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Author Topic: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?  (Read 45794 times)

Offline bblackwood

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Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« on: October 19, 2006, 12:22:01 am »
I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately, and after having some interesting discussions with friends, I've come to wonder if Gear Acquisition Syndrome is destroying modern recordings.

Ponder it for a bit then tell us what you think - I'll weigh on it more later...
Brad Blackwood
euphonic masters

Offline Jerry Tubb

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2006, 01:14:49 am »
Well it's sure destroyed a few trust funds along the way... but seriously folks...

I suppose shortly after the first reverb was invented, the tendency was to overuse it on everything.

With all the zillions of current recording & processing gadgets available, a neophyte engineer (who's just blown his trust fund), might indulge in the tendency to spend more time focusing on the equipment than the actual music itself, accomplishing nothing in the process.

He'd be better off with a couple of basic tape machines, a console, a few good mics, a decent room and little else, other than a good band to record.

However G.A.S. has been good to me this year, we've picked up numerous choice pieces to get up with current trends.

...gee, now I sound like an addict in denial : - )

Good topic Brad.

Terra Nova Mastering
Celebrating 20 years of Mastering!

Offline chrisj

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2006, 01:15:37 am »
Well, I notice that when I'm playing with significantly new toys my ability is quite impaired... if it's a completely unfamiliar thing, anyway. Types of new toy that are similar to things I've long worked with aren't a problem (I just coded some chebyshev harmonic enhancers which were easy, but that's because I've played with stuff like that many times before) but strange new things are a learning curve.

And you wind up exploring the new things, and NOT the point of the music- which is a very serious drawback.

I'm trying to get a toolset that is good and comprehensive but boring... so there aren't any surprises about what's possible. Some would find this strange Smile I just feel that if I have to respond musically to work coming in- all the more now that I'm actually getting some real gigs- I want to not be distracted by sound as sound. I want it to be about the meaning of the sound, the purpose. Having the tools boring helps.

Offline Barry Hufker

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2006, 02:33:33 am »
As no one thing is enhancing modern records, no one thing is destroying them.  Life is too broad for that.

I believe it always comes down to a matter of "taste".  Not the kind of taste where one person says this is good and the other says no it's not.  The kind of taste a mature person has.  "Mature" here means "someone with a lot of artistic experience and a well-developed aesthetic".  Some people are born with it and just need to develop it.  Others, like me, have had to acquire it and work to keep it.  Some never will have it.

This kind of taste is highly discriminatory and yet all-encompassing.  The person with this quality knows exactly what they want to hear and how to get it.  He/she is open to all ideas but is very selective in their choice.  And when they do make their choice, it's the exact right thing for the project.  It may not be the thing you choose.  And your choice may be just as good.  But this person's choice is right on the money for the style he/she is working in.

It's not the gadgets that are killing modern records.  In fact, gadget buying is keeping the audio industry alive.  If it weren't for all the peripheral musicians/engineers/producers/wanna-bes, there wouldn't be any gear.  No store, no manufacturer can stay in business any longer by just selling to "the pros."

If equipment is the "colors" of sound, then how can one have too many colors?  The trick is in knowing when to use certain colors and how much.  I suppose music is in its "red period" where everything has to be extremely compressed and loud.  But what art movement hasn't had its followers and detracters?  Eventually people will tire of red and then we'll move on.

The talented and innovative always take us to the next idea, whether it is a new one or the revival of an old one.  The only thing destroying modern records is "poor artistic judgment" -- at one level or all levels.  That poor artistic judgment comes from an underdeveloped sense of aesthetics -- which equals "bad taste".  Improve a person's aesthetic sense and you'll improve modern recordings one person at a time.


Offline MASSIVE Mastering

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2006, 02:33:50 am »
G.A.S. is only as dangerous as the person who has G.A.S.   Laughing

Seriously though - On a personal level, if someone knows what they're looking for, I don't think it's a bad thing - The potential for great recordings is still there for sure.  As are the tools and the quality.  

But when G.A.S. gets out of control (which it certainly does) it makes me appreciate "simple" recordings more - A jazz trio, a live recording with great musicians - Recordings that are just done with great gear and "allowed to happen" (for lack of a better term).  I still record straight to two-track here and there and I generally enjoy listening to some of those recordings more than the artist's studio recordings in many cases.  

(Epiphany occuring as to may have pushed me into mastering as I type)

Back in the "good ol' days" (when I was a tracking & mixing guy) I was very much into trying to capture the performance and then mix it.  When the place I was working at went digital (tape) it was pretty much the same.  When it went to hard disk - That was where I started going nuts...  I could edit a horrible performance into something totally usable - and I hated it.  It ate at me as a musician.  Over time (after the owner wanted to get a basic mastering setup) I wound up assisting and engineering during tracking, another engineer would mix, I would master ("half-aster" we called it at the time).  

The further things went, the more freaky things got - The same engineer that I worked with at JEM is still a good friend and client now.  We talk all the time about this and that.  I can't even imagine where he gets the patience he has...  Now, you can take a poor performance on poor sounding gear and completely rewrite it - He changes crappy sounding drums with Drumagog (he also came up with the "Rock Drums" drum samples collection in the process).  He can reamp a crappy guitar tone and get something usable with a Pod or one of several amps at his studio.  He can tweak an out-of-tune and off-time vocalist into near perfection.    

I don't have that kind of patience...  I expect more from the band than that.  

So - Has G.A.S. destroyed recordings...  I don't really think so.  But I *do* think that it's made recordings that wouldn't have ever been recorded & released a reality.  I think it's "dumbed down" the talent.  It's taken recordings from "let it happen" to "make it perfect" - I'm slightly guilty myself - I was hired to record & mix a band a several years ago that flew in for only several days from NY.  They were pretty good.  Pretty good.  The vocalist wasn't "feeling it" for a few tunes, so I pulled a "Cher" on him and ran him through a pitch corrector with extreme settings.  Everybody loved it.  It sounded "modern" and yada, yada.  

I felt dirty...  

I hope I didn't go too far off-topic here...   Embarassed
John Scrip
Massive Mastering - Chicago (Schaumburg / Hoffman Est.), IL - USA

Offline Larrchild

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #5 on: October 19, 2006, 03:31:49 am »
Once a powerful force becomes available to you and your competitors, the inclination is toward mass-buildup and stockpiles of said force as a deterrent. This MAE, or Mutally Assured Equipment, causes all participants to earmark greater and greater percentages of their GNP to keep pace.

Sensible parties will meet and agree to scale down the stockpiles and allow confirmation via inspections, in the interest of protecting our children's future.

The alternative is unthinkable.
Larry Janus

Offline lowland

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2006, 04:11:00 am »
Yes, I think this is undoubtedly true, Brad, and thanks for bringing it up.

It's a sizeable subject, but one small area of it that gives me particular heebie-jeebies is the whole microphone preamp thing - you'd think reading some internet forums that mere ownership of the Hokey Cokey 2000 or whatever mic pre is a guarantee of a great recording, apparently ignoring (or in ignorance of) factors which are *far* more important such as the song, musicianship and arrangement. This is not to say that gear is of no importance, but it's just a means to an end and I'll freely admit it took me a long time to realise that!

When I look back on recordings I've made over the years, those that still stand out to me and others are those with a 'people vibe', something that usually owes little or nothing  to the equipment used.
Nigel Palmer
Lowland Masters
Essex, UK

Offline Thomas W. Bethel

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2006, 08:48:17 am »
If what I see at GC and Sam Ash is any indication GEAR and LOTS of it seems to be the new way of operating. I stand at GC and listen to the people talking to the "salesmen". They are all looking for the one piece that will make their recordings a million seller. They drool over new microphones, new pre amps new processors and of course new software. They want to own something that will make them stand out from the rest of the crowd on the radio or on a CD.

In the "old days" you had a limited amount of equipment and you had to learn how to use it to the best advantage. There was lots of time spent figuring out how to get the best S/N ratio on 4 tracks so when you bounced it you would still have a good sounding recording when you wiped off two of the tracks to add the vocals and you had to how to get the best performance from gear that was at best "vintage" because new gear was very expensive and very hard to get.

Today, thankfully,  you don't have those limitations. Digital if done correctly has a dynamic range that we could only dream of in the '60's and '70's and we have so much equipment to choose from it is mind boggling. Studios that use to be proud to state that they had 8 or 16 tracks today can boast almost unlimited tracks. Microphone technology has come full circle and every day there are more and more ribbon microphones coming out and TUBES are the new in thing. Even with the simplest recording rig people today can access the complete resources of a studio of 30 years ago in a box that costs 1/100th of what the same equipment would have cost 30 or 40 years ago. IT should be a time of GREAT improvements in the sound of recordings but it is not.

Why is that?

Here are some problem areas....

1. People no longer take the time to learn how to record. They just open the box and plug it in and start recording. Their "experience" is measured in hours and days instead of weeks, months and years. They also don't develop the ears that engineers use to develop since in a lot of cases they don't have any good reference recordings to base their listening experiences on and they wrongly assume that since they are doing the recording everything they are doing sounds the way it is suppose to sound.

2. People today no longer have to learn how to sing or play instruments. They can fix all their mistakes in a Pro Tools session.

3. There is so much equipment that no one has time to learn all of its complexity and most people today use unmodified presets for all their needs since to learn a piece of equipment would take time and by the time they learned it completely it would be superceded by something that can do 100 more things and cost half of what they were using.

4. The magazines of today offer cookie cutter approaches to recording, mixing and mastering. If this process and equipment worked for so and so then by having this equipment and doing what they did with it you can have a million seller album.

5. The magazine of today don't review equipment like Hugh Ford did in the old Studio Sound magazine, they hype the equipment and make it seem that by owning this you can be  Bruce Swedien or at least get things to sound like it was recorded by Bruce Swedien.

6. Before, in the old days, when you went into a studio you had to be prepared. You had to write good music, you had to practice the music and be proficient at playing it and you had to be ready to get it done is a reasonable amount of time since the clock was running. Today, working in your own studio,  you can put down a scratch track and then modify it and build off of the track and come up with new ideas and basically write the song as you go. In one sense this is great because you literally have all the time in the world to work on your ideas with no one worrying about how much this is all costing. But on the other side pre planning something was and is a very good thing to do and being prepared for a session and having the clock ticking was good for the adrenalin rush that was a part of every recording session.

7. The push for having everything louder has not helped the music that is being published today. It is like the arms race the person with the most weapons (or the loudest CD) wins.

8. With more and more plug ins being written everyday and with most software coming with a plethora of plug ins people who do recordings and mastering think that because they have them they have to use ALL of them on every track. I see posting on the Wavelab site and the person is complaining that there are only so many slots available in the master section and  they want to use 12 to 20 plug ins to master the song. <If you have to use 12 to 20 effects to master a song there is something REALLY wrong with the song IMHO>

9. in the old days the recording of music was a collaboration between the musicians, the producer, the A&R person and the engineer. Music was talked about, it was changed, it was played again and changed again so that when it finally came out it was a team effort. Today so much music is written, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered by one person who is doing this all by him or her self and has no one else to bounce idea off of or tell them what sounds good and what does not.

10. Music today is not happy music. If you listen to the tunes of the 40's 50's 60's and 70's most of it makes you feel good. Today music is much darker and the lyrics are about things that would not even be talked about in a high school men's locker room let alone in polite company. It is raw, it is in your face and it is loud.  In the old days music was an enjoyable part of your life and you took the time to savor it and learn from it. Today most music is background and you very seldom, if ever see someone sitting down for any length of time actually listening to music. It is always done literally on the run, whether driving the car, on your IPOD while you are traveling somewhere or as a background to other tasks that you are performing. It has become the background sound for this generation and is just part of the background clutter that they have to deal with on a daily basis.

My thoughts....and FWIW.

<Interesting discussion topic. I was discussing the same thing with the Station Manager of the local classical station about two weeks ago. His take was that technology is overwhelming us and that no one has time to understand the current technology before you are working on new technology which will then be superceded by newer technology in the coming weeks so no one tries to learn anything since it will be old technology by next week. His current example was the IPOD and where it started from and where it has gone in a couple of short years. "There are people walking around today with 7,500 songs in their IPOD and no time to really listen on one song so why take the trouble to download and upload all those songs if then you don't have time to listen to them" was his final comment on the subject....>

Thomas W. Bethel
Managing Director
Acoustik Musik, Ltd.
Room With a View Productions

Doing what you love is freedom.
Loving what you do is happiness.

Offline Arif Muhmin

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2006, 10:28:36 am »
G.A.S.? What equipment? I only use a PC these days. And it sounds far better than the days of racks and mixers. And not to speak of how much easier it is to deal with.

But for a while there I thought you meant G.A.S. the electronic music band/producer, who makes some good music.

Offline turtletone

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2006, 11:01:18 am »
I don't think I own nearly as much gear as I used to. No one I know owns as much as they used to now that I think about it. I used to have racks and racks of gear to be able to record. Now all you need is a few select pieces. the gear used to be huge which ment you needed big rooms, which ment you could get more gear. I see it more as fewer pieces doing more things now.
Michael Fossenkemper
TurtleTone Studio

Offline djwaudio

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #10 on: October 19, 2006, 11:12:26 am »
 I haven't noticed that modern records are destroyed any more than they used to be. The guy over-using a plug in EQ is the same guy who was cranking the EQ on his crummy board ten years ago.

Same result.

The process of acquiring gear is like going to a shopping mall. There is something primal that gets eroded under the florescent lights and aisles of cheap wears from China.

Gear lust, can take you away from what is fine.
The best tools can be a catalyst for getting closer.
Respectfully submitted,

Dana J. White

Offline bblackwood

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #11 on: October 19, 2006, 11:25:46 am »
Just think about it more, deeper.

All the records people herald as 'the greatest sounding records' we made in a similar manner - no outboard mic pres (no one used outboard pres until maybe the mid 80's - virtually everything before that was done with onboard pres), simple mic selections (focusing on placement), large format consoles, some outboard. Very often tracked and mixed on the same console. Mastered in rooms with simple gear (look at TML or BGM - all good sounding custom (and simple) gear).

Are records really better sounding today than they were 25 years ago?

I know mastering guys who won't turn on the lights if they don't have at least three compressors to work with, yet all the great records we love had ONE compressor and ONE EQ in the mastering chain.

Choices are generally considered good, but are they?

Everyone seems bent on buying the next piece of gear to help them make stuff sound they way they want, overlooking the value of having a solid, simple chain that they know extremely well. The 'great' records of yester-year were not made with dozens of processors in front of the engineer, but with simple, well understood chains.

I'm just thinking aloud, but it seems to me the focus has become the gear and not the development of engineering talent.

I mean, do you require more gear to cut great sounding records? If so, ask yourself - why didn't our forefathers require more than one or two EQ's and compressors to master such stunning records?
Brad Blackwood
euphonic masters

Offline Spiritwalkerpro

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2006, 11:28:18 am »
I think of it as a combo

To much new gear too quick and not enough time to explore it's full potential.

Many musicians, engineers and producers working day jobs to support their artistic desires.  This leaves them little time and energy to improve their craft.

A modern audience that does not have time to sit and enjoy music as they too are working hard to make ends meet.

The result is that music is becoming disposable.  And as with garbage, when it got out of control we started to look at recycling.

Offline dave-G

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #13 on: October 19, 2006, 11:36:37 am »
Maybe this is a tangent to Brad's concept .. but with my mixer hat on, I can say that for many gear-acquisitors, there is a problem.  And if it doesn't make me seem older than I actually am, I'd even say it's generational (read: younger producer/engineers suffer more).

A problem I've seen far too much of is that the choice and application of gear is driven by its reputation and percieved status more than by good engineering/listening decisions.  

For example, I've seen a few too many ProTools sessions that show up for a mix, with labeling and notes in the comments section indicating that they chose some top-flight, household-name mics, pres and signal paths.   Only when I listen to the tracks, I find that they often sound horrible, the mic's position was so bad, or so poorly chosen to match the source;    ie: acoustic guitars miked way too close with a great mic still have huge, wooly resonances .. That airy, sizzly C12 might be a defacto for female vocals, but the singer has nearly speech-impediment-level sibilance, didn't need that mic, nor the +10 on the hi-shelf of 1073, so ... ouch!  ... The coolest overhead condensers in the universe positioned too close to the cymbals on a bashy drummer are still going to sound strident when you try to use them for kick and snare 'air'... that U47fet through the 1073 on kick whose stand sagged to the point that the mic was touching the ground, and getting physically thumped on every kick impact ..  Well, that's just not a good kick sound.  Bad settings on a pristine blackface, 'rev D' 1176 are not undoable once printed. ..

Yadda yadda yadda .. You get the idea .. but some of the sounds I hear from "hall-of-fame" signal chains  are so bad, that it amazes me when I have to figure that those sounds reflect that basic listening and 'engineering' techniques were so completely ignored during the tracking.  It seems that they were so impressed with the gear they were using that nobody stopped and listened and tried to improve on what should have been fairly obvious problems.  

Fixitinthemix-ism for sure .. but gear don't make records by itself.


Offline Craig Patterson

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Re: Is G.A.S. destroying modern records?
« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2006, 11:42:12 am »
Brad, I think you make some excellent and perfectly valid points.  But I also think it's the engineering world that helped cause this mentality, because before the '90's, no one could record anything themselves - it had to be left to the engineers in the big studios, because the little guys "just don't have the gear."  

I think there's a segment of society that's been waiting (figuratively) for the gear to come to them, and now it has.  They've proven the big-time studios wrong in the only facet of the argument that was shared with them.  What wasn't shared with them was that it takes time to learn the gear, and time to create the knowledge of when to use something, when not to, what room to use, and how to arrange.  All that was left aside in the past argument, because the engineer knew that *anyone* could get those things, if they were willing to put in some time.  So they concentrated on Lording themselves with what they thought was an impenetrable wall.  Little did they know that people would choose to not learn the skills that would do them the most good.