Tape Op is the only music geek magazine worth buying — and it’s free. Widely eclectic and ever encouraging, the main premise seems to be “Try, and trust your ears.” Pro, semi-pro, and DIY info sits comfortably side-by-side. Pros read it, hobbyists read it, some kids read it, all get something from it. Tape Op will give step-by step demos of, for instance, modding a certain low-cost microphone to get more bang for the buck written by a guy who sell his own mics for thousands. Or they talk to a guy with a barn full of home-made analog synths or someone who makes music out of sounds from antique recordings. The mag offers information in all kinds of directions, but it only wants you to do your own thing with it, what ever that is. Tape Op’s philosophy: use your ears and twist some knobs, learn all you can, then forget about it. Standards are explained, history is explored first-person, but rules might be thrown out the window. An undercurrent regarding how unrealistic and difficult it is to run a studio coexists with inspiring tales about the pleasure and pride that comes from recording music. The contributors work hard in their own studios and know what they’re talking about. A large community of recordists supports contributing articles and a lively online Q and A page (later edited and published). Recent profiles have run the gamut from legendary producers/engineers to seriously indie/outsider recordists; all have a jones for doing what they do their own way.
A recent, typical issue reviewed a mic you can buy for a steal on eBay for $40 and a mic that streets for $7,000. They don’t waste time writing slagging reviews; they review only what might be useful to someone on some level. On one hand, you can learn a lot by reading about something you may never be able to afford. On the other, you see that despite how amazing, desirable and beautiful that thing is — and this where most music mags stop — you don’t really need it. It might be a great tool for someone, but you don’t have to need it. Record reviews, written in the same “we like this” spirit, lean indie and outside, but might go anywhere. I always read about something I don’t know, but wouldn’t mind hearing. It’s independently published and paid for by ads from all kinds of audio-related concerns, but beholden to no one, so it’s neither slick nor slimy. Other recording magazines often seem to be trolling for sales or hyping an image. Their editorial decisions are suspect, noising on about last year’s retreads, repeating a press release, offering the same tutorials you could find in another magazine — or the library(!). The ‘net offers a lot of basic DIY sites you can learn from, but will they print an interview with Rupert Neve, as issue by issue, you learn about the products that riff on his designs? How about talking to Rudy Van Gelder (who recorded all the classic Blue Note jazz) about taping John Coltrane in the living room of his parent’s house in New Jersey?
I’ve been subscribing since 1997-8 when a producer I met turned me onto it. There is absolutely nothing out there like it. Nowadays my job is production manager/soundcheck and rehearsal substitute/backline tech for a three-time Grammy winning artist. I work with and have hired top-notch audio pros and I learn a great deal from them. Tape Op has often given me insight that keeps me apace in our discussions and what I learn from them takes me deeper into the magazine. However, Tape Op also has allowed me to nourish a side-line in sound designing/composing for theatre when I am off the road. When no one’s paying me and I’m home with the kids asleep, I record my music or occasionally, friends. That is where the knife really gets sharpened and what I have taken in from Tape Op gets put to the test.