I came across a pretty cool page on the internet. Someone has taken old photos from a Beatles recording session at Abbey Road studio, combined them with a few current photos of the same room (not many changes in that studio room – if it ain’t broke, why fix it) and created an immersive walk through environment. I find this interesting on several levels. First, it’s the Beatles in a recording session. You can look around the studio from the point of view of John, Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin. You pick from one of the five points of view then use the arrows to pan left, right, up and down. There is a zoom in/out function. The tech of the photo environment is great all on it’s own. For any studio hounds, there’s a second bonus. You can view the recording set up they were using at the time. Everyone was in one room. Not a lot of mics being used – it was all about the quality of mics and preamps and the art of mic placement. Check out the simplicity of the drum mics. No stacks of huge amps. At the time this was all being mixed down live and going to two track tape. It was certainly as much art as tech. Imagine the quality of sound in a room that large. I sometimes think that the huge amount of tech available today can be more of a distraction than a help. Seeing the setup in this session gives me a lot of ideas to try in our studio. I hope it gives you some ideas and inspiration.
Now, let’s get in to the time machine…….
I came across this video of Frank Sinatra recording in the studio. For anyone who has interest in recording and recording technology, there’s a lot to see here. First, the vocalist and a orchestra in the same room while recording? The sound has separation and clarity despite being in the same room – try that one at home. You get a few glances at the mic placement when you see the orchestra and the mic setup for Sinatra. Interesting that he talks about ‘popping’ – there’s no ‘pop screen’ – they went by mic adjustment, singing technique and I would imagine some EQ adjustment in the booth. Again, amazing separation without multitrack or overdubs – right down to two track tape. Sinatra also discusses vocal technique. I don’t know if as much attention is payed to that today. His vocal sound is amazing and looks effortless.
Sinatra may not be your cup of tea, but there’s a lot to be learned watching recording history.
We’ve covered many different avenues of the recording process in previous posts. I’ve come across two different items that present an inside look at recording before the ‘digital revolution’. The first is a recording of the Queen song ‘Under Pressure’. Most people have probably heard the song before. What’s recently been released is the vocals of the song minus all the music. The amazing factor in this is how crisp and ‘real’ the vocals sound. No digital manipulation, no ‘autotune’ (maybe an effect here and there). Just listen to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie give life to the vocal sound. Clean, clear, amazing. A big treat is Mercury’s vocal in the middle of the song where he holds a note then keeps raising it higher. If you listen in the background you can sometimes hear the music bleeding through their headphones.
The second clip shows The Rolling Stones mixing the song ‘Little Queenie’ from the live ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out’ album. Some stuff to watch in this: The mixing booth is pretty small and plain – function is more important than looks. No automated faders – at times it takes three people working the board to test the changes they want. Finally, they’re mixing by sound, not over concerned with watching meters – eyes closed and listening – the band was very involved in the mixing process. Also enjoy the sound of two inch analog tape being rewound when they go back to certain parts of the song.
There are many great things about today’s recording tech, but the simplicity of the past also had some advantages.
Some people may have grown up in the digital age and not be aware of the specific differences between analog and digital recording. I’ve attached an article titled ‘The Case Against Digital Recording’ although my point is not so much which is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ as much as opening a discussion about the differences. Besides the tech differences, this article also discusses different styles of recording music in general. I actually find that part of the article more interesting.
For full disclosure, ChurchHouse Studios is a digital based studio. Digital recording has made the editing and storing of music much easier. We do, however, create most of our songs using a more ‘old fashion’ process. I favor recording song tracks straight through rather than cut and paste. I also tend to enjoy the subtle differences (some people may say ‘mistakes’) it creates from verse to verse and chorus to chorus. For me it breathes life in to a song and makes that particular recording unique, moments that can’t be recreated. One of my favorite examples is in the Rolling Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’. At about the 2:59 point of the song during the female vocalist’s solo your hear her voice crack from pushing the note so hard and Jagger giving a little shout in the background. For me that moment is chill inducing and priceless. Would that be edited out in today’s world?
I don’t think either digital or analog recording is ‘better’. They both have their place and music, like all art, is subjective and will always remain that way. It’s your choice.
Here’s the article:
This discussion also allows me to throw in a plug for one of our favorite artists, Jack White. His Third Man Records studio is analog and he’s quite a proponent of analog recording.
OK – You’ve twisted my arm – I’ll also throw in a video of Jack White live on Austin City Limits.