Brooklyn’s Daptone label has kept the fires of '60s-blessed soul and funk burning for nearly a decade. Key to the Daptone sound is their dedication to analog tape, refusing to use computers to this day—a quality heard well on records by the Sugarman 3, The Budos Band, and the latest Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings album, I Learned the Hard Way. Last year, when the Daptone studio was burglarized, fans across the world came to its aid and donated a ton of gear. XLR8R spoke with Daptone label co-owner and studio engineer Gabriel "Bosco Mann" Roth about what was lost, and what matters most.
XLR8R: What’s the virtue of recording and mixing on analog tape in the digital age ?
Gabriel Roth: I think the biggest advantage for me to recording on an eight-track analog machine as opposed to a computer is that it forces you to make a different kind of record and to approach the record in a much different kind of way… In some ways, it’s harder, but in other ways, if I didn’t record the record that way, I’d probably be still mixing it. There are people nowadays who have 40 different tracks and they sit around for months and months, and… they’re [still] trying to figure out what the record is, and piece it together. Some people are intimidated by the [analog] process, but there’s really no reason to be afraid. It’s just a record; it’s not heart surgery.
When it comes to capturing the vintage, '60s soul sound, what’s the spice that you put in the mixes? It seems to be reverb.
I’ll definitely throw some reverb on something. In the studio here, we've got some spring reverbs and a plate reverb in the basement that we use. On the Hard Way record, I used a lot of tape delay. There are a couple of songs, like "Money," where I really used it as an effect. We built a drumset out of a tape delay, we also had a lot of weird echoes on the vocals. There are other real organic, natural songs like "If You Call," where I just wanted to create a bigger space and make it sound like the room was bigger than the little room we've got here… There are definitely a lot of little things like that we do to try to draw a vibe on our recordings. But really, I can’t stress enough, that the biggest thing to make the sound on the recordings is always the musicians: what they play and how they play it.
For those who are dying to use vintage analog studio gear, what’s the best way to find it?
The first thing is that there’s an illusion that we have a lot of vintage equipment here. There’s a lot of stuff we’re using from the '80s; there’s a lot of cheap stuff. We’re using Shure SM57 microphones. The only equipment you need is your ears. [Studio producer] Willie Mitchell told me, "All you need are your ears and your heart." If you have a lot of extra money and nothing to do, great, but if you don’t have a lot of money, pay some musicians before you start buying fancy equipment. The whole vintage equipment thing is mostly fetishism. I don’t think there is anything magical about tape or tubes or any of that stuff that people get so freaked out about, especially engineers… I think it’s the arrangement and the musicians, and as far as engineering, it’s just your ears. It’s where you put the microphone, it’s how you record stuff. The equipment has very little to do with it. If you put up five different microphones, they’re going to sound different and one might sound amazing but the point is that microphone might be a beautiful Neumann U47 tube microphone that costs $8,000 and it might be a $20 Radio Shack microphone. The problem is that instead of people listening to both of them and deciding which ones sound better—no offense, but unfortunately they’re reading magazine articles and deciding, "I need to get one of these, I need to get one of those." That’s just a stupid approach.
Do you have advice for studio engineers on security , given the burglary your studio?
Insurance and an alarm for your studio are pretty cheap. People have told me the same thing for years before we had anything like that happen. I never gave it a second thought. We’re in a not-very-secure neighborhood; let me put it that way… If you look around a little bit, it doesn’t cost much to insure a studio, and definitely have good locks and a security system.
Daptone's Full Gear List
Ampex 440-B 8 Track 1"
Ampex 440-B 2 Track 1/4"
2 x Tube-tech Program EQ's
2 x Tube-tech Midrange EQ's
2 x Filtek EQ's
Altec Passive EQ (borrowed)
Shure SM57's, 58's
Assorted Radio Shack mics
Shure, RCA, Rezlo, and AKG Ribbons
JBL and Sentry monitors
Orban 111B Spring units
Tube-tech LCA-2B (Stereo)
2 x dbx 160's
2 x Purple MC 1177's
Collins Stereo Limiting Amplifier
4 x Purple Biz Pre's
Altec Summing mixer (borrowed)
Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings' I Learned the Hard Way is out now on Daptone
Studio shots taken from SoundOnSound.