeah not ruling out doing things in a daw, just interested in working with some of the same limitations as an experiment.

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This is definitely a “pandora’s box” or " Lemarchand’s box" -type of question.

As mentioned above, most people definitely utilize the speed/editing ability of digital recording and editing via computer. Most high end software allows for application of any combo of effects to tracks/sections. There is really no argument against the efficiency, and is probably one of the biggest time savers in the process. Cutting an aligning tape is an art in and of itself, and if you look up interviews from the 60s/70s on how things were done, layered, effects applied there is a lot to be learned - and the end product is something we still use as a gold standard in some ways. that said, those same techniques can be applied using old and new methods.

I am a bit of a dinosaur, and still use a lot of outboard effects (tape delays, analog delays, reverb tank, rack valve compressor etc) and either record tracks individually and cut the effects in/out using a mixing board, or actually resample through the effects multiple times w/ different timing/settings to generate cool variations and layering.

I am sure if you asked every single person on this forum how they do things you would receive almost as many answers as users, and truth be told there is no “right way”. Accumulating a lot of outboard gear can be time and money intensive, and if I were starting from scratch today I am not sure it is the route I would take, but I don’t regret what I have to work with.

Thanks for the reply, yeah I may be doing everything including FX in software not necessarily looking to go on a hardware buying mission. But just hoping people can shed some light on what fx they used. So literally what kind of delay, what kind of reverb, what/where in the chain did they compress etc. I know everyone was different to an extent but I also know there were some commonalities…

I think you are going to have to a do a deep dive into your own research about what people were using specifically. A lot of folks used Eventide H3000, Lexicons and cheaper fair like Alesis midi/quadra verbs. It just depended on the artist.

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Thanks yeah, I’m also doing that for sure. Just threw this in here in case people had personally experience of that workflow from the era as I know there are quite a few originally SP owners here :+1:

There are some old school uses here and maybe they’ll chime in about their process. I just know for specific artists I always have to do a deep dive into old interviews and even them sometimes interviewers don’t ask enough technical questions for me. Occasionally I’ve been lucky enough to get a response from the actual artist by chatting with them on social media of some sort.

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That’s a nice idea. There is an interesting long thread on DOA if you haven’t seen it but it’s old school rave/hardcore/jungle stuff mostly.

I guess it depends on how ‘old school’ you’re talking.

If you mean pre-midi and/or live studio, most things were done by recording tracks, running them in parallel or in series w/ effects, or running recorded/arranged pieces through effects and re-recording. Listen to any late 60s to early 80s dub and mentally pick apart what is being done at each step in terms of track routing and effects modulation.

By the time you get to most of the old early breakbeat, jungle/ragga, etc. those were usually done with (the aforementioned) Lexicon, Alesis, Ensoniq (such as the DP-4) units, as well as on-board effects (the higher end stuff by the mid 90s had decent effects boards/add-on boards) that were heavily midi sequencing dependent; for example, the DP-4s let you run different combos of effects algorithms to multiple different tracks at a time that can have the program/parameters sequenced out as well - sort of the gateway to modern DAW-based stuff w/ plugins. Alternatively, you could run samples through the effects w/ various modulation/parameter changes to re-sample a palette of sounds and map those out on the sampler. There are a lot of ways to effectively do the same things.

Beyond that, getting into the specifics of all of the old school gear of various generations is a rabbit hole; an interesting rabbit hole, but a deep one nonetheless.

The pieces I have enjoyed the most/hung onto are a good tape delay, reverb, a good tube compressor, as well as a sequence-able rack unit and you can probably cover most of the basics.


Yes,made records in late 80s/90s with sp1200/mpc/S1000 etc still making them today.
Think one of the big differences was that you would pay to go in to a pro studio with neve or ssl desk(UK)with an experienced engineer. Generally we would have programmed track at home and then go to a studio to actually record/mix it.
We used to always separate the outputs from SP1200/ samplers on to the desk and eq/compress /fx there. Jam the track on the desk and record direct to DAT as analog tape too expensive to use all the time .maybe if it was a well paying remix our engineer would want to use tape for the sound it gave the drums/bass

We would then “sample” the recordings we had made from the DAT in to akai S series samplers and edit the finished master together using midi to trigger the sections .when we had arranged track from the edits we would then record the stereo outputs of the sampler through desk to DAT with GML eq/ssl compressor on the mix bus .next have it professionally mastered - there was no home mastering as it was always being cut to vinyl.

Main takeaways are use a good engineer - the role of the musician/producer is different from an engineer .in the 80s/90s this distinction was clearer and often made for better sounding records . Save up to to use a pro studio rather than build a second rate version at home also,paying to use studio really focussed you and you got things finished .obviously great records can be made on crap gear but late 80s/90s people were largely using proper studios to record/ mix as there wasn’t really another option .
Anyway,this was my experience sure there were other ways to do it too!