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Author Topic: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?  (Read 13476 times)

Offline compasspnt

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IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« on: February 02, 2005, 10:15:01 pm »
So, since this is my part of the forum, at least for this short month, I want to ask all of you a question.  This came up in another topic here yesterday, but I think this is worth a whole new one.

Question:

In what ways is recorded sound BETTER today than it "ever  was," such as in the "last days of tubes/first days of discrete" 1960's-70's (or even direct to disk '40's),

AND

How is recorded audio WORSE today than in those so-called "golden days?"

I have my theories, but I'd like to read yours!

Terry

Offline Barry Hufker

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2005, 12:50:18 am »
Having a knack for stating the obvious, I will say that the opportunity to record music is greater today than it ever was.  In that regard recording has become a very "democratic" process.  It is now easier for band's of all "talent types" to be able to produce something.  No longer must one convince an A&R man at a label to sign you in order to have access to the process.  Unfortunately, the greater volume of available recordings has not necessarily created better quality in either the sound or the message.  But there is worthwhile recordings being made.

I also think that technology has enabled the average person to have access to gear that has at least decent sound.  I believe this to be truer than at any previous time.  "OK" sound can be had easily but I believe "great sound" is as elusive as ever.

Finally, I would add that technology has given people of all talent levels a convenience and flexibility that hasn't ever existed previously and so, for the people who understand what they've been given, quite possibly making great sounding records is easier than before.

Outside of these factors I would say things are about the same.  The talented produce "interesting" to "great" recordings and the vast majority of people produce something of much less (and varied) quality.  Only the volume (pun intended) of available recordings has increased.

Offline brandondrury

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2005, 01:30:56 am »
I come from a different side of things than the big boys on the forum, but one flaw that I really see with a lot of the high school kids I end up working with is they expect an engineer to create their sound.  They base so much on engineering.  I think a lot of them come to the studio simply to hear a guitar tone that they can't get in their bedroom.  That is fine, but so many are much more concerned with the tone of their instrument vs the quality of their songs.  You can see it.  When you mention the word "songwriting" people tend to look nervous or unprepared like a forgotten homework assignment is due.

I think back in the old days when you had just one or two mics in a room, something about the band and the music came first.  Now with all the multitracking and such, the idea of everyone playing together is getting lost.  I think that will hurt in the end.

I was lucky enough to record a bunch of rockers in their 40s who did everything live, except for a few vocals.  I think I used 6 mics for the whole band.  It was great.  The music was in the air, so to speak, and that's something that the kids coming up today do not have...

I can't speak for the big boys.
Brandon

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2005, 07:39:39 am »
Your question can invoke quite an emotional response from me but I will try to keep it on the "level" pun intended.

We have the oppurtunity to do better work now. Our tools are more transparent, we can get in the nano inches with editing and certainly acoustics and loudspeaker relationships are better understood..however, what I feel is an underlying problem is the wide range of different monitors being used and misunderstood during the tracking and mixing stages. I find it a shame that mastering is being used to "bail out" many projects that otherwise could have been done "better" had the engineer been able to hear "it all" from better references.

So part one..Inconsistancies of monitoring platforms from studio to studio has done more to hurt current productions than help. In the 60's/70's and even through "some" of the 80's, you pretty much knew what was being used because everyone had the same thing, (ie 4310/4311 etc) as an example of the 70's.

Part 2.

Care. Calibration is key. How many times do we visit another facility to find someone has a master amplifier with one gain turned down a shade or some funky eq chained into the 2 buss? When I visit a facility to sit down for a few weeks, I take a full day to get a grip on the calabration and see the entire path and make notes. If I change the house calibration, I want to be able to put it back before I leave. I don't want to get into day 2 of a session to find out something funky is going on and have to start pulling cables. These days, we must take time to familarize ourselves with the "system" even if it is our own!
I spend time each week checking calibration as things change. Equipment drift is a reality and I want to find it, nip it. I feel all too often people are not going through the "engineering aspects" of keeping the system in top shape and taking all too much for granted. In the older days, the systems had "maintenance" time logged. Folks these days flip on a computer and go at it. I don't trust any of it until I know everything is working properly and consistantly. How many times have we left a great mix up, went out to grab a snack and came back to a mix that sounded "much different"? I certainly have and I used to blame it on the old studio Ghost. We all know every decent studio has one or more of them! Smile

In summary, consistancy from facility to facility and utter detail in calibration is hurting the modern record. Just a little more attention to detail and it makes a huge difference.

Also, these days, I see engineers working way past the limit of being in touch. In the old days, after hour 10, we called it a day. It is common to see 17 hour sessions today..and subjectivity just goes out the door. The profession should be treated as such and we must remind ourselves..it is serious business. No time or need to suck!


Lastly, this God awful Loudness war. I may lose a gig from time to time because I am not going push it up that high and sound like ass. I feel people come to me because my catalog contains high quality work. They want to retain high quality, not have it ruined because joe six pack blow has a super loud record. I leave the Squash-0-Roma to my peers who take delight in seeing a -9dB rms master get pressed. I really don't understand why anyone would want to destroy all the hard work that goes into a great production by trying to fit a clique of "lets see how loud we can go". Their is a point where it sounds "bad" and if this is what an artist wants, I know a hundred mastering engineers that would be happy to give it to them..I cant bring myself to do it. I can afford not to play that game.

The loudest record of Hard rock I have ever done came in at -13.5. To me, it was 1.5dB too compressed but I bent some because it was needed "that time" but I convinced the artist that a -10dB would just sound like trash, everywhere it would be played. I still get "thank yous" for twisting their arm on that one.
http://balancedmastering.com

"Listen and Learn"
---Since 1975---

Offline Bobro

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2005, 09:03:53 am »
Recorded audio today sounds fantastic!

Unfortunately, most people have never heard a modern recording.
The music and the recorded sound tend to be intertwined, too.

A truly modern recording makes use of the historically unprecendented dynamic range of the medium. Which means, in general, no, or very little, compression.

Highly compressed recordings are contemporary, but they're not modern. In fact they're just that boring old mid-century
mass-conformity/dictatorship/genocide shit, embodied in sound. Think about what a compressor does. Pushes down, or straightup kills in the case of a limiter, the stuff that sticks out, so you can "bring up the average". Sound familiar?

Don't get me started on autotune.

Not being extreme about this, actually- compression happens in any society, the question is motivation. I suppress the scent of my underarms with roll-on on occassion, out of consideration for others. And there are offenders who are just asking to be on the recieving end of some serious hard limiting, I'm not against that.

Of course, there are artistic reasons for heavy compression- for example, you might want to express how shallow your emotions or life experiences are with a limited dynamic range, or your fear and timidity of making definite statements by shyly ducking down those attack transients. That's cool, it takes all kinds.

Yes these truly modern recordings sound great.

Lots of acoustic instruments of course- you've got this flood of inexpensive decent mics, old and new, all these musicians dicking around with them at home. What are they going to record? A Marshall stack in the kitchen? No, they remember how they used to play the sax in school, next thing you know they'e all over the place in modern music.

It's refreshing that 4/4 is more the exception than the rule- it took a long time for the sexual revolution to really sink in, but now you've got this kama sutra of waltzs and 7/8s and such, not so much one thousand subtle variations on the missionary position.

Equipment is highly portable, so you hear lots of different strange rooms of course, and you've got all the convolution impulses of rooms floating around too.  

What's worse? Well, there's no snapped-to-grid and often no click in modern recording, those techniques belonging to a former age and contradictory to the true, non-linear, power of a DAW. So you get a lot free-form stuff and very loose rhythms and it can swing too far.

Of course no modern producer goes near autotuning because intolerance and conformity aren't hip, love and diversity are, so tuning can run pretty damn loose, a matter of taste.

Probably the biggest real difference is visual, though. Because modern recording is all about creativity and musicianship, and no modern producer wants to be associated with the lick-the-ass-of-the-military-industrial-complex vibe of MTV, you tend to get quite a few frankly homely middle-aged folk in the bands, poorly dressed to boot. Another matter of taste of course.

-Bobro

Offline Bob Olhsson

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2005, 09:11:39 am »
Barry Hufker wrote on Wed, 02 February 2005 23:50

...No longer must one convince an A&R man at a label to sign you in order to have access to the process. ...

In many, if not most cases, this was never the only way to have access to the process. If you were really good, the large commercial studios and even session musicians would always advance you "spec" time in order to make a first class demo that could create future work for everybody. Today, you're strictly on your own. If you can't afford enough money to make a video demo along with a computer and some recording gear along with enough time to learn how to use it, forget about it.

While the cost of polishing turds has never been lower, the cost of access to a music career has never been higher. I want to choke every time I see a Silicon Valley press release about the "democratization" of the music industry. It's probably the biggest song shark's lie of them all.

Offline hargerst

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2005, 10:11:21 am »
I also believe that when we had less tracks to work with, the music had less chance to become "stale", both to the musicians and to the engineers and producers.  All the comping, editing, and delaying of mix decisions has taken us to perfect, but often boring, levels of performance.

I remember many instances of finishing a take and saying, "that's it", and meaning it; there was nothing more that needed to be done.  And everybody in the place knew "that was the take"; the musicians, the engineer, the producer, and even the receptionist knew it.

In L.A. we had people like Ray Brown, Barney Kessel, Hal Blaine, Carole Kaye, and so many others with "taste"; Memphis had Steve Cropper, "Duck Dunn", and the "Horns"; Motown had the "Funk Brothers", Nashville had .... - you get the idea.  So many really great players contributing their unique talents to an often one-shot take and move on the the next.

With the exception of Nashville, most of that is gone.  You have self contained rock groups with varying levels of real talent within the group, but almost unlimited tracks and effects to "make it sound good".  

"But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living ev'ry day"

I think we may have "lost" more than we "gained" this time.
Harvey "Is that the right note?" Gerst
Indian Trail Recording Studio

Offline bblackwood

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2005, 10:14:20 am »
In the right hands, it is better, but those hands have to be experienced, as always.

The real problem is the lack of real experience among a majority of the newer engineers, imo.
Brad Blackwood
euphonic masters

Offline j.hall

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2005, 10:22:36 am »
better today = tchad blake
worse today = vlad the impaler


Offline maxdimario

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2005, 11:45:40 am »
This is a very important issue for me.

Electronic equipment built for the purpose of recording music to me reached a peak in the mid to late 50's and began to become worse and worse with miniaturization of mixers, increased number of channels etc.

the absolute best stuff I've heard was designed in the 50s, in Germany.
the best recording medium is tape with tube electronics (if the whole machine has been completely overhauled and has no old capacitors, tubes, dirty contacts, magnetized transformers and heads etc.) the bigger the tape the better.
signal to noise is not a big problem with modern tape.

next comes the discrete silicon transistor stuff that was designed in the late 60's (OVERHAULED) since it is similar in design to tubes -- few active components, inductors, transformers of high quality.

then comes the last generation transistor stuff with improved specs but more active components, feedback etc. A little bit more boring emotionally because in the process of squeezing better specs out of the circuits they also reduced the feel factor

then comes modern op-amp based equipment, which I avoid.

last of all is early op-amp based equipment which to me is not suited for music recording...

music recording in the early days captured the performance in a convincing way and some old mono lps in good shape give you the feeling of being in front of that performance (if everything is fine tuned and aligned)

the best stuff is similar to high-end hi-fi: few components of the best quality possible, and an emphasis on music reproduction -- not specs.

Offline jfrigo

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2005, 12:15:58 pm »
bblackwood wrote on Thu, 03 February 2005 07:14

In the right hands, it is better, but those hands have to be experienced, as always.

The real problem is the lack of real experience among a majority of the newer engineers, imo.


Agreed. It's style over substance, all sizzle, no steak. Most people don't seem to even want to learn, or realize what they're missing; after all, the advertismenet says you don't need talent, knowledge, or experience - just the latest $299 software.

Certainly the tools offer more potential; sadly it is routinely squandered.


Offline Bob Olhsson

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2005, 12:52:11 pm »
When you consider what most live music sounds like today, it doesn't take rocket science to figure out that several generations of listeners no longer have the experience of live music as their reference point for quality.

Nobody can be expected to aspire to something that they've simply never experienced. Somebody who's never tasted steak assumes it's only about different kinds of sizzle.

Offline Joe Crawford

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2005, 02:20:39 pm »
As Harvey wrote - “I also believe that when we had less tracks to work with, the music had less chance to become "stale", both to the musicians and to the engineers and producers. All the comping, editing, and delaying of mix decisions has taken us to perfect, but often boring, levels of performance.”

‘Art’ is that which conveys emotion from the artist to the audience.   Read that as ‘soul’!  And, music used to be ‘art’.  Now, with all the technical enhancements to recording (i.e., DAW’s, digital effects, unlimited tracks, unlimited edits, etc.) we have the capability to make recordings ‘technically perfect’.   But, in doing so, we have removed all the ‘art’.   Today’s music may still be entertaining.  So is elevator music.   But, where is the feeling?  I guess it got lost in the production process.  How can we, as the artist, feel a song when stuck in an isolation boot with a set of cans over our ears and half a dozen people staring at us (and the clock)?  How can we, as the audience, feel a song when every drum hit has been timed within a millisecond, and every vocal note tuned within a couple of cents?

It’s not just ‘stale’.  We’ve removed all the soul, and the ‘live’ feel, of the music.  Maybe we’re just in too much of a hurry to play it right, record it right, or just make money.  I don’t know the answer.  But I do know we’re slowly trashing what’s left of the ‘art’ in music.

Joe Crawford
Stony Mountain Studio
Shanks, WV 26716

Offline Andy Simpson

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2005, 04:28:46 pm »
In my opinion......Wink
.....distorted guitar amps have removed the dynamics from most popular music.

The kids think that dynamic is binary - normal distortion (0) and then a pedal for the chorus (even more distortion - 1). Binary.

The amount of dynamic that is lost simply using the classic crunch (often described as 'clean'!) sound of a marshall instead of clean can't be underestimated (let alone the 'lead' channels).
And to play with the binary guitars you get binary drummers who play as hard as possible on the hats in the verse and as hard as possible on the crash in the chorus.

It sounds very bad in the room, and it sounds very bad on record.

As for the human voice.....well....how can a shouting into a 1k monitoring system with a sm58 stuffed into your mouth improve your technique? I'm surprised more 'vocalists' don't have a stomp box for their chorus vocals.....

Bob is right on the money. It's sad.

Have you guys heard the first two Ben Folds Five albums? Those guys really had 'it' in every way (dynamics, songs, arrangements, craft, musicianship, performance, etc), except the recording.
Technically the dynamic is there, but there is no depth or life whatsoever. Transistors?
Then there's the major label'd 'unauthorized biography...' - really expensive transistors into PT?... but still no depth or life (just lots of polish).
Best band of the last 20 years in my book...should have sounded like carol kings tapestry (or thereabouts).

Andy

One of these days I'm gonna get a tube desk and a tube amp into a small club.....if the mackie sounds crap in a studio, it sounds really loud crap at 120dB.....



Offline Earth Terminal Studios

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Re: IS RECORDED AUDIO BETTER OR WORSE TODAY...?
« Reply #14 on: February 04, 2005, 10:57:34 pm »
We can capture sound more accurately than ever. Does it sound better?
I believe the tape/digital argument comes down to this - the distortions inherent in tape based recording give an impression of power, of something adjusting to cope. It's exciting. The inaccuracies of analogue lend music a sense of other place, because it doesn't sound real.
I recently recorded a jazz band in our live room with one mic, via a Manley 40db, Apogee Trak 2 and then straight to HD @ 96/24. We spent a few hours balancing sound in the room - changing kits/drums/amps etc. getting it sounding like a Mix In The Room. The recorded results were nothing short of fantastic. I don't want tape compression or distortions for this kind of session. The 40db supplied just enough harmonics to give a subtlety attractive edge to the whole thing.
Don't get me wrong - I love tape. Sessions tracked to tape run differently, and God knows i listen harder when I'm not looking at the stuff on screen.
I enjoy nothing more (?!) than engineering, mixing and taking a whole project to completion without touching a single eq, compressor or gate, spending all the time on how the damn thing sounds when you stand in front of it and just capturing it accurately. This is what digital is for, AND I can tell the artist/band, if they congratulate me on a fantastic recording, that it is, in fact, exactly what they sound like Smile
That said, I'm a sucker for a smashed, messed up other place of a sound. Just don't say tape, or vinyl (while I'm at it) is accurate.
I'm new to this forum and maybe don't know the protocol, blah, but I run a very busy commercial studio, and i record everyday, with everything from classical quartets to metal coming through the door.
Reccording is not about quality and eq & compression are an illusion. Thanks.

Lewis Childs
Earth Terminal Studios