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What makes up that "70s sound"?
Old 18th September 2012
  #1
What makes up that "70s sound"?

We all know music from the 70s has a distinct sound (much like music from any decade really). What do you think are the key ingredients for the 70s sound? Is it tape machines? The instruments used? The studios? The engineers? The musicians? The music? The drugs? All of the above?

I've been listening to English 70s rock bands non stop today and they all share this velvet crunchy smoothness. I especially noticed it on the drums, this nice soft kick and snare but that still punches through. The basses are draped in velvet, the guitars are crunchy yet clean. The volume seems generally lower compared to today, and I noticed the reverbs they use sound much different than rock recordings of today. They also use much more obvious panning I noticed (eg hard panning the drums left and vocals right). Perhaps this has something to do with it?

I mention rock here, but electronic music of that decade share similar characteristics.

Part of me wants it to be a simple answer, but I know the reality is probably more complex and involves interaction between multiple different factors.

Has anyone else given some thought to this? I'd be curious to hear what you think (especially those of you who were actually alive during the time to witness it first hand haha).
Old 18th September 2012
  #2
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2 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
lmao. i wouldnt say the drugs but other stuff..

i am sure that ... every music from any decade has its own sound, like music from the 80s, 90s... and so on. dont know much about music from the 70s years but id say live instruments make the sounds.
Old 18th September 2012
  #3
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
The answer is every link in the chain from the players all the way to how records were cut and pressed back then.

There really is no point in going back and trying to do a perfect recreation because you will never get things to line up the same way again.

You will need vintage players with vintage instruments, in vintage rooms running through vintage mics and pres, into vintage mixers and outboard, recorded on vintage tape decks running tape with vintage formulations, then mixed by hand with vintage outboard to a vintage 1/4" tape machine running another vintage formulation, then sent to a vintage mastering engineer who mastered it with vintage outboard and then cut it with a vintage lathe and it was then plated in a vintage plating plant and then sent to be pressed in a vintage pressing plant.

The chain is so long and complex that you will never really hit that sound ever again.
Old 18th September 2012
  #4
Gear Maniac
 
Rompetigo's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
My question is why throwback bands that record solely to tape in analog studios with vintage outboard still don't sound like the 70s, they usually just sound bad.
Old 18th September 2012
  #5
Here for the gear
 
🎧 5 years
tape/minimoog/delay/good muso/marriwanna
Old 18th September 2012
  #6
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Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
16 track was brand new. Most artists had been signed based on being able to pull off a stunning 4 or 8 track album in a week or less. Most artists had also been supporting themselves playing music for several years before getting signed and had chops at a level seldom seen today due to that staggering amount of performing experience.

It had almost nothing to do with tape.
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #7
Gear Addict
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rompetigo ➑️
My question is why throwback bands that record solely to tape in analog studios with vintage outboard still don't sound like the 70s, they usually just sound bad.
true. so what's the missing link? I'm always impressed with high quality 70's music production
Old 18th September 2012
  #8
Gear Nut
 
🎧 5 years
I am inclined to say guitar effects and recording the whole band in one room. Phaser and fuzz, tube driven amps and mic'ing the whole shag covered room so that the engineer had to make room in the mixer for one go.

But then again, I am inclined to say a whole lot that I know nothing about....
Old 18th September 2012
  #9
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ttown23's Avatar
 
2 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
When I think of 70s electronic music, one of my favorite bands comes to mind: Tangerine Dream. I completely idlize these guys...!

I think a big part of their sound was modular synthesis, and taking the time with sound design to make really, really great sounds. These days, everyone doing music professionally wants a quick hit... sound libraries, DAWs, canned, canned, canned. I refuse to use sound libraries in any of the stuff I do professionally, because I'm so sick of the canned sounds.

But those guys were 70s music Gods. If you ask me, we need to get back to that level of musicianship. Absolutely brilliant!
Old 18th September 2012
  #10
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Catabolic's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Singers could nail it without Autotune. Players could play the crap out of it. There were these things called 'bands' where ideas got cooked to a juicier level and where people would have to to impress the gang first

Yes, i've been listening to a lot of 70s funk lately. Listen to some James Brown, that sh is tight.
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by Whatupdoe? ➑️
You will need vintage players with vintage instruments, in vintage rooms running through vintage mics and pres, into vintage mixers and outboard, recorded on vintage tape decks running tape with vintage formulations, then mixed by hand with vintage outboard to a vintage 1/4" tape machine running another vintage formulation, then sent to a vintage mastering engineer who mastered it with vintage outboard and then cut it with a vintage lathe and it was then plated in a vintage plating plant and then sent to be pressed in a vintage pressing plant.

The chain is so long and complex that you will never really hit that sound ever again.
This is what I was afraid of.. and I think this makes the most sense.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rompetigo ➑️
My question is why throwback bands that record solely to tape in analog studios with vintage outboard still don't sound like the 70s, they usually just sound bad.
Good point. I wonder if someone today was to use the exact same gear as they did back then whether they'd end up with the same sound.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ttown23 ➑️
I think a big part of their sound was modular synthesis, and taking the time with sound design to make really, really great sounds.
Good point. But I think even if someone programmed patches today on a modular from the 70s it still wouldn't sound the same as records from then. Or maybe it would?


I guess the question is whether this sound comes purely from hardware or if there were other factors involved, maybe something subtle like the humidity in the recording studios affecting the tapes? lol.
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Catabolic ➑️
Singers could nail it without Autotune. Players could play the crap out of it. There were these things called 'bands' where ideas got cooked to a juicier level and where people would have to to impress the gang first

Yes, i've been listening to a lot of 70s funk lately.
Yup, I agree that the quality of musicians plus the fact that everything was played live (no MIDI) was a big part of it.

Not to derail the thread, but I'm curious which 70s funk are you listening to?
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #13
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Catabolic ➑️
Singers could nail it without Autotune...
It's not so much that they could as it was the fact that they had to.
Old 18th September 2012
  #14
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Catabolic's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
@Bloodsample nothing too exotic...there are some satellite radio channels in the US that play it, for example, Sirius XM The Groove. They go from funk to disco to 80s R&B ... Back and forth they go, it's really interesting to listen to how things evolved from horn sections to 808s.
Old 18th September 2012
  #15
I just found this article about getting that 70s guitar sound and there are some interesting points brought up.

Worth a read.
The Musician's Room: That FAT '70s Sound
Old 18th September 2012
  #16
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Teknobeam's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
It's all of the above...Tape and a huge Neve console with a bunch of expensive outboard fx and an engineer that knew what he (or she) was doing.... But it's a;ways about garbage in garbage out. Perhaps the fact that the people doing the music weren't stuck in front of a Mac all day helped. Listen to T REX "The Slider" (The entire record, but....for some killer strings check out Spaceball Ricochette...probably not a sample) You won't hear a lot of synths,, but you will hear the flavor of that expereince..and that's possibly my point. Far from perfect,, far from digital,, all about real. Same with Bowie "Ziggy Stardust.. The songwriting was first...but the engineering and the producer was a huge component. And that before random access editing on a PC...It was linear tape...punching in tracks, etc. fewer choices for magic,, but well...less is more? Hey JJ Cale..."naturally...used the Rythym Ace on half the album.,.. inspired half of it as well. check that record out.. quite a gem. Things started to evolve...Blondie made a footprint and then the Cars....in parralel Pink Floyd that had been experimenting with sound in general (not neccesarilly synths)...and the Who...with "who's next" This was all mainstream stuff.....But why does this stuff sound different? It's not perfect...It's not quantized,, it's not aware of that perfection. But tape saturation and a talented producer subjectively extracting nuggets....kind of alchemy going on there, but not intentionally. Anyone that has made a bunch of music eventually discovers, then quickly begins to appreciate "serendipity" That's what producers from the 70's excelled at. Especially when some potential began to record tracks on a 48 track Studer. That was where the mining of the gold really could happen, and often did.
Old 18th September 2012
  #17
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kpsiegel's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Hmmm....as someone who grew up in the 70's and was playing then I may have a little different perspective (for better or worse ;-)

I think the number one difference in sound is that you had all your instruments played explicitly into mics either directly or from a mic'ed amplifier. You also were playing in real rooms and not electronically simulated ones. The choices of effects were a lot more limited. And yes, singers had to sing the song in key. No midi or anything. If I messed up my keyboard part then I was screwed. No editing in a DAW.

I don't think you can make across the board assumptions about the players being better. The main music of the 70's was disco/funk, arena rock, southern rock, and punk at the end. Rap was just beginning to show up with some air play of Grandmaster Flash. For every super tight James Brown band funk player there was a Sid Vicious who was abysmal as a musician. Jon Matlock had to do all his recorded parts cause he was so awful.

Not all records sounded good either. Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" is amazing but then listen to Iggy and the Stooges "Raw Power." It is like a lesson in how NOT to engineer and produce a record despite the great tunes. Also, synths were showing up but not exactly mainstream at that point. Queen never used them and actually put on the album covers that "no synths were used" as a point of pride. You would never see that today.

Add in to all of this the fact that an average musician was not going to produce a record out of his garage or bedroom unlike today where the tools are there to do totally professional work in your own home.
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #18
Gear Guru
 
Yoozer's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by kpsiegel ➑️
I don't think you can make across the board assumptions about the players being better.
Well, consider this: with everyone having/trying to do everything themselves you can't sink as many hours in just improving your chops. Worse if you stay self-taught and start at age 15 or so, with FL (or whatever other cheap/easily acquired DAW) being your only axe.

Since that allows more music to be made, a larger percentage of music is going to have worse players, so overall, you have worse players.

Quote:
Queen never used them and actually put on the album covers that "no synths were used" as a point of pride. You would never see that today.
No, instead you get stuff like "no computers were used" (but if it doesn't move people, such a disclaimer is useless pedantry).

Wasn't the reason that they put it there because people just refused to believe that it was all layered and multitracked guitars?
Old 18th September 2012
  #19
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Drums in the 70's sounded beautiful, at least pre John Cougar Mellencamp. Toms were tuned to make a note, but not ring incessantly. Damping the drums was an art, from wallets on snare drums to rings of foam with adhesive to put on the inside of the top tom head. Drummers played with much less effort. Yes, there were exceptions - Led Zep, The Who, but even these bands had the drums somewhat under control sonically. There was room left for other sounds.

You sang it until you got it right. No keeping previous takes!

The track sheet for "Brown Sugar" shows eight tracks: drums were on one track. Bass, one track. A track for each of 2 guitars. A percussion track. Both vocals were on the same track, performed at the same time! The last two a were solos; only one was used.

Real pianos, B3's, Wurlys and Rhodes.

Things still sounded pretty good into the early 80's. Squeeze, Crowded House, The Police.

It all went to hell with Scritti Politti - way too much time making things tighter than had ever been heard. And louder...

Best...H
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #20
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kpsiegel's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer ➑️
Well, consider this: with everyone having/trying to do everything themselves you can't sink as many hours in just improving your chops. Worse if you stay self-taught and start at age 15 or so, with FL (or whatever other cheap/easily acquired DAW) being your only axe.

Since that allows more music to be made, a larger percentage of music is going to have worse players, so overall, you have worse players.


No, instead you get stuff like "no computers were used" (but if it doesn't move people, such a disclaimer is useless pedantry).

Wasn't the reason that they put it there because people just refused to believe that it was all layered and multitracked guitars?
I agree with you absolutely about people spending time in front of sequencers and DAWs instead of real instruments. I think you get to hear more crappy music because it is easier to make at home and also distribute over the internet. There were still just as many people that wouldn't know anything but a major or minor chord then as there are now. If I said I wanted to play an A minor 7th flat 5 chord to my guitarist he would have stared blankly into space.

As for Queen, it was both them saying "no we didn't use synths" but also equal parts "we didn't have to." It definitely was the case that the sound was so unique at the time that people were wondering how they did it. Now THEY had real talent!
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #21
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by zzzxtreme ➑️
true. so what's the missing link? I'm always impressed with high quality 70's music production
is that really true? dont think so..
We have a studio in berlin that is a real vintage setup..and it has that sound in the mixes... the old valve and fully discreete desks they have there make an own room in themself allready and sound very smooth on drums..

Just to have some chandlers in the studio dont makes it a real vintage setup..

it needs to be all discrete or valve based to qualify as a vintage studio..
no op amps or AD/DA conversions in the signal chain, transformer coupling at any corner..so the signal wents thrus dozends transformers before it ends on a record....Without AD conversions it of cause needs to be tape based..and directly cutted from a copy of that tape to vinyl.. so every stage of the production process a smoothing device, no hard transients possible really..

So in the end i would rather say that its a pure technical thing to get to this sound.

Wether the music in itself sounds better than todays stuff is another question. And good musicans have a better sound on tape than bad ones. Thats a fact.

So the human factor regarding the involved persons adds to the quality recognition.. But the characteristic smoosh drum sounds are a result of the recording process and involved technology..

And also the room design in the studios..
I dont know when it has started to record drums in acoustical dead small rooms.. But many old records was done in one big recording room with the band together playing it in one take.. that makes things more alive sounding.. from the playing and the involved acoustics.



I dont think that todays musicans or engineers are necessarily all worse than the ones in the 70Β΄s.

but similar skilled people are into different jobs today...they are maybe into different musicstyles today than they was back than.. Or a technical brilliant engineer is not into recording bands theese days but is a software coder
for example..

Or someone that is into revolutionary new music is doing some weard electronic stuff today but is not into coverband retro stuff.. so the guys that do now 70Β΄s style are the ones that did in the 70Β΄s rock a billy stuff..or actually 1930Β΄s songs...how many of these 70Β΄s rocka billy bands or 30Β΄s song style bands you have heard of? Maybe none of them was good enough to be mentioned because theire frame of mind was not into being exiting?

anyway..when you want it all smoosh you need to avoid AD/ DA conversions and chip based audio devices. Everything else just gets as close as an analog synth emulation gets to the original machine
Old 18th September 2012
  #22
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GeorgeHayduke's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
I think the question should be: Why don't modern recording sound like in the 70ies?

I think it's easier to get a 70ies sound with a band acoustic/analog instruments and analog gear, than to get a modern sound. The 70ies recordings sound more like a rehearsal room. I'll be honest, I didn't like it, when I started playing in a band in the late 80ies. I thought the 70ies stuff sounded dated, not 'sharp', too much like my (guitar) band's rehearsal room

My guesses why modern recordings don't sound like the 70ies, even if using acoustics/analogs:

- Mixing: A tendency to carve (eq) and limit every instruments to total submission, to make room for a busy mix. A hyping of the extremes of bass and treble. Not caring about soundstage in relation to what a band could realistically play, and where in the room they might fit, instead panning to fill out every empty space in the recording.
- Mastering for loudness mainly
Old 18th September 2012
  #23
Gear Addict
 
🎧 5 years
'Aerial Pink's Haunted Graffiti' is an example of a modern album that sounds 70s. Made in 2010/11 I think.
Old 18th September 2012
  #24
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🎧 5 years
As time progressed, the signal path got cleaner and cleaner. Don't know who along the way decided the sound wasn't good enough/wanted more clean. Outboard company designers? Mix/mastering engineers? Producers? Musicians? Either way, when listening to a record from the 70s you are hearing everything from that time. From utilizing only four mics to record an entire band, to the room that they all played in at once, the console, the outboard, and finally to tape. Tape. Gets way too much emphasis as there was more happening before and sometimes after the tape before it got pressed to vinyl. Does it help? Oh yes, but tape IS NOT THE MAGICAL INGREDIENT FOR A VINTAGE SOUND! Nor is just pressing to vinyl.

It's always weird to me when people rush off for those tape saturation plugs thinking that it's the old shool magic they need for their production, whether ITB or OTB, the signal path up to the computer is usually squeeky clean, likewise for leaving the computer. Also weird is when most people want emulate bands that were using DAT players, not tape.

As for the musicianship, I have no comment really. I've heard hand played electronic music that sounded just as good as sequenced. And vice versa. But let's not forget that there were sequencing options back then too. Even if they had to be hand made by the musician (Kraftwerk/Gristle).

It's weird how times have changed. No era is better or worse than any other because as we all know, it's the guy operating the tools and not the tools itself. Give me a microKorg and I'll show you rad fart noises, give Vangelis one and he'll write a masterpiece.
Old 18th September 2012
  #25
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🎧 10 years
Tape.
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #26
Gear Addict
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by networkacid ➑️
Tape.
If only it was that simple.

I think playing and also culture. This is just my observation, but it seems the great virtuoso players of the 70s actually had fun too - went out, took drugs, travelled, loved playing, enjoyed life and had 'something to say' in their playing.

Nowadays the disciplined virtuoso players are bedroom bores who have all the licks and chops but make the most utterly tasteless music (with a few exceptions of course).
Modern musicians with any true artistic credibility have opted to skip the learning and use technology. That's where the 70s sound has been lost, in my opinion.
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #27
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gremlin moon's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Catabolic ➑️
@Bloodsample nothing too exotic...there are some satellite radio channels in the US that play it, for example, Sirius XM The Groove. They go from funk to disco to 80s R&B ... Back and forth they go, it's really interesting to listen to how things evolved from horn sections to 808s.
I was just about to say this!!!
Old 18th September 2012
  #28
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Xero's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
the monos: moogs, arps, etc
the polys: cs-80s, prophet 5 rev1/2, ob-x/fourvoice

all those old 70s synths had tons of mojo

lots of big old mixing consoles and what not.
Old 18th September 2012
  #29
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 5 years
I love music made in the seventies. But I have really a problem with that
'seventies sound'. I grew up in those days and obviously a lot of things
changed to a large extend. Not only the whole process of making records
but also the gear a consumer has available for playback.
Electric Ladyland - I have got a vinyl from the 70s, a cd from the 80s,
a remastered cd from the 90s and someone gave me another cd done
20?? (this one sounds worst)...really difficult to choose.
I even have the Hifi speakers my father bought 1972

Well, a lot of good points here but 'That Sound' will be difficult to explain.
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #30
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by GeorgeHayduke ➑️
I think the question should be: Why don't modern recording sound like in the 70ies?

I think it's easier to get a 70ies sound with a band acoustic/analog instruments and analog gear, than to get a modern sound. The 70ies recordings sound more like a rehearsal room. I'll be honest, I didn't like it, when I started playing in a band in the late 80ies. I thought the 70ies stuff sounded dated, not 'sharp', too much like my (guitar) band's rehearsal room

My guesses why modern recordings don't sound like the 70ies, even if using acoustics/analogs:

- Mixing: A tendency to carve (eq) and limit every instruments to total submission, to make room for a busy mix. A hyping of the extremes of bass and treble. Not caring about soundstage in relation to what a band could realistically play, and where in the room they might fit, instead panning to fill out every empty space in the recording.
- Mastering for loudness mainly
I think the bolded part is huge. This and dynamics or lack thereof in modern recordings.
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