Using SONAR to Restore Historic Ray Charles Recordings

Last updated on 3/31/2016

By Terry Howard of Technical Recording Services

Ray Charles and Terry Howard
Ray Charles and Terry Howard
Photos courtesy of TheMusic.com

Terry Howard of Technical Recording Services has worked with some of the greatest talent in the recording industry, including Barbra Streisand, Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac and Tom Jones. His work as a recording engineer and producer for Ray Charles has earned Terry two Grammy nominations.  

Read on to find out how Terry and Ray are using SONAR to record and restore Ray's old recordings. Learn more about how Terry and Ray are using SONAR.

TECH TIP: RESTORING OLD RECORDINGS WITH SONAR

Terry’s initial interest in SONAR was to use it for restoring and remastering old Ray Charles recordings.  SONAR worked so well for this process that he decided to make it an integral part of their new recordings as well.  Below, Terry describes the process of cleaning up dropouts and glitches in these old tapes.  This tip has many other applications beyond fixing dropouts, you can use this tip to fix problem areas of all types: poor rhythm, missed notes, bad tone, glitches, unwanted noises, etc. And you can also use these techniques in other Cakewalk programs besides SONAR including Home Studio 2002, Music Creator 2002, and Plasma.  Now on to Terry’s tip:

“Some of Ray's multitrack tapes date back over forty years and you can actually see the areas where oxidation has caused drop outs.  If one inch of tape is ruined, that equates to about 33 milliseconds of drop out at 30 I.P.S., and that is easily heard when you play the recordings back, especially where it affects more than one track.  With SONAR, fixing those dropouts is quick and easy.

"The first thing you want to do is transfer the tapes into SONAR. To save time I have a template file set up specifically for this process with time code locked, and 24 tracks armed and set to the correct inputs. All I have to do is load this template, hit record in SONAR, and then press play on our multitrack tape machine.

"Once the audio is recorded into SONAR, the next step is to listen back to the audio to determine the problem areas.  While the song is playing back I drop markers whenever I hear something that needs to be fixed by pressing F11. In some instances you can even see the dropouts on the waveform.

"The process for fixing dropouts is pretty simple:

  1. Cut the audio track just before and just after the dropout.
  2. Delete the audio where the dropout occurred.
  3. Find another occurrence of the note or section that had the dropout. The nice thing about working with pop music is that it repeats, so if you have a dropout in verse one, you can probably find a suitable replacement in verse two.
  4. Select and copy the replacement part and then paste it over the dropout.  You’ll need to slide it back and forth until you get the timing perfect.
  5. SONAR’s auto crossfade feature makes the audio blend perfectly.

"In many cases with these old tapes you’ll have a dropout occur on multiple tracks, if not all of them. This process will work great when dropouts that occur on one or two tracks, but when you try to do this on multiple tracks you can hear the edit because all the crossfades happen at the same time. So here’s my secret to avoiding this: Make sure Snap to Grid is turned off, then select and copy the replacement sections on each track one at a time. By doing this, the start and end times, along with the resulting crossfades will be slightly different for each track. If you do this process, no one will ever be able to tell."

Now you may be asking, what about those instances where you can't find a suitable replacement.  Terry has a suggestion for those situations as well. "I had a situation like that recently.  There was a dropout that occurred right during the intro of one of Ray's songs and I couldn't for the life of me find a suitable replacement for it.  What I did was I took about a 20 ms slice of the track from before the drop out where it was still good, and slid it to the right to cover the dropout. I then took about 20 ms of the track form after the drop out and slid it left.  The two parts overlayed and crossfaded, and that solved the glitch."

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