How did I start the voice overdubbing process?

Gotta tell you the story of how I continued to overdub my voice in the ‘60s. That is if you’d like to hear it, or see it. It’s a little bit technical, but may be of interest to some. I started out with the one 8 track machine, because that’s all we had at Columbia at the time. It was the machine they built that the pop and classical non-rock ‘n rollers didn’t know how to use, apparently. I had discovered it gathering dust in the back hallway and decided to put it to use. Note in the illustration here at top left showing track (Tr) one  through eight.


Don Meehan’s overdub explanation of 8 track and 16 track in the ’60s

Track 8 had the click track. For those not familiar with the term, it was the beat per second perfectly timed for the desired tempo of the song, lasting for as long as desired to the end of the song. Starting on track 2, a tuning fork sounded to establish an “A” 440 pitch, which was the third in the key of F, and a count off just before the beginning of the song. That “A” and count-off  could then be heard each and every time a voice was added, but the click would not be heard in any of the vocal tracks. And so, the first voice was recorded on track 2. While listening to the first voice and the click track, the second voice was recorded on track 3, the third voice on track 4 and so on until the 6 voices were recorded. Oh, by the way, did I tell you about the dial tone on a phone gives you a pure F chord?

Those 6 voices were then mixed to track 1 and track 2 was erased. Voice 7 was then recorded to track 3, voice 8 recorded to track 4, and so on to voice 11 on track 7. Tracks 3 through 7 gave us 5 voices which were mixed to track 2, for a total now of 11 voices. Voices 12 through 15 were recorded on tracks 4 through 7, and those 4 voices were mixed to track 3 for a total of 15 voices. Those 18 voices were now mixed stereo to tracks 5 and 6. At this point a band could be added to the remaining tracks 1,2,3,4, and 7. I did a couple releases on Columbia in this manner, backwards you might say, with the band added last, as you will see below.

I used various setups later, including syncing two 8 track machines together. Along about that time Columbia research and development (R&D) built a one inch 16 track, and I was lucky to be the first one to use it as shown here. Clive signed me as an artist and Jimmy (the WIZ) Wisner produced several sides with me multi-tracking voices.

RoughmixdDon overdubbing a world record

Me, with my trusty little Lafayette speaker overdubbing on the 16 track

So, getting back to my one inch machine, with some tracks (18 voices) I had already started on the 8 track machine, I mixed those to tracks 14 and 15 of the 16 track, and the original tempo click to track 16 as seen in the illustration. I then recorded voices 19 to 29 on tracks 3 through 13 and mixed those 11 voices onto tracks 1 and 2. We now had a total of 18 plus 11 = 29 voices. Now, recording on 5 to 13 gave us 9 more voices totaling 38. Recording 7 through 13 gave us a total of 45 a cappella. And if we wanted a band at this point, we mixed those 7 to tracks 5 and 6, with 7 tracks then available for a band. And, yeah, we did the band, and House In The Country went out there and is still out there. Click HERE to hear it. It has about 29 or 30  overdubbed voices if my memory serves me right, since we had 9 tracks to record the band. Give a listen. No I didn’t do the dogs and the crickets. But it was the first recording ever released having been recorded on that machine. And then everyone wanted to use it. I have a story to tell later of about how I got into a struggle with some certain stars who wanted to use the machine. I had to stop my sessions since they came first. So, I had created a monster, I guess. Soon after that, 2 inch 16 track machines came along, and then 24 track. And Columbia Studios became the busiest studio in town.


Note that I also have the little speaker here on my left listening to a take


The console you see in the photo and the ad was built for three and four track mixing only, and it was a real pain to have to bring in every piece of loose gear, equalizers and limiters, and another portable mixer to get all the tracks mixed. I continued with my “Don Meehan Project” and kept on recording back and forth and later on, wound up with 101 voices on the song Mons Meg, and then wiped enough tracks to record the band, and that’s how it was released. And here I am today, still overdubbing with my same old 50 year old Lafayette speaker in my ear.

Fib Lafayette speaker # 99-4551 - Copy

 My trusty little 50 year old Lafayette speaker

People ask me why the little speaker as opposed to using headphones. Also at that time, I was moonlighting with the Anne Phillips singers, backing up every unknown and known star around, in all the New York studios including Columbia. I discovered when I was group singing with the other singers, that when I heard myself in the phones I tended to hear and sing flat. You’ll see photos of people holding one earphone to their ear, and that is mostly the reason they do it; to hear themselves and also to blend with others. Also, when you have a set of headphones on, you don’t hear your natural self, such as what you hear when are just singing with nothing on your ears. However, not enough sound level can be delivered to an earphone like you can with a speaker, and when in a group, you need to hear the group as well as your own voice and blend yours with the others. And so, I discovered that the little speaker can deliver more power and a higher level, so as to hear a blend with the recorded voices. Also, the important factor is that you can hold it a certain way as to keep it from feeding back into the microphone.

As engineers and singers, I guess we all have tried different ways to overdub and hear the music tracks in the best possible way, and to deliver a great performance. I guess I’ll stay with my trusty little speaker. To date I have used it on 126 voices on the Hallelujah Chorus, with no leakage whatsoever of the click track. Guess I’m doing something right. Still no word from Guinness for the 200 voices.

How did he get that drum sound on Dylan? And how did you get that name, “Roughmix Don.”

Just so happened that a guy contacted me from a forum a couple years ago where they were chatting about the drums on a recording I had done. It happened to be the Bob Dylan Desire Album that I engineered and mixed in 1975.

“Hello. I’m new here,” wrote Dolphin King,  “And I hope this is the right place to ask this question: On Dylan’s 1975/76 ‘Desire’, the drum sound is ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THIS WORLD –>*DELICIOUS*<–, I mean particularly the snare hits. For example, check out the song ‘Isis’. the snare on that album sounds so solid and powerful, I describe it as inter-stellar-stone-age snare sound. Does anyone here know how that sound was achieved? How do you get such a sound? I MUST know. I’ve posted this on a few different forums. MY KINGDOM FOR AN ANSWER!

Well, I tuned in for awhile reading some sarcasm and assorted smartass remarks and DK came back with, “I’ve received some very different answers from different people on this, including on different forums. But thanks again for your reply…By the way, what would your reverb/delay setup be here, if you were trying to get that sound?”

Archtop came back with, “I think it sounds like a real chamber reverb, and there is some on the snare, but not much, at times it seems like I can hear a hint of a tiny short delay (80ms.) on the snare, but in the mix it still seems fairly dry, the verb is sorta washed out and you don’t notice it so easily. If I was trying to get that sound, I would not be concerned with the verb or delay, but look for a snare that is dry and bright on it’s own.”

Seems kind of strange seeing guys write about and speculate and guess what you had done on a recording. So, one of them spotted my name in the credits and sent me an email and asked me to come on the sight.

Posting as “RoughmixDon, I wrote him back, “Thanks for inviting me in. I guess I’m proud to say that ‘Desire’ was one of my best recordings. Drums and bass are my favorites to record. Maybe because I’m a bass player too. I tried to load up the story of the ‘Desire’ session but it cut me off in the middle. Maybe I’ll just have to send it in two or three parts.”

I filled them in with what I had done on that session, since I had taken a lot of notes through the years with a book in mind and then I wrote, “My best advice on trying to achieve the same drum sound is to put “Isis” or one of the others up in your program and a-b and try to match it on the timeline, pitch wise, eq wise and strength wise, echo wise, and level wise.”

In fact, I think this is good advice for anyone attempting to recreate the sound of what someone has recorded. As a side note here, the drums you hear on the song, My Silent Symphony at best advice was very much like Dylan’s fabulous “Desire” drummer, Howie Wyeth, with the great Ronnie Traxler on drums. Dynamite! I recorded Ronnie and all others the same way. You didn’t just set up a microphone, we’d sometimes spend upwards of an hour getting a good drum sound. By the way, I overdubbed about thirty of my voices on My Silent Symphony – Should have been a hit.

“By the way,” DK asked. “Where did you get that name, RoughmixDon?

Well, I explained that for a reference copy, I would set up my mix on a studio session with 8 sub-mixes and ride the faders with 8 fingers riding from the beginning to the end of a song, and almost always, I would come up with a mix that would be at or near a final mix. In a three month session with “Miami” Steve Van Zandt, who hung nicknames on everyone, he hung RoughmixDon on me. Thus was 1977, and I have used it ever since. Later on, I’ll be telling about that grueling winter of ’77, locked in the studio with “Miami Steve,” ‘Southside” Johnny, the Jukes and the “Boss,” Bruce Springsteen. And yes, it was Steve who named him the “Boss.”