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Article: How I Got into Home Recording

Discussion in 'Recording' started by DogsoverLava, Jun 21, 2014.

  1. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    This is a recent article I wrote on my journey into home recording. I thought this would be an appropriate forum as it covers some very basic introductory and budget gear that would help beginners find their way into the same. Feedback is welcome as I plan on writing a series of these and am still working with tone/voice on this. Many Thanks and enjoy. I look forward to participating in the forum.

    Home Recording: A Personal Odyssey

  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I think that your journey is probably very similar to that of many others of your generation.

    Most of us, regardless of generation, started as musicians first; some of us got the recording bug after we entered a real studio for the first time, and saw the magic that could happen through the scientific art of multi-track recording.

    Others got into it when the first "porta studios" came out in the early '80's, (Tascam, Fostex, Yamaha, AT)... all had 4 track cassette format models.

    Some of us got started a little bit before that - (my first foray into home recording was around '78 or so, with a Dokorder 4 track reel to reel and an 8 channel Biamp mixing board... LOL)... but it allowed the solo songwriter, or the small band, to record their original ideas. Those who used it for its best purpose - which was to get ideas down as a sort of audio notepad, with the intent of then taking it into a pro studio to do it right - found them to be an indispensable tool. I was a touring musician - off and on - from '81 to '92, and I carried a Yamaha MTX 4 track cassette recorder with me everywhere I went. I would set it up in a hotel room, break out a 57, plug it in and record my ideas.

    A handful of us decided to make it a career, at which point we dumped thousands ( and even hundreds of thousands) into pro spec recording gear - huge format desks, monstrous 1" and 2" tape machines, racks of peripheral processing, professional grade microphones, etc. Generally, it took several mortgages, several relationships with different loan officers at different banks, and in some cases, even several wives as well. LOL

    As time passed, technology grew, and home computers became more accesible, so did the number of people getting into it on a hobby level.

    The computer-based home recording setup has been a double-edged sword.

    The upside is that it has made recording accessible to everybody, and to those who took it seriously, using it as a stepping stone, a means to an end, it eventually allowed the cream to rise to the top. Many of today's top notch engineers started out this way.

    The downside is that it made it accessible to everybody, allowing people to enter into this craft who have no business being anywhere near it... and we've all heard the results of this - you don't need to search very long or very hard to find some of the most awful recordings ever made; and most of the time, these come from people who decided that a PC or Mac, along with a copy of Pro Tools, Sonar or Audacity and a handful of VST plugs was all they needed to create pro recordings. The evidence as to why that's not the case is there - everywhere - for all to hear. It's come to the point where you have to search and plow through miles of s h i t to find one lonely little gem - a great song, performed, recorded and mixed well - but these days, it's getting tougher and tougher to find those hidden jewels.

    The reason? Because anyone with a minimum investment - let's say around $800 or so (which really is minimum when you compare it to what those who take this seriously have invested) can buy a computer, buy - or crack - a DAW program, download free VST's, and record. Most of them consider themselves to be professionals, when in reality they are anything but professional. They are hobbyists. And their results are flooding the web with crap, clogging the gears of a machine that used to provide great music, when the investment amount for the gear to do it right made it accessible to only those who took it seriously.

    Anyway, that's the way I see it. I think your blog is cool - logging your history, and your experiences. I'd say that it is likely very similar to many others here as well.

    Do you have any samples of what you do? Something you have produced that you really like and could upload and let us hear?

  3. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Well that's a nice little beginner article. That begins in the new millennia. Back when you were still pooping in your diapers.

    I enjoyed reading about your discoveries and wonderment. Your supercharged excitement and glee. With all of this cool software and great affordable, ready to go, in want of nothing, Pro Audio Equipment. With everything built in. And with 2, 4 or even 8 inputs!... made in China. And then you look at all of that antiquated equipment that your parents and grandparents used and wonder how they ever made a recording on that stuff? Well I'll tell ya... it wasn't easy. A lot of that stuff, we just had to build ourselves. And we use a lot of junky consumer equipment to record our stuff onto. Since a decent studio reel to reel recorder would cost as much as a new car. For one. Each microphone that would be good would cost you at least a couple of months of salary. Without committing to pay any of your other bills or rent, gas or food. But you couldn't just have one tape recorder since you'd need a second to make copies with. Which was another year's salary. Or you'd just be an affluent kid whose parents were multimillionaires? Wish I had had those parents?

    Both of my parents gave up their illustrious professional musical careers to have a couple of baby boomers. Me and my little brother. And with that, mom started teaching vocal students at home all day. Dad went into a partnership with his father, who produced ethnic radio programming and ran a small advertising agency. So to get the kid out of mom's hair on Saturday afternoons, dad would schlep me down to the radio stations, the TV stations and even this one and only independent recording studio, in Detroit, United Sound Systems. So by seven years of age, there was no question in my mind what I would do for the rest of my professional career. I would go on to become a professional musician but what I really wanted to do was that broadcasting and recording stuff. So at age 7, even though dad had the big tube reel to reel recorder, it was time to purchase my own. Of course I had to purchase only what a kid of seven years of age could afford, from birthday money. So I made a sizable investment, for a seven-year-old, in 1962. I spent $20! It was all the birthday money I had from everyone in the family. And this recorder was real cool because it had a lid on it and was also battery-powered! So I could take it out and do remotes! The only problem was, you couldn't access the microphone input and earphone output with the lid closed? Even though the recorder could be running. So I set out to modify, the first recorder I ever purchased at age 7. Which merely only required modifying the lid. But now I could do things with that recorder, that couldn't have been done that way otherwise. At seven years of age. But I already knew, it didn't sound anywhere near as good as those real cooler bigger ones I had seen at United Sound Systems... where they had this gigantic one, made by a company called Ampex, that could actually record 8 channels! I knew it would be a while before I can have one of those in my bedroom, with my little brother.

    Dad moved his advertising agency into a new building. This building had not only an indoor garage, it has storage loft, in the garage. So dad called up the Chief Engineer of CKLW Channel 9, In Windsor, Ontario, a buddy of his. He told him he wanted to convert the loft into a voiceover studio in which to cut commercials in. So he didn't have to keep running downtown to United Sound Systems.

    About a month later, Chuck had installed in 1943, Western Electric, 23 C, radio station console. Which was similar to the one, in the commercial production studios at United Systems. Along with that, was this really cool Magnacord 63 P, tape recorder, that could take these giant reels! And a Presto 800 and some other Japanese recorder, that looked like one of the portable Ampex recorders I saw over at United Sound Systems, called an A K A I. Obviously some kind of Japanese imitation to that Ampex 601 I had seen. And some kind of half homebrew little cartridge tape recorder that you never had to rewind! And wherever you started to record, when it got to the end of the tape, it would stop automatically at the beginning again! And this really cool looking microphone that looked like a chrome plated stick. Almost like something I had seen on TV. I knew it would be a cool microphone because the company was called Electro-Voice. Which sounded pretty futuristic to me at 9 1/2 years of age.

    The guy from Channel 9, on this Saturday afternoon was trying to show my dad how to use the stuff. It was always fun running around dad's office and checking out all sorts of stuff. Since I was bored with that engineer from Channel 9, trying to teach my daddy how to work that complicated looking equipment. After a while, I got bored with everything else in the office so I went back up to the loft. Dad got completely frustrated he was so confused. So they decided to take a break. Now this is my chance to play with that equipment if dad would let me? He asked the engineer who said, the kid couldn't break anything because everything was built like a tank. So I sat down behind the console, cued up a record. Put one of the commercials on one of the reel to reel recorders that dad had recorded at United Sound. I loaded some blank tape, on the Magnacord and hit record. And the reels started to turn! So I turned on the microphone switch, introducing myself and then introducing the commercial. I hit the commercial and then got ready to start the record! At the end of the commercial I start to record and share my microphone back on again and introduced the record. Just like I heard those guys do on the radio, at 9 1/2 years of age. I was in heaven!

    At-home, the old, American-made, tube mono tape recorder became rather blasé with this newfangled stereo sound. So in the mid-1960s, dad brought home a couple of stereo reel to reel recorders. They obviously wouldn't be any good, like the ones he had down at his office commercial studio, since they were made in Japan by some company called Sony. Whoever the hell they were? But then grandpa died. And dad had to downsize the advertising agency he and his father were running, in downtown Detroit, Michigan. That whole production studio was torn out and the equipment ended up in our basement, in the corner. So... I longed to work to old radio station board again. But there was no one that we could have two wire it up in our basement. So now that I was 12 and in charge of the audiovideo team, in the sixth grade, I figured it was about time I buckled down to wire all this equipment back up again. But how? There were no directions. Nothing was labeled. There weren't any manuals to the equipment? So I would just have to figure it out myself!

    Wow! That was easy! In a couple hours time, I had screwed wires onto barrier strips. Twisted other wires together by hand. Figured out how to plug a microphone into the console along with the record player, that needed this thing called a preamp. It was a little tube thing made by this company called SHURE, in Illinois. Whoever the hell they were? And now I could play DJ at home! And make my own recordings since I had a radio console that could take 4 microphones into it simultaneously! So at age 12, in 1967, I'm probably one of the very first people, in the USA, to have a home project recording studio? At age 12! And that was bringing announcers call now for me to cut commercials for him. At age 12. I would have to edit them with a razor blade. Dad let me use the razor blade since I was 12. In this special white tape and this aluminum block. That made it really easy to cut the tape and put this really cool white stuff tape on we called leader. But you would also put the leader at the end. So I never really understood that?

    I decided at 14, it was time to get into the radio business. But I had to learn Morse code. And it was real hard to get up to five words per minute. I certainly couldn't understand the guys I was listening to on the radio who were going much faster. I couldn't understand a word of their code? But code was no fun! I wanted to broadcast me with music and commercials. What to do? What to do? So I asked one of my high school teachers what I needed to learn, to get on the air at a real radio station? I was told I needed this other type of Radiotelephone license and not an amateur radio license. Weill, that was it! I do have to get a different radio license study guide. So dad took me down to was it Allied Electronics, Lafayette or Olsen? I can't remember? But I got a study guide.

    At 15, the world was passing me by quickly if I didn't get that broadcasting license real fast. So I studied it for four days. Cut school on Friday to go downtown to take the test at the actual FCC offices! And I passed on my first try! I was ready to take over radio stations and recording studios! I had a third class FCC radiotelephone license! At 15. But the folks who gotten divorced and mom moved us to Baltimore. And I couldn't take the equipment with me. So I would just have to get work at a radio station or recording studio in Baltimore, at 15 years of age. Since we were living in an apartment then and there was no room for a home studio anymore. It's okay... it would be fun to play with newer and better stuff at a radio station. So at 15 years of age, I got a full-blown radio engineering job at the Community College of Baltimore's, public radio station. I was the youngest full-blown engineer they had ever had at 15. They gave me a two day schedule of opera shows on Thursday evening. Jazz extravaganza on Saturday afternoon with this really cool 54-year-old jazz musician who was the host of the show I was engineering. And he would bring down with him every Saturday, a pint of J&B Scotch. Sometimes he would give me two, three, four songs to play in a Row and leave. One day, during a long song, I went to find him. And he was smoking something that looked like a little tiny cigarette but smelled really weird. I knew that smell as I was already partaking. He was rather shocked when I walked in. Tried to hide what he was doing. Until I told him that smell really great! At which point the 15-year-old engineer is blowing a joint with the 54-year-old jazz musician, show host. I knew I was onto a great career! But I didn't exactly have a home studio any longer I only had a couple of tape recorders that I was able to bring with us. No problem.

    So I had this really old cool Presto 800 recorders still. It took three microphone inputs and the line input. So I modified that. I threw out the transport. I turned it into something similar to the radio station console that I had had in Detroit. With cueing. With a couple of Sony reel to reel tape recorders and the manual Bogen turntable, I was back in business again, with a home studio, now in Baltimore, at 15 years of age.

    It wasn't long before I got my hands on some even better, top-of-the-line, professional, portable microphone mixers from that SHURE company called the M-67's. But they had no cueing. So I had to modify those at 17 years of age. Which really wasn't any big deal since I had also gotten the job at the top and largest studio, south of New York City, home to George Massenburg. I was a full-blown production engineer, sometime music engineer, duplications engineer and sometimes maintenance engineer. So now I had an even better home production studio. And I had gotten this really cool Sony cassette recorder that had this built-in thing called a limiter. Which made my voice and recording sound even better. But I wasn't recording on that crappy little cassette thingy. No way. I would just keep it in Record pause, feeding my mixers into it. And feeding the output of that into my Sony 630 & 250, reel to reel recorders. Throughout that entire time and even before leaving Detroit, I was recording musical recording sessions at home with my friends. Along with my parents and friends of theirs would come over to play. Literally play! Not in the backyard. But together on their instruments with mom and her other friends singing along. And it was all Mozart, Bach, Verdi, all the rest.

    So where do you go, now 19, for a step up? Especially when you are already working at the largest recording studio south of NYC with nothing bigger in Philadelphia, even at the time? Well... since I had also use my home studio to make demos of myself for radio stations, I picked up a job, at the number one druggie album rock station in Baltimore, as the overnight DJ, for little more than a year. When I got that fateful call on the phone, at the radio station, not on the request line... yup... just as you thought grandma was dead? It was my high school buddy Philip. His dad was in the industrial film business. But Philip and I always talked about building our own recording studio every bit as good as the one I had worked for, FLITE THREE Recordings Inc. When he told me his dad had leased this double Bay industrial warehouse. He asked me if I was ready to build that studio? Of course I jumped at the opportunity to design and build, the second-largest recording studio, in Baltimore, at 22 years of age. So I did! Who the hell needs a home studio? Well... I still did LOL. So now I had both. Nice little production studio at home. And the custom designed and built facility, 2 inch, 16 track studio with my custom designed and built, 24 x 8 x 2 (with 4 sends) console. Which had the sound every bit as good as the then, $45,000 API's, I had used at FLITE THREE. But we only had $10,000 for the budget of the console. So of course it couldn't work or sound is good as an API. Of course if you believe that? I could sell you a lovely bridge outside of New York City. No. I mean yes! It sounded every bit as good and worked every bit as well, as that API I had used at FLITE THREE. And it was all custom-built from scratch. Of something I had no real actual knowledge how to do.

    So when you show us the Chinese equipment and the really groovy software... I enjoy it. Just like any grand parent would, when they are presented with a beautiful custom-made painted portraits, from your five-year-old grandkid!

    So don't just tell us about this stuff that our kids created for ya. Give us something to listen to that you've created with it. Because you are really not just preaching to the choir. You're preaching to the Lord of the Reels. I'm the former Quality Control Manager, of a company called Scully. Google that.

    Mx. Remy Ann David

    you'll need to use Microsoft Internet Explorer or Google Chrome, on a real computer, if you want to hear my embedded audio? Since there is a full song on each one of the five pages. It was all made from my home studio... on wheels.
  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    good original post .... a good read. thanks Rob.
  5. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Remy, could you repeat that but this time get into some detail?
    kmetal and thatjeffguy like this.
  6. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

  7. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    Thanks everyone for the feedback. Glad you enjoyed the piece. And Remy -- your piece should be front-page! I don't know if I should hug you are buy you a beer. Maybe a hug while I buy you a beer - either way you should be getting a hug.


  8. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    "I didn't start a new thread for it because I don't want to look like I'm spamming"

    More accurately it would be called trolling for traffic....but hey, it's all good today ;)
    bigtree likes this.
  9. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    This actually bothers me. Its total spam in the worst way. OP stays, links and trolling go. You are writing a book to help people, we have 500000 posts of this already. What a crock of malarkey. :rolleyes:
    I'm listening? Please tell us something we don't already know?
    You are welcome to share your experiences here.
    Space likes this.
  10. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    How I got into home recording: Others found their reasons, here is mine.
    I became a musician first. That is rule number one for those who really want to start out right. Understanding music, the voice and how instruments and bands work is a clear asset.

    What would the first thing you would tell a newbie getting into this business?
  11. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    I agree...and you are the boss;)
  12. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    First thing I would tell a newbie is "Run away, run away fast!"

    The second thing I would tell him/her is "Kiss your wallet goodbye."

    But seriously, I think I would tell them how broad a knowledge and skill set is required to do this well, and how many fields that knowledge/skill set spans across... music, physics, acoustics, electronics, psychology, computer science, business, finance, logistics, time management, to name those that come to mind right now.
    Of course, had someone told me that 25 years ago I'm not sure that it would have deterred me... but perhaps prepared me a bit for what was to come!

  13. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    I can only say I am very pleased to have found this forum and have spent 100's of hours searching and reading through the posts here and more importantly "listening" to the tracks and work sample that have been posted and following along with the advice and direction that have shaped iterations of those tracks - I and have found it all absolutely invaluable. (As an aside I have to say that as audiokid has tried to push for - posting tracks and samples of work to give context to the advice given and to back up the expertise represented or claimed here is really good - it's what is lacking in most forums - it's virtually impossible to vet the advice or opinions expressed by others without this kind of context).

    As I myself have submitted and benefited from those critical ears , and because I plan on sticking around, I thought my initial "introduction" to the forum was appropriate in the posting of this particular story as it gives some background as to who I am, but also has some value (I thought) for a certain demographic of musician and former musician who might be looking for a way into home recording --- hence posting in the affordable recording forum. Thinking that my own way of contributing at this stage would be to share my personal story - because that's all I had to offer. It's why I was careful to post part 2 in the same thread - thinking that would show my intentions were not traffic based - and why I brought up the issue about spam myself. My mistake was not reaching out to ask admin or mods for permission and for that I am sorry and ask forgiveness. I find the forums here too valuable to risk being estranged. By all means delete or edit as you feel appropriate because I am here to stay & learn. Being called a troller or spammer hurts a little bit but the transgression was mine and the onus was on me to seek approval so ultimately I'm responsible for my own slap on the nose.

    As to who I am and how I got here: I was a musician from the time I was 5 years old. By the time I was 12 & 13 (early 80's) I was playing Jazz Bass in a very unique Jazz band comprised of a who's who of West Coast Jazz luminaries who were teachers and professors, and retired teachers and professors, from schools and universities up the West Coast (Mostly Washington State and BC). We gigged from Tacoma WA to Vancouver BC playing festivals and the summer circuit. Concurrently I was playing rock (as most kids would want) and was in numerous progressive rock and hard rock bands and trios (playing both bass and guitar). At 17 I started University, and music was temporarily put on the back burner (business major at the time) but by 20 I had transferred from business studies into a Classical Guitar Performance and Vocal Performance degree program and I was full on pursuing music as a life-long career. A nerve injury to my fretting hand brought it all to a crashing halt. I put my guitars in my parent's closet and I left the country and music for years.

    About every 5 years I'd find myself with a guitar in hand and start playing. Things would feel good for a bit - I'd get inspired then I'd hit the wall. That cycle happened about 3 or 4 times over the last 20 years. Finding my way into home recording was almost an accident - just a confluence of events and circumstances that lead to the idea. One of the ideas was that in the recording medium would allow me to "do-over" until I got it right so I could work around my injury. I also knew that I had to overcome the fear and embarrassment of the fact I now played like a complete hack relative to my former abilities. So I have shared recordings of playing that I consider embarrassingly sub-par that the former player that was me would never in 10000 years have ever allowed to be heard. This has helped break down the walls of my ego and allowed me to go forward. Today - about 7 or 8 months in - my fretting hand is literally fire and ice, and feels like a claw -- there have been months in the past 7 where I couldn't even fret a note for the pain and weakness so I just worked on mixing and drum programming and reading - but I'm determined not to leave music behind. The process has been thrilling and liberating - I no longer say "I used to be a musician" because I am a musician -- maybe not the kind I was and certainly not the player I was --- but there's something here and I gotta keep going with it.

    So that's the short version - former prodigy turned hack trying to claw (literally) his way back into something resembling a musician through the medium of recording.

    I look forward to learning all I can while participating where appropriate in this invaluable community that you have built.


    bigtree likes this.
  14. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I started with a computer with a soundblaster sb16 and a soundblaster live (to have 4 track input), a Peavy mixer and a few cheap mics. My first upgrade was to do a hole in the wall of the bedroom to pass the xlr cables to seperate the mixer from the musician. At that point, I was a drummer for 15years already and went in a few professional studios where I got my first interest in the craft. I can't remember how I came to record a customer, but I remember I did ask the money upfront at the promise of buying some new mics for the projects. (10$ an hour was my initial price). The more I bought gear and refine my rooms, I started to asked more. In fact, for a long time 90% of what I earned went back to buy better gear...
    Even today, I still reinvest a part of my earnings, lol

    I think I'll dig out and try to find those first recordings.. It'll be fun to compare them to today's projects and see the progress I've made ;)
  15. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    silly me .... i was under the impression this thread was about how the op got his start in recording and not an invitation to hear about everyone else. ok, i'll play.

    it was a dismal cold day when i escaped from the institute for the criminally insane ........... i said to myself, "self, let's be a recordin' engineeeer".

    more to come in part 2!
  16. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    ... leaving me behind to fester in my own cell and find my own way out, thank you very much.

    I thought we had a deal... we were gonna open up a studio - slash - bordello - slash - goat ranch. Remember?

    Yup. You really are all alone on the inside. If I hadn't agreed to record the warden's nephew doing a concert on Kazoo at a Gefilta Fish buffet, I'd still be there.
  17. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    @Kurt Foster :
    What's there to discuss about the experience of one self but compare with other's experiences ?
    I quite understand that you don't have any interest of knowing how I started recording. Who am I, other than a old fart from Quebec anyway? ;)
    Believe me, if the OP was a muti-million successful engineer, I would have more questions for him but no, DogsoverLava is a homerecordist like me, which I had to google to find his article because there were no link in his post, btw.

    Ok, here's a discussion about the OP's story: It is a plain and simple success story. Nothing to be inspired with and nothing to be ashamed of because the end is quite normal and common. It was a nice share but didn't add anything to my life.. I was there 15years ago before started to expend and charge people.

    As a constructive comment to the OP, the article would have been enhance if it included some help site links, like room calculation or some gear technology explanation.. (ex : different mic technology or preamp guide, etc) Or, some explanation about how he discovered some mix technics etc..
  18. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I think you're taking Kurt's comments too seriously, PC. ;)

    I think it's pretty much a given that we all started out the same way - as musicians first - and the only real difference being generational in nature in terms of what we first used, gear-wise.
    Many of us here started out on tape. But, I'm sure there are likely more than a few here who've never, in their entire lives, had to degauss a head stack or align the bias on a tape machine. They've never done anything in audio that didn't involve a computer. I'm not implying that this is a good or bad thing. It just is what it is.

    And FWIW, there was a link originally, but it was removed, (I think by Chris) as it was thought to be too much like spam, a bit self-aggrandizing, and lacking the info that you mentioned would have made it more valuable to readers.

    And I quote:

    "The article would have been enhance if it included some help site links, like room calculation or some gear technology explanation.. (ex : different mic technology or preamp guide, etc) Or, some explanation about how he discovered some mix technics etc."

    And, FWIW, I agree with you on this.
    If there had been more information about the technique and the craft, along with links to useful information - as you mentioned above - it would have been a far more valid post, and a lot less spam-like. ;)

  19. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    great ideas - and stuff for future articles. This one was just very rudimentary and personal - I'd yet to discover those elements in my understanding of what I was doing (still discovering them thanks to reading and listening to forums like this one). This was still babe in the woods time for me - I hadn't discovered much beyond "look - I can capture sounds". More like "Look Mommy - I made Dookie".
  20. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    everyone is free to post whatever they like .... if you want to post a biographical history of your recording career do it .... but start your own thread. what has happened here what i call thread theft or stomping all over someone else's post. i make no judgements as to if the op was spamming or not, i read the article and i found it interesting.

    the ensuing follow ups on others beginnings were a distraction to the op. while not a moderator i still reserve the right to post my opinions. my opinion is that was a rude thing to do. start your own threads.

    this is how to do it with class.

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