In the 70’s recording studios were magical places. There was the holy grail of Abbey Rd but also lesser legends such as Rockfield where you could stay an immerse yourself in a 24 hour recording experience. At the bottom end of the scale there were cellars with egg boxes stuck to the wall. The things they all had in common was they involved a band getting together in a special place for a fixed period of time. Any studio was relatively expensive and were charging by the hour or day. For this reason most recordings were a compromise and a race against time. For anyone at the top of their game and the backing of a big label things were a bit easier and sessions tended to expand to fit the time with extended partying and ‘hanging out’. Never underestimate the appeal of squeezing onto a tatty settee with a bunch of like minded people listening the guitarist laying down his solo for the 99thtime.
Times have changed, most of the studios have now closed and keen musicians have their own studios at home in the spare room. You can even have a studio on your phone. We have gained and we have lost but here are some of the things that no one will be doing in the studio anymore.
Singing out of Tune
Lets face it, singing is pretty hard and the singer has the very worst time of, too many late nights, long haul flights, hangovers, air too hot, air too, dry air too smoky, all these things can take their toll on the delicate vocal chords. On top of that is the fact we are not all born equal, Lou Reed has a voice so does Tom Jones, they are not the same. Ray Davis has a vocal wobble, Bob Dylan has a croak and there’s no words to describe Johnathan Richman’s vocal sounds !
But you’re not likely to hear any of that on a modern pop record, the vocal noises there bear as much resemblance to the human voice as cheesy string does to cheese, they are an artificial creation. There’s a good chance however that any recording would be subject to a bit of tweaking. There’s a YouTube clip where someone autotunes Robert Plant’s voice- it turns out that when rock god started screaming, he wasn’t in tune all the time. The auto tuned results are fine but its not quite Robert.
To be fair singers are much better today, most of the youth don’t want to hear some indie shambles so more people are singing pop which is a lot more demanding, singers today are a lot more skilled than just being the people who wrote the songs or just couldn’t play an instrument. In fact, the general quality of musicianship is so much better today which is unsurprising given the learning resources available.
But when all else fails there’s always autotune.
Hanging out in the studio
In the 70’s studios could mix business with pleasure, certainly if you were in a band who could afford the rates you might invite some friends down. Perhaps, as in Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland sessions those friends might join in the playing, maybe they’d just bring some drugs over. There’s a couple of reasons why studios don’t have hoards of hanger-on’s on board. Firstly most of them are glorified bedrooms, the days of bars and canteens attached to a cavernous studio complexare long gone. The sadder reason is that now music is totally monetised there’s always the risk that some no talent sycophant is going to claim a writing credit in retrospect. The courts are full of such claims that invariably go nowhere but saps the time and energy from everyone apart from the lawyers. A locked door keeps these claims to a bare minimum.
Changing Time Signatures.
Modern recording practices dictate that an unwavering beat is set to a click track. It’s always 4 beats in a bar. The way modern recording happens means any deviation is pretty perverse. Recording invariably happens from the bottom up, that’s always been the case but the rhythm track is disproportionately significant today. It wasn’t unusual for earlier songwriters to switch beats about just because it fitted the words to the song so there might be a bar or 2/4 or 3/4 placed to accommodate that. The Beatles could accommodate different time signatures in a song not because the wanted show how clever they were but that’s just how music sounded to them. No one is going to think like that anymore, we’ve had too many decades of 4/4.
In Louie Louie by the Kingsmen, theres a moment where the singer comes in too early, the drummer covers it up with a drum roll and the band carry on. That’s the finished article no one bothered to re record it and when bands cover it now they often include the mistake. In modern recording studios not only can you hear the mistake you can also see and exclude it with a couple of clicks of the mouse. Bear in mind for most of the 60’s there were no tuners in studios, they didn’t reallybecome current currency until the 80s. It not surprising therefore that a whole lot of music was recorded which was a bit out of tune. At the time it didn’t bother anyone, we still admire and love those old records for no one worried the bass was half a semitone flat. Almost every record is recorded to a click track, if the drummer’s a bit sloppy it can be tidied up easily.
Sonically things are hugely superior today especially with electronic music that works so well to the new technology. Just about all modern recordings are brighter and clearer but are they lacking in feel or interest? Isn’t it quite good to hear a guitar a bit out of tune or someone fluffing their vocal? You can find that on most Beatles records and apparently they are still pretty popular, not only with the old folks. Tapestry,orRumours or Led Zeppelin IV or a whole load of other 70s albums still stand up because they sound like they were created by living breathing people getting together to play music.
Are their any great rock records created this century, I’m sure there are, I rather liker Mastodon’s ‘Crack the Sky’ for example but sonically its just to bright and lively, after a couple of tracks I feel quite exhausted.
Has anyone got any recommendations for anything modern that actually sounds good?