Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Townshend on the Lost Art of Recording

Fellow Blogger.com poster Pete Townshend (and he's in a little band called The Who) put up a very interesting post about old school recording.

The crux of it is that these days, producers and engineers try to separate sounds in the recording studio, using numerous microphones, soundproof baffles and other means of sound isolation.

Pete yearns for the good old days when the ROOM was the most important piece of the puzzle. Bands would set up in an acoustically killer room, the engineer would place a few mics and then the producer would capture the band actually performing.

For example, it is common these days to mic up a drum set by putting at least one mic on every drum, plus two or more mics suspended over the drums to capture the overall sound. Recording the drums alone might require 15 - 20 microphones!

Read the whole post, but Pete says:

So many wonderful recording rooms have been lost in the last twenty years, all around the world. Rooms that had either been 'found' to sound good, or 'helped' to sound good, or 'designed' to sound good are now serving duty as Loft-style apartments. Old deconsecrated churches and church halls were once commandeered to serve as recording rooms back in the late '50s. Now they are all gone...

The point I'm making is that still, the music, the performance and the space in which the music is made is what is most important. If an engineer is doing more than switching on the gear and pushing up a fader or turning a control knob, there may be too much interference with the performing process.

Backing up Pete's contention, consider that the HUGE drum sound in Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks" was achieved by sticking ONE microphone a number of feet in front of the entire drum set in an acoustically huge sounding room. Zep's Jimmy Page and other old schoolers also used to do things like put the drums at the bottom of a stairwell and place the microphone at the top of the stairwell, generating organic echo.

Stories abound of Keith Richards walking around a studio, snapping his fingers and listening to the way the sound bounced around the room. He would decide where the drums would be set up based on this low tech observation - just using his ear and experience. A lost art?

In the days of all this electronic gadgetry, it is nice to know that back in the day things were done more simply - and that those methods would still work today if allowed to. The golden age is not dead and gone.

In the meantime, listed to some old Zeppelin, Who, Stones or Beatles and try and figure out how the sounds were achieved. It's probably as simple as what the room looked like and where they stuck the mics!

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