What is it with recordings past 1977-ish?  I just made that date up. Anyway they just sound too “perfect”. There is no space to let the instruments breathe. The reason I bring this up is because I’m at work and I was listening to some Fleetwood Mac-Peter Green era. That stuff is really good. I thought I liked Clapton . . . I like this guy better. Guitar playing-wise. But then I bought a more recent recording of Peter Green doing a Robert Johnson tune. I really like the song, so I thought the Green version would be cool. And from the 30 second iTunes preview, it did sound pretty good, I liked his voice. But then I listen to it, and the acoustic guitar is perfectly EQ’ed and there are background singers. I just don’t get it. I wanted to hear just Peter Green singing. I rarely care about background vocalists, unless they are another member of the band. I care about the band, not random musicians at certain performances, or on certain recordings. It annoys me to watch a video Eagles concert, or Paul Simon concert, and there are fifteen people on stage . . . three to five back up singers, a bongo player, two keyboardists, five guitar players (to play every single riff from the studio recording). Get those people out of there. Annoying. That is why I like seeing Dave Matthews, sometimes they have guest instrumentalists, but most of the time it is the five of them (peace, Leroi) and they do everything.

Anyway, everyone knows the best recordings came from a dude in the corner of a room with his guitar and a mic. Throw in a drummer and bass player in the same room and you have a classic blues recording. Today every second of song time has some extraneous string arrangement or back up vocal, usually computer generated. That is one reason classic recordings are so good, no fat, just the meat. Their talent shines through, they don’t have to support it with extra junk. You know that legendary band, Cream? Three guys, three instruments. Thats it.

We’ve boiled everything we do today down to an exact science. The process of recording, mixing, and mastering is too predictable and too digital. A lot of older recordings have a lot of reverb on them. I like that, but today there is no ambience, everything is really clean and leveled out, auto-tuned. Drums are too loud today. Listen to older recordings, they aren’t that loud. I’ll throw some dap to whoever recorded the Black Keys record “Magic Potion” because the sound of the recording is pretty “classic” sounding. The first time I heard it I had to ask the person playing it if this was an old group I had never heard of, or a modern group. Because 1. There is pretty much just drums, bass, guitar and voice, and 2. The way it is recorded made the Black Keys sound the way John Mayall and the Bluesbreaker/Fleetwood Mac (original) sounded.

I guess the biggest reason is money. You can record so much cheaper digitally. Reels of tape and tape machines are expensive. And the time involved to get a take right on tape can be take awhile. When I was a musical fledgling I recording on some reels and you can’t mess that stuff up, no digital editing. It took me awhile because I was so nervous knowing that. The last album we did was all in the computer so I didn’t matter if I messed up. Just drop the cursor back a few seconds and punch in. You can punch in on tape too, but there are a lot more variables. Will I be singing at the same volume, playing the same rhythm? I think that process of being able to mess up, but still cut and paste together a good track lets us musicians off the hook with our skills. You can get lazy.

Back in the day, those guys were on it. There wasn’t that laziness that digital affords us today. I mean I’m sure they did a few takes, but listen to live recordings of early Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, any of that stuff is awesome. And in terms of recording its decent, but that imperfectness makes it greater than all the cutting and pasting we can do today. We need to get back to that. Play our instruments better. Work harder. The stuff we pay hundreds, or thousands of dollars for today, in terms equipment, was really cheap back then. And with all our technological achievements, those first guys still sound better, even now? I think we as musicians and songwriters today need to work harder, study what was really good, throw out what is obviously bad, and not polish the life out of our recordings.

I ramble way too much. I’m not sure how I got here, but I need to get back to work. Peace out.

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One Response to “Chicanery”

  1. ashley Says:

    I don’t know much about the actual recording process, but I know what you are talking about. I grew up listening to “older” music (some people may call it classic or whatever), and I can absolutely tell a difference in the recording style. That’s why I think live music is so vital. An album can be great, but it’s just not the same quality of music. And I’m sure that live shows can be just as “produced” (ie, the excess band members that you mentioned), but there’s still a different quality to it. Still, there’s just nothing like raw music. A couple of guys with guitars and maybe some drums. For someone not in the music industry, live shows and bands like the Black Keys are about as close as I can get. (I too had to ask about them the first time I heard them. Funny though, I was working at Urban Outfitters at the time… definitely a place I now associate with overproduced bands.) Anyway, just thought I’d add to your rambling and let you know that I agree, even though I know very little about producing music. I just know that I love it.

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