Made Up Stories of Four Track Analog Recording

A lot of musicians and music aficionados are fans of analog recordings, which are generally considered "warmer" than digital recordings.

This series of short stories from the novel non-Hollywood tells the tale of one such musician and his struggles to make modern recordings using an analog four track recorder from 1980s.

Hear author Neal A. Yeager read from the book (and read along yourself if you would like) as he tells "made up stories of four track analog recording."

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Four Track Analog Recording

Chapter 34: Four Track Analog Recording

“And this was where history was made,” said Sean, impersonating a documentary film narrator, “In this humble apartment building in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, few people realized what was stirring — that history, not just Rock and Roll history but the overall history of history itself was here being born.”

Sean was in the apartment of his waif-like neighbor, Icon. She had a rather impressive computer system which featured a couple of gigantic monitors. She needed this computer power because she ran video editing programs so that she could edit films. Icon was hooking up an electronic box to her system. The box would allow for the transfer of analog audio to digital audio.

“The key to it all?” Sean continued narrating, “The perfect blending of past and present technology. The perfect marriage of the analog with the digital, the X-15 with… um… whatever system she’s using here.”

Icon, not the most talkative person in the world, simply smiled and continued hooking things up. She strung two cables from the little box and plugged them into the ancient piece of recording equipment, the Fostex X-15.

The X-15 was what is known as a 4-track recorder. Basically, four different musical parts could be recorded on the same cassette tape. At the time the recorder had made its debut in the 1980s the standard for professional studios was giant 24-track tapes. So a portable recorder which would allow musicians to accomplish recordings in their own homes at a reasonable price was groundbreaking and cutting-edge.

Sean had been given the X-15 when he was 12 by an uncle who had used it in his synth band during his college years. Though the world had turned to digital recording, which featured an essentially unlimited number of tracks, Sean continued with the X-15. Mainly it was that he couldn’t afford all of the computer equipment necessary for digital recording, but he also knew that a lot of older musicians preferred analog. Plus he had a soft spot for the recorder as it and a $5 Silvertone guitar were what had started him on this musical journey nearly a decade ago.

“Analog… was the key,” said Sean dramatically, bringing an end to his pretend documentary narration. “I love the X-15. Have I told you that? I don’t know how I’d live without it. There’s just something about analog, you know? All the great music of all time was recorded on analog. Just ask Eric Clapton or Keith Richards. Any of those guys. I mean, if you happen to, like, see them on the street or something. Analog is the only way to record. I love it.”

Icon replied, “I shoot on film when I can. I love film.”

“Yeah. Same sort of thing,” said Sean as he looked around her apartment, taking in the various stacks of equipment cases and bags. “Oh, is that what all that equipment hanging around is? Film equipment?”

“Mostly. I have a lot of digital too. But I love working on film.”

“I get it. I really do,” said Sean, “But dude, I hope you have some insurance on this stuff. Living here. There’s a bunch of thieves living in this building. Actually, I’d bet that one or two of them are in my apartment.”

“I’ll try to be careful with it.”

“Yeah, you should,” he said, “And hey, thanks for all that you’ve done for me here. One day when I hit it big I’ll take you out to dinner to say thanks. Or actually, by that time I’ll be famous — dammit — so I should go ahead and just buy you a Porsche or something like that. How’s that?”

“Dinner would be fine,” she said softly.

“Really? You don’t want a Porsche? How could you not want a Porsche? They’re beautiful, beautiful, absolutely beautiful cars.”

She said, “Well, they’re just not for me.”

“Why? Because driving a Porsche makes you look like arrogant douchebag?”

“Something like that.”

Sean smiled and said, “Dude, that’s the whole point. You’re supposed to look like an arrogant douchebag. You spend that much money on a car so that people look at you and say, ‘Wow, I wish I was that guy… What an arrogant douchebag!’ That’s the point.”

Icon finished plugging in the X-15 and went back to the computer to start her audio recording software. The two of them had been through this drill many times, so she knew what was required and where to set her input levels. She popped the cassette tape into the recorder and said, “Okay, we’re ready.”

“All righty,” said Sean as he reached for the knobs on the X-15. The knobs controlled the volume levels of each instrument and the ‘pan’ (how much of a channel was heard on the left speaker or the right speaker) levels. Sean would adjust these as they were digitizing in order to come up with the perfect mix. He hit the ‘play’ button and after a few moments a distorted guitar sound came booming out of Icon’s speakers.

“This one’s a cover!” he shouted over the shredded guitar, “Do you recognize it?”

Icon shook her head ‘no.’

Sean smiled, “Wait until the vocals kick in! Then you will!” And at that he adjusted the knob which controlled the volume of the vocal track. A few moments later came his shouted vocals, “Are you going to Scarborough Fair?” and Sean pumped his fist in the air and shouted out a great “Woo Whooo!”

He looked over at Icon, whose face registered no recognition. He shouted to her, “You don’t know this song?” She shook her head and he continued, “Really? Scarborough Fair? Simon and Garfunkel? Actually they didn’t write it. It’s a song from way back in Hobbit times, but Simon and Garfunkel made it famous. You don’t recognize it?”

“No. Sorry,” she said.

“Aw man. Well, here’s the thing: it’s about the last song in the world you’d expect to have distorted guitars. So I’m doing it with distorted guitars!”

The song played until the end, then Sean hit the ‘rewind’ button to take the tape back to the beginning of the song. “I can’t believe you don’t know Scarborough Fair. How about Mrs. Robinson? No? Sounds of Silence? You have to know Sounds of Silence. It’s like one of the best songs ever written. Either that or Red Rain.”

Icon merely shook her head.

“How about Paul Simon? Please tell me that you at least know who Paul Simon is?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Thank God. So, what, is that Dolphin Chant the only music you listen to?”

“The Dolphin Mantra,” she corrected him.

“Whatever. Remind me to give you a damned music education. How’s this: I give you a music education and you give me a film education.”


“Great,” said Sean. He looked at Icon and noticed that she was blushing, looking slightly downward and smiling in a way that seemed… Well, he wasn’t sure. For a moment there he almost thought that he had caught her checking him out, as in an attraction sort of checking out. But he wasn’t sure. And he still hadn’t been able to figure out this girl. She still struck him as a little bit odd. Cute. But odd.

Sean hit the ‘play’ button on the X-15 and started the song again. They would usually do several mixes of each song until they arrived at the one which they thought would work. As the song started playing, a thought seemed to occur to Sean and he asked, “Where did ‘Icon’ come from? I mean, I know what an icon is but I’ve never heard it as a name. Is it like Greek or something? ‘Cause you don’t look Greek.”

Icon looked at him curiously, “Um… it’s not my real name. It’s what I call myself.”

“Oh. I get it. That makes sense.”

“I hate my real name,” she said.

“What’s your real name?” Sean asked.

Icon refused to answer. She merely looked at the audio waveforms scrolling by on her computer screen.

“Okay, I guess I’ll just have to go through your mail or something. And don’t think that I won’t. Hell, the way they just stack the extra stuff by the mailboxes it’ll be pretty easy. In fact…”

And as he was speaking, the X-15 gave out a great, screeching, grinding noise. Then a loud ‘boom!’ echoed out of the speakers and the room was plunged into silence.

Both Sean and Icon looked over at the ancient X-15.

It never played again.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Sean.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 41 ]

Once upon a time there was a four track

In the days before digital recording made getting a professional sound attainable from the home, there was the concept of the demo.

For the demo a musician or a band would work up a recording without worrying about the sound quality issues that are necessary for releasing music to the public. The high quality work was done in a giant, expensive analog studio using millions of dollars worth of equipment.

But before that expensive and time-consuming process would happen, most musicians would first make a demo recording, usually from their own home.

And in those days recording demos, probably the most popular format was the four track recording. In the big expensive studios, each musical part to the song was recorded separately, on a separate "track" of the tape. That was part of the reason for recording in the big, expensive place.

But for the home demo, that much attention to detail is not necessary. After all, it is just a rough recording in order to get a feel for what the final piece will be. Having four tracks gave the musician a little bit of that flexibility by allowing the recording of our different parts. So, a little bit of the big studio, without the hassle and expense of the big studio.

Four track analog recording equipment often utilized the then-common cassette tapes. A great adaptation, since cassette tapes were quite common and could easily fit four tracks.

And of course, in the time prior to digital recording, it was all analog.

When the switch to digital came along, there were many musicians who resisted. Many musicians claim that they can hear the difference between an analog recording and a digital recording (analog recordings are said to be "warmer"). And of course there was the natural resistance due to the fact that people often like to do things the way that they have always done things, and for most of the history of recorded music, things have been done in analog.

So our musician Sean has taken that ethos to heart and has his heart set on recording his songs in analog, using a four track recorder from the 1980s.

But once those recordings are made, there is a need to convert from analog to digital. And that's where someone who is a little more adept with computers needs to come in and help Sean out.

For a time, it works.

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Unlikely Celebrity Stalkers

Chapter 41: Unlikely Celebrity Stalkers

“You know,” said Mike as he and Sean sat in his old van in the parking lot where Sean’s former kickboxing studio was located, “this probably qualifies as stalking. People go to jail for stalking.”

Sean sat in the passenger’s seat of the van strumming his guitar as he stared out of the van’s windshield. He didn’t look over at Mike, just merely kept his eyes on the doorway and said, “People go to jail for taking a whizz in the middle of the night. I ain’t scared of jail.”

“Ah, well that makes me feel much better.”

Sean said suddenly, “There he is. There’s that little…” as he saw the Hot Young Star he had sparred with walking out to his car carrying his little designer gym bag.

Without taking his eyes away, Sean set the guitar down and said to Mike, “When we stopped earlier at the drugstore, did you see?”

“Did I see? Did I see what?”

“The calendar. That little pissant’s got a calendar. So all the little teenie bopper girls can drool over him 12 months out of the year.”

“12 months out of the year? Aren’t there only 12 months in the year?” asked Mike.

“You know what I mean, Mike.”

Mike laughed, “It means that you’re jealous Sean.”

“Hell yeah. Who wouldn’t be? I mean, I deserve to be famous and this little twerp is famous. Of course I’m… Oh look. Of course. A Jag. Vampire calendar boy’s got himself a Jaguar. If he likes British cars so much then he could at least drive a Bentley. I hear that Ben Affleck drives a Bentley. Ben Affleck’s got class.”

Mike said, “Okay, now you’ve seen what kind of car he drives, we can go, right?”

“Wrong. Now we follow him. See where he lives.”

“Okay, now you’re starting to worry me,” said Mike.

“I’ve gotta be at work in an hour. I’m not gonna burn his house down.”

“What are you going to do at his house? Are you going to break in? Steal his mail? Take photos through his window?”

“I’m not gonna do anything at his house, okay? Now just follow him. We drove all the way out here to Malibu to do this. We’re not stopping now.”

Mike shook his head. “All right. But if I think you’re about to do something creepy I’m turning us around. And don’t forget that you promised me gas money.”

“I know. Just go.”

As the Jaguar pulled out onto Pacific Coast Highway, Mike and Sean followed in the van. Exactly two drives up, the Jaguar pulled into another parking lot.

“He’s turning here?” said Sean, “Here? He’s going to the coffee shop. It’s like a one minute walk from the kickboxing place to the coffee shop and he drives here?”

Mike shrugged, “L.A. man. Everybody drives everywhere.”

“There he goes. Out of his car… and into the coffee shop… Drives everywhere, eh?” Sean said with a devious grin.

“Stay here,” Sean said as he hopped out of the van. He slid his sunglasses on and strolled over to the Jaguar. He then dropped down next to it, unscrewed the cap from the tire’s valve stem and pushed down on the valve core to start releasing air from the tire.

It seemed an eternity: Sean glancing around to see if anyone was noticing the loud hissing sound that announced the air leaving the tire. Finally, when the tire was flat Sean screwed the cap back onto the valve stem and walked back over to the van.

As he began to open the van door Sean heard a loud, “Hey!”

Sean turned to see the Hot Young Star jogging toward him, coffee cup in hand. Sean felt the sudden urge to run, but controlled himself.

“Hey… um…” began the Hot Young Star.


“Yeah, Sean. Sorry, I meet a lot of people and names just don’t stick. So Sean, I didn’t get a chance to tell you that I’m sorry about what happened the other day.”

Sean, surprised, literally did a double take. “What?” he said.

“Yeah, I know I got carried away and all. It’s just that it was my first sparring and I was excited and I just, I don’t know. Like I said, I got carried away and I’m sorry.”

“Oh,” said Sean, “Don’t…. don’t worry about it. I was careless and not on my best form either. So, yeah, it’s cool.”

“Oh good. Thank you. I felt really bad about it and about Ron kicking you out and all.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Sean.

“I asked around about you. And, um, what’s her name? The blonde woman, always looks like she’s squinting?”


“Right, Amanda. Amanda said that you were trying to break into the music business.”

“Well, I… I’ve got a few things going. Fires in the iron and all that. But, yeah, I’m working on an album now and hoping to make things click. Yeah.”

The Hot Young Star looked at him and said, “I might actually be able to help you. A good buddy of mine and I are partners in a club that we’re opening in Silverlake. Actually, he’s the one who’s doing all the work. I’m just the face of it. But I’m sure that he could find something for you at the club.”

Sean was stunned. “You mean as a job? As in working for you?”

“As in working for my partner.”

“Yeah, I’d totally be interested in that. Totally.”

“Great. We just had business cards printed. Let me get you one out of the car.”

Sean’s breath stopped as he thought of the Jaguar’s flat tire. He watched, without breathing, as the Hot Young Star went to the car, opened the door, leaned in through the doorway, rifled through some things on the floor, pulled his head back out of the car, closed the door, placed the business card atop the roof, scribbled something on the back of the card, then handed the card to Sean.

Then Sean took a breath. He read the card.

Sean asked, “Santa Monica?”

“Yeah. The club will be in Silverlake. But our office business address is Santa Monica.”

“Not in Hollywood?”

“Hollywood? Who cool’s in Hollywood anymore?”

Sean was about to reply with a very long list of cool people and companies he knew to still be in Hollywood but he was interrupted with, “My partner’s there in the afternoons. I’ll give him a call and tell him that you’re gonna swing by. Then you can tell him when you can start and all that.”

“Great. Thanks. That’s really cool of you.”

“Don’t mention it,” he replied. Then The Hot Young Star looked down and noticed his flat tire, “Ah, son-of-a….”

“What?” Sean asked innocently.

“Flat. I’ve got a flat.”

Sean rocked on his feet for a bit, then said, “I could… um… Let me get that for you.”

And Sean proceeded to change the flat tire.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that order if you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Sean.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 44 ]

The four track stalker: from analog to digital to real life

Stalking celebrities is generally not a good idea. It is the sort of thing that can get you into a lot of trouble.

But for Sean, following a movie star with whom he had sparred at the kickboxing gym does not qualify as stalking.

It qualifies as payback.

But what about after the payback has been paid back? What then?

Perhaps back to the four track.

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Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em

Chapter 44: Smoke 'Em if You've Got 'Em

Sean arrived home early in the a.m. of Friday carrying his guitar. He had just come home from one of what were always marathon Thursdays. He had worked at the record store (where his co-worker Jose had also told him that the catering company he also worked for was looking for some help for a party in Pacific Palisades the next weekend) and then on to his Thursday night gig at the club in Silverlake. Sean smiled at the thought that thanks to flattening the tire of the Hot Young Star he would soon be working at another club in Silverlake, perhaps one even better, and perhaps at an even better job there. Maybe they’d let him run it! He’d be good at that.

In the dark he almost tripped over the Fostex X-15 outside his door. “How the hell did that get outside?” he asked aloud. He leaned his guitar up against the apartment door. Then as he bent down to pick up the recorder he realized that this was not his Fostex X-15. It was a Fostex X-15, but not his Fostex X-15.

He held the 80s-era 4-track recorder up to the porch light and saw that there was a short note attached to it. The note read:

Found this on eBay. Hope it works.

   — Icon


He hadn’t slept much, but in the afternoon Sean loaded up Ramona, his rusted old car, and started the long drive to Santa Monica. It was pretty exciting to think that he had made a friend of the Hot Young Star and that he was now getting a job affiliated with him. Connections were starting. He deserved to be famous (dammit) and soon he was going to be.

Luckily Sean wasn’t working at the record store this evening, so no matter how late they kept him here in Santa Monica it would be okay. He would just have to work out a schedule wherein he could work here and work there, unless they were going to make him the manager of the new club or something like that which would take all of his time and render another job meaningless.

He walked up to the second floor and down to Suite 207, which turned out to be three separate offices which let into a central lobby area. Looking into the office suite Sean noticed something odd: the entire floor was covered with sheet after sheet of paper — just everywhere.

Strange. Then he took a look around. For a moment, Sean thought that the office was completely empty of people. Then through the glass of the middle office Sean saw a young man, probably not much older than himself, sitting at a desk and smoking what looked to be a joint. The young man looked up at Sean and in a rather unenthusiastic tone of voice called out, “You must be Sean.”

“I must be. I’ve tried to be other people, but it just didn’t work… You’re Dave?” said Sean as he made his way through the mess of paper and extended his hand.

Dave merely looked at the extended hand, then took a long drag from his cigarette — which, yes, upon close proximity had proven to be marijuana.

Finally after a very long pause Dave said, “So what can I do for you Sean?”

“Um, I thought it was the other way around. I was told that you would give me a job at your club.”

Dave slowly swung his head around the room then said, “I don’t know what I need help with. Club doesn’t exist yet.”

“Well when it does exist,” said Sean, “you’re gonna need people to run it for you. Dude, I could manage it for you.”

“Nah, one of my friends is gonna do that.”

“Oh, okay. Well, someone has to book the bands. I’m a musician. I could do that for you.”

“Got someone.”


“Got a lot of someones.”


Dave slowly looked Sean up and down then said, “I think you’re about a hundred pounds short on muscle for that job. Besides, I’ve got some people.”

Sean looked around the room. “I could help you out here. I’m sure there’s lots of work getting things going with the club. Maybe I could be your assistant. I could start right now and pick up all of this paper.”

“No. Leave those where they are. They’re the plans for the club.”

Sean looked at the mess of paper. Here in this office and throughout the lobby area the sheets were scattered. They covered nearly every part of the floor. Sean asked, “why are the plans all over the floor?”

“It’s a spreadsheet. Get it? Spread Sheet?”

“Oh. Yeah,” said Sean, “That’s cool… Um… So you’re saying that you don’t have a job for me?”

Dave took an extra long drag from his joint, then slowly exhaled and said, “Well, I’m not paying you.”

“Okay,” said Sean, “Okay.”


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that order if you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Sean.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 50 ]

A four track can't start a nightclub

What happens when the networking opportunity that you thought had paid off, doesn't actually pay off?

Four track analog recording