Just trying to understand...

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Just trying to understand...

Post by Qlevel » Tue May 03, 2011 1:41 pm

Hi all. I'm certainly not the most experienced person out there, so forgive me if I sound naive, but I have a pretty decent home studio and have had the opportunity to work with Larry, among some other recognized pros in the field. I'm sort of aspiring to do engineering/production professionally, but I've mostly been on the other side of the glass in my (relatively small amount of) recording experience. Right now, I'm still just trying to get a feel for the ways of the industry and gain as much knowledge as I can. However, the more I read, the more I'm beginning to be turned off by what seems to be a general disdain for "fakery/cheating" made possible by modern technology in the studio: Auto-Tune, drum replacement, overproduction, overcompression, use of DAW's over tape, etc. I'm not trying to start another analog vs. digital debate; I know the pros and cons of each. Naturally, there's going to be some bias since this site has the word "tape" in it's name. I guess my real question is: what's the fascination with re-creating the old?

Like nearly everyone, I grew up listening to The Beatles and every other legendary 60's/70's band. However, I also grew up listening to 80's synthpop and new wave which was far more attractive to me from a production standpoint. I quickly grew bored with the same old drums, bass, guitar, and vocals. The idea of being able to synthesize unnatural sounds and drastically morph natural ones in the studio was huge. I could've cared less about the "talent" behind it or whether the sound I was hearing was coming from a natural instrument. My first recording setup was centered around a Portastudio, and I tried everything I could to remove the human element from music. Achieving perfection via a quantized sound was a big goal for me. But then, the indie movement comes along. At first, I thought it was a cool idea as just an experiment of sorts to re-create a familiar sound, but now, this "60's-only-not-as-good" thing has been beaten to death. Bands like Arcade Fire and The Black Keys are winning Grammys, yet they're not doing anything new. In some ways, it almost seems a little hypocritical since there are a good portion of indie musicians who are mediocre (or less) at their instrument. I'm not trying to bash anyone's art, but personally, I find most indie recordings to sound awful, especially lo-fi stuff. Even non-indie bands who once were considered ahead of their time are now going for a more old-school sound. I don't wanna hear something that sounds like a "live band in a room". I don't wanna hear little mistakes and inconsistencies that were left in there. Perhaps I should just stick with Lady Gaga...

But seriously, I'm just curious. To indie producers and engineers: what is it that you like about an "old" sound? Is it purely for nostalgic reasons, or do you find it to be superior to more heavily-produced music? Do you ever feel the want to make something that sounds polished and processed (like today's pop)? Lastly, is there anyone out there who feels like me?

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Post by Snarl 12/8 » Tue May 03, 2011 2:07 pm

To each their own. I find music without a "human element" to be less than worthless.

No offense, but how old are you?

You sound like I did in high school. I wouldn't listen to anything that had a guitar in it.

... until I discovered Led Zep, Jimi Hendrix and etc. and then my mind and ears opened up.

You might want to just consider this a phase you're going through. Certainly not invalid. There's actually not any invalid music, just stuff that resonates and stuff that doesn't. Your tastes may change/evolve over time. Hopefully. For you, I mean. Just 'cause it's fun. I don't give much of a crap what you listen to or create.
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Post by jgimbel » Tue May 03, 2011 2:45 pm

I'm very excited to see what happens with this thread, but I have a tendency to have these long, drawn out posts, so I'm not going to say a lot yet, I'm going to try to keep it short for now. I'm one of those "indie" guys, and I pretty much have the complete opposite viewpoint of you (which of course makes me feel it'd be very interesting to make a record with you!). But for me, I don't at all see it as "trying to recreate the old", for me it seems like a lot of this is a chase for making music that sounds like musicians playing, rather than button being pressed, intertwined with wanting to make interesting sounds, especially those that have the human element of variation, variation which hasn't been perfectly tuned. Making things sound old is one way that people do this (and yes, it does happen to be a big trend right now in pop indie music, but has always existed in some form). I also equate it a bit with the idea in photography of why some people like to take photos in black and white rather than color - it forces the viewer to focus on the subject and not be distracted by the colors if they're not an important part of the image. So creating music in a way that strips away unnecessary production tricks that take away the variation that happens in recordings from the fact that it's created by humans, that's a big thing that seems to be valued. In my own music I write, the music I record, and happens to be greatly appreciated in the pop indie scene right now.
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Post by Matt C. » Tue May 03, 2011 2:52 pm

1. i think i like performance-based music with a "human" element because I am legitimately amazed that a group of people can pick up their instruments and play good sounding music together as a band.

2. yes, I wish i knew how to make music that sounded like Lady Gaga or whatever else. that shit is crazy.

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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Tue May 03, 2011 2:57 pm

hhhmmmm...OLevel, you're painting with a comically broad brush here.

there's loads of 'indie' records that sound plenty 'modern', i.e. they don't sound like the beatles, they don't sound like they were made in 1967, etc.

personally, i grew up in the 80s, and all that synth pop stuff was nails on a blackboard to me. i can appreciate that folks were trying to make new sounds and utilize the new technology of the time, and that's all great. i've just never cared for the sonics.

that said, one of my models of record production is def leppard's 'hysteria'. let's pause here for a moment and watch tony shake his head in sorrow....

ok. so, i'm not necessarily that into the actual SOUND of that record, but the attention to detail and the way it's presented overall is pretty astoundingly great. nothing i mix sounds remotely like that record, but i still try and achieve the same sort of attention to detail, etc.

now, if you really think "personally, I find most indie recordings to sound awful", all i can say is perhaps you haven't actually listened to very many. there's this fella by the name of steve albini, he's pretty good at recording. maybe check out some records he's done. they're pretty far from awful.

and there's loads of people right here on this board making kick ass sounding records. i know this because i get to master lots of them. just did one today.

but if you're not into the sound of a band in a room, you don't like little mistakes, etc, then just don't make records like that! you like what you like. there's plenty of room in the world for all sorts of records.

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Post by plurgid » Tue May 03, 2011 3:04 pm

Right on, dude. "vintage" != "good".

I've often found myself musing over the same topic.

In my mind I think the fascination with "the old" is really that this old tech is more visceral and less "black box". You can open up the case and poke around inside, and have a snowball's chance in hell of understanding how it works. Though the same can be said of software like max/msp, and other patching type environments, it just isn't the same as being able to put your fingers on stuff ... it lends itself to a certain mystique.

In the 70's/80's that quantized perfection cost a lot of money, it was bleeding edge stuff and it took a lot of effort to get it. Today, you can drop a few thousand dollars and you can have quantized perfection OR very very good emulations of "old and fucked up" without a whole lot of effort. There's no longer the same barriers ...

These days it's more about the palette you want to use, I'd say. In 20 years people will look back at these types of discussions and think it's akin to painters poo-pooing something like foam brushes versus horse hair or something. They both have their place, it just depends on what you want to do.

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Re: Just trying to understand...

Post by Nick Sevilla » Tue May 03, 2011 3:04 pm

Qlevel wrote:
[SNIP]I guess my real question is: what's the fascination with re-creating the old?

[SNIP] I don't wanna hear something that sounds like a "live band in a room". I don't wanna hear little mistakes and inconsistencies that were left in there. Perhaps I should just stick with Lady Gaga...

But seriously, I'm just curious. To indie producers and engineers: what is it that you like about an "old" sound? Is it purely for nostalgic reasons, or do you find it to be superior to more heavily-produced music? Do you ever feel the want to make something that sounds polished and processed (like today's pop)? Lastly, is there anyone out there who feels like me?

Good questions.

As far as your first question, lots and lots of people, you included, like having Memories, swimming inside their head, making them feel good emotions. That would be my answer as to why artists want to sound like an old record. It brings them closer to a good memory, therefore a good feeling.

As to your statements on what you want, great! Nothing wrong with knowing what you want out of your productions. In fact that is a common difficulty amongst all artists, i.e. knowing what they want their songs to sound like, stylistically.

As to your third question, personally I only really care if the song is good to me, if it Moves me, makes me feel something inside. So, the sound aesthetic of a song does not matter to me. when I am engineering or producing for someone else, I do what they want, and apply me knowledge to get the song to sound that way, whatever the artist wants. I never impose a style nor a direction. That would be silly on my part. To me, there is no "better" production, only the production that results in the song sounding as close as possible to what the artist envisioned.

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Post by chris harris » Tue May 03, 2011 4:04 pm

I'll do anything and everything, up to and including the commission of victimless crimes, to make a recording sound cool. Now, what "cool" sounds like changes from project to project. But, everything is on the table.

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Post by accordion squeezist » Tue May 03, 2011 4:34 pm

Read "The Art Instinct" by Denis Dutton
and you'll understand why we do this, why we trip over the same 4-bar intro time after time, why we'll never exhaust G - Em - C, why we cast the same harmonies, why we need the same old backbeat. It's in our genes.
And when somebody takes that same old recipe and does something new with it, whether it be Jerry Douglas or Radiohead, we wake up, go deeper, and become human again.

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Post by T-rex » Tue May 03, 2011 8:55 pm

As a listener I don't give a damn about production, I only care about the song. I have a Black Francis bootleg that was recorded on a boombox (I am guessing) and its amazing. Lo-fi doesn't begin to describe it, but the songs rule. I love Steely Dan, they are perfect; every song, every note, every tone. I love Pavement. I love all of these bands not because of the production values are purposely high or purposely low, I love them because they write great songs. Its hard to fuck up a great song with production, not impossible, but damn hard. You like what you like and that is great. But I think a lot of people overlook great songs because the production is not glossy enough or the performance not perfect enough and conversely, I think a lot of people try to cover up poorly written songs with a ton of slick production. Personally, I like rock that is loud, and drunk and dangerous and probably hitting on your girlfriend. That's hard to replicate on a grid.

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Post by Freakmagnet451 » Tue May 03, 2011 11:15 pm

We are all different. I would never consider trying to record the "perfect" music that you describe as your quest. I am pretty sure I would not enjoy listening to it either. For me there is a failure to connect without some trace of the human element. The story being told is more important for my listening pleasure.

As far as the "retro indie" thing goes, there could be any number of reasons for it. It is beyond me to second-guess why somebody wanted a certain sound. Older recordings run the gamut from incredibly primitive field recordings to elaborate productions so you have really not said anything by being so general.

For me, nothing beats a great live performance, warts and all. Any recording is going to fall short of that in my book.
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Post by cjogo » Tue May 03, 2011 11:41 pm

Still enjoying the music of my youth 60'70's ..... have not heard a Lady Gaga song all the way through yet ... but, I will sometime.

Almost all our clients are 50-80 age group > so they are not too influenced past the early 80's style music.

I do try to stay open to all facets of the music world but, do have a problem with that pitch-shifting becoming a dominant part of the new productions. First heard that tool used on the Cher tune. I was having dinner in the Baltic Country of Latvia & could not even finish my dessert. I thought ~ " Now Cher has established her voice with the masses : why did she let the engineer/producer play around with this cartoon mickey=mouse contraption " Little did I know it would be the go-to plugin for the future....

We always like to stay a decade or more behind the technology ~ both in 'equipment and knowledge :: helps keep you honest & true :-)
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Last edited by cjogo on Wed May 04, 2011 10:09 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Qlevel » Wed May 04, 2011 9:36 am

Thanks for the responses! Good points all around. I definitely agree with the concept of using "anything and everything" to achieve a cool recording. I probably should've made it more clear that I don't always try to make a recording sound machine-like and quantized. Obviously, the song dictates the appropriate production, and it would be ignorant to blindly retrofit that style onto everything. There's nothing that frustrates me more than a producer or musician who refuses to concede their own personal convictions at the expense of the band's music.

I forgot to mention that I have synesthesia (audio-color, color-audio, slight elements of spatial). It may seem a little out-there, but it drastically affects the way I perceive music. Some compare it to an acid trip, but I would compare it more to the effect that a catchy melody has on you. Subtle and often subliminal, but at the same time, very potent. For example, an electric guitar "looks" like jagged earth-tone wallpaper, whereas a pure square wave looks like a bright neon tube. The color always depends on the note. Because of this, listening to a whole album of organic rock with the same instruments used on every song is like eating food made of the exact same ingredients with only subtle variations. When I said that many indie rock productions sound "awful", I actually mean that they look awful. Don't even get me started on Albini's stuff. :lol: At times, it makes it hard to appreciate a good song when the production massively gets in the way for me. Then again, a less-than-great song can redeem itself with a pleasing production. I most likely gravitated towards 80's stuff since it provides the most artistic and exciting synesthetic experience for me. Sorry if I'm not making any sense whatsoever.

I guess I've become musically jaded; a tight rockin' band doesn't really impress me anymore. I've heard it so many times that I am ready for something new.

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Post by knobtwirler » Wed May 04, 2011 9:55 am

I'm with you. Bands bore the hell out of me except on rare occasions. Maybe I share this visual-sound thing with you. When I listen to Albini stuff it tends to sound, or look, like mashed potatoes, served over nine courses, with occasional ground pepper on top or a garnish. If the songwriting is phenomenal, it's different, more exciting. The whole memories concept I get, but that is just about sucking your own thumb and not letting go of old stuff like the Beatles and trying to rehash it. It can be done well, but why do we need that all over again? Humans need to take themselves to new heights, and that is what being an artist is about.

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Post by Gregg Juke » Wed May 04, 2011 10:00 am

>>>>I guess I've become musically jaded; a tight rockin' band doesn't really impress me anymore. I've heard it so many times that I am ready for something new.<<<<

Just a thought-- If that's really the issue, then maybe your entire question is a moot point, and kind of a baseless "straw recorderman," if you will. It's not really a question of why people use certain methods, or which ones are better, and why, it's really about your search. That's cool, but then I suggest you consider:

Tuvan Overtone
Russian Balalaika ballads
West African
Japanese bunraku and gagaku
Native American
Rumba (and Rhumba)

etc., etc., etc.

There is a world of music for you to discover, and enjoy, with or without synesthesia. It seems kind of silly to tweak useless arguments on recording boards when there is an Internet and a Public Library available; even a few record stores left... Find some new sounds!


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