"Who the hell is Dave Doughman?", you might say. Well, I didn't quite know who he was until I stumbled across him running sound for Guided By Voices and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments on their recent tour. In some ways, maybe, Dave's not a name you may have come across, but on the other hand he has worked with Kim Deal's Amps, has recorded demos for Robert Pollard, and has his own fine combo known as Swearing at Motorists. I just felt that our conversation touched upon a lot of the stuff of recording, and that Dave was another guy who had thought about this Tape Op junk quite a bit. Enjoy.
How did you get into recording?
As a kid we had this little, flat Panasonic tape recorder. I would go around and make up songs. I would tape soundtracks off of television and then I'd listen to them. I would make up plays, like do Star Wars, on tape. But very few songs at first. Mostly I was using it to spy on people. I'd record something and listen to it later. I got into doing music from hanging out with bands. I had a Walkman with a good stereo microphone and I'd just find a good sweet-spot. It was an Aiwa and I wish I still had it. It got the greatest sound. From that I went to four track. Then I went to the EVIL Full Sail Center for the Recording Arts.
You did?!! Oh my god. Elaborate please!
It's a lot of money and it's a good program but in retrospect, I would have purchased a four track and saved myself $20,000. Here's the thing: There's nothing like walking in on your first day and being on a Neve console. But then again, you're not going to walk in on a Neve console out of school. Yeah, it's nice to learn on all the bells and whistles and to have the chance to see what it's like to record huge sounding stuff. I basically went there because I was really interested in doing it, and I had been doing it on two and four track, but I wanted to know all the laws and reasons and theories... so I could break them! And that's basically what happened. I went there and everyone that was there was either into hip hop or metal and I was kind of into my own thing. Really into the Beach Boys, Neil Young, Guided By Voices and stuff. So I'm in there getting weird in a totally different way and they're going, "You can't do that. That's not the way it's supposed to be." I'm like, "But it sounds great." There's no rights or wrongs, there's just good and bad.
Did the instructors really tell you...
There were times where they were, "Well, that's just not the way we do it."
But if you're achieving an end...
They didn't understand the times where I wanted to overload a channel on the board to rip the vocals up. "You're distorting!" "I know. Thanks! If you want to give me a preamp I can rip up instead of the board preamp I'd be more than happy to but that's the sound I want." It really helps when you get to understand how frequencies work with each other. That is insane. A lot of people don't realize how muddy their tapes get because there's too much in there. If you would just EQ in the negative a little bit. Just take a little bit out here and there. That's all you have to do. I rarely ever add on EQ but I love to take things out. That frequency may not be something that's all that great about that instrument but it washes out the part that is great about another instrument. Toms and bass drums I do it all the time. Upper range vocals and guitar. Snare and guitar. There's different places where they overlap. You really have to get in there and make room at times. If you have time, whether it be because you're doing it at your house or you're doing it in a studio where there's more budget, money wise. Ideally, you'll move your microphones until you've done it. Sometimes people will look too much at one thing. "We have to get the snare just right." Put the guitar in and pop the EQ in and out and see whether you like it better or not. It may not have any effect. You may sit there and tweak on a frequency that's buried by the guitar. You always gotta look at the big picture. How's this gonna sound at the end? Think about it. "I want this, in itself, to be a really good sound." How's it gonna sound with everything else? You don't want it to sound layered; you want it to sound like it happened all at once. That's the hardest thing. It's like this live thing; explaining to the guys that you really need to turn down so I can make it louder.
So you're doing sound on this tour. That sounds like fun.
It is fun. It's a challenge going into a different room every night.
Are you bringing any stuff with you?
I brought no gear. We have a tech rider, and every place pretty much has what we ask for. You walk in, you don't know what the mics are, but you know you're gonna get one of three or four different units. The boards are different everywhere. One night you're reaching down here for the pan and the next night that's not the pan, it's the gain. Soundcraft boards have the gain right above the fader where most boards have it at the top. On top of their's is the pan.
I try to avoid doing live sound as much as I can. It's hard.
It's way hard and it burns your ears. I like Bob and the band a lot. Any opportunity to work with them is great. We just recorded some demos that went really well at my house. Bob and I recorded 25 songs in ten hours.
He said he had a bunch of stuff.
He came over to the house at noon and at ten o'clock he left my house with a tape of 25 songs. It's incredible. The guy's no joke. He just sits down and bangs them out. He wrote 16 of the songs in one day.
Were they just guitar and vocal?
Yeah, guitar and vocal. I play the e-bow guitar on one track but that's it. Some guitars we'd do a couple of tracks.
So you worked with the Amps a little bit?
I recorded some stuff on the Amps' record, Pacer.
Where were you doing that out of?
We did that at Cybertechnics in Dayton, Ohio. That's the place that Kim (Deal) and I did the Brainiac Internationale EP.
How did you get into all that?
Timmy Taylor (of Brainiac) is my roommate and I'd been working around town doing records and stuff with different people. The Brainiac thing they wanted to record with a few different people and it kept falling through. It makes me sound real bad but it's the truth. The deadline for that single was creeping up and their first choice, Albini, was booked. So Tim's like, "Hey, do you and Kim want to do it?" and I'm like, "Yeah, sure." That's the first time I ever worked with Kim. Now, being a small town, and everyone in town has jammed and hung out and four tracked with each other, but that's the first time that we officially worked together. Most of our first record was recorded at her house.
What's it called?
Swearing at Motorists. Myself and Don Thrasher. We four tracked a lot of stuff off of that in Kim's basement when the Amps were in Europe that year. They were finishing the record in Ireland and we were using their gear.
I heard she had a home studio of some sort...
She has two four tracks. She has a monitor system, like a little PA that she uses for monitors, and then she has all their stage gear, in the basement. It sounds cool down there.
What studios are there in Dayton?
I would say for certain, and this is gonna hurt some feelings, the number one studio in Dayton is definitely Cybertechnics. The guy who runs it is just nuts. If you can deal with Phil, it's $35 an hour and you've got 2" 24 track and you can even go down to 16 track if you want a fatter sound.
Does he switch out heads?
Yeah. He's got 1" four tracks. He's got all the vintage gear you want. He even has an electric harpsichord. It's got a nice big room and the isolation rooms are really nice. His board is really clean. You get a nice warm sound. He has a great mic selection so you're able to use anything you want. You can put tube mics on drums if you want. If you break it you pay for it but he's not afraid to let you use it. That place is number one. I always liked Cro-Magnon because of the room. They don't have analog... they only have digital, the ADAT. You could always take your own machine in there. Houses though, you can't beat. I've recorded a bunch of different seven inches and full lengths out of my basement and living room. You get a good sounding room and people that can play their instruments and it's not that hard. Then just pay attention. The real cool thing about four track is you need to take a lot of time doing it and I think four tracking has made me a way better studio engineer. You've taken so much time to find out how to do something at your house that when you get there, to the big studio, you kind of know what kind of things are gonna pop up. You have all the time in the world, at home, to fiddle around with mic placement and placing the amps differently or where you put the drums in a room. Even like when you're singing; maybe standing closer to a wall or laying on the floor. Weird shit like that. Then, when you get into a studio, you have that groundwork already laid out. When you want certain sounds you already know where to go for it. The other thing is... once you start taking that much time with it, you can make four track stuff sound better than four track "quality." You'd be hard pressed to make someone believe that it's a full blown 24 track studio but no one would ever guess it was four track. A lot of the Swearing at Motorists you'd never know. A lot of it, you could tell it was for track, but some of the other stuff doesn't sound like four at all. It sounds like at least an 8 or 16. That all comes from listening. Less is more, definitely. Ideally, if you could use one microphone to record everything at once it'd be perfect. My ideal drum setup is two microphones.
Basically, I like to hang one, either a 57 or a condenser, about 6 inches above where the drummers head would be and out, a little bit over the snare so it's in front of what he's hearing. Let it point straight down. The other one is really strange. You go about two feet out from the kick but in between the kick and the first rack tom. Point it at a slanted angle so it's shooting towards your rack tom. So what's happening is you're getting the kick blowing across the mic and you're getting the top with the other. The easiest and hardest thing to do is think about a microphone as an ear. Would you listen to a guitar with your fuckin' ear right up on it? But then again, if you don't put the mic right up on it, you might get a little too much space. That's why it's nice to be able to record with more than one mic on things like guitars. You can get one thing really close, to get your attack and your drive, and then you can put one mic further back to get the room sound and capture the actual depth and the sound of the instrument... where you would hear it as a real person.
Do you do that on four track stuff? Do you mix it in a mixer to tape?
What I usually do, if I'm taking the time. I have a Porta 2, which is basically a Porta 1 with two extra inputs, so you have six inputs to four channels at once. What I'll do is I'll take something really close, put that way down in the mix and even EQ out some of the low end of it. All I want is the bite and the push. Then use the room mic to get more of a full sound. It also depends on what you're doing too, but I'm really into natural sound. I would much rather spend an hour moving a mic around than getting one basic sound and then EQing it. I use very little EQ and when I do it's very deliberate. The first thing I do is go in and listen to the band and listen to how they're playing right there live. Then thinking, "How can I make it sound like that on tape?" Then, if anyone wants to do anything weird with effects, you do it from there.
That's a good thing to have, a grounding, as far as what things sound like to you.
That's another thing about going to a studio that sucks. You're getting that engineer's perception of what your drum and guitar sound is. You're just another guy on his schedule. That's not slagging him; that's the truth. He's gonna go for what he knows, not what the band needs. Sometimes that's good 'cause the band doesn't really know and they'll go to a place and kind of get straightened out. That's another thing about the home recording thing is that you get so accustomed and so comfortable with what you're doing that you just do it.
I think a lot of times that a band might have a certain charm, and they go and record somewhere and the guy has no idea what the "good' aspects of the band are. It might not even be anything musical, but even just the personalities that carry across in the way they play. It's so hard to convey that when you start setting up a band to record and make them sound "clean." I find that a lot... and I'll just have to backtrack. Like using just overheads on somebody's drums if they can't play, and make it feel more like a practice tape.
Drums are hard to fool. Live and on tape.
There's no such thing as a perfect kick drum mic.
It's all in using big diaphragm microphones really far away.
I've been using an RE 20.
Those are the standard, but I'm talking about U 87's. I like to put the big Neumann's or Telefunken tubes up there but it's hard to find places that'll let you do that!