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How complicated was recording and mixing back in the 40's and 50's?
Old 14th April 2014
  #1
Registered User
 
🎧 10 years
How complicated was recording and mixing back in the 40's and 50's?

I saw some videos on mixing with DAW's and it made my head hurt- there must have been 30+ plug-ins and the signal path looked like it was drawn up by the Air Force for an invasion.

Which got me wondering- there are tons of great hits from the 40's and 50's by Sinatra, Elvis, etc. How primitive was their equipment? How did they get that stuff sounding so good?
Old 14th April 2014
  #2
Gear Guru
 
chrisso's Avatar
 
🎧 20 years
One or two tracks.
Great mic placement. And the musicians and artists excelled at playing as an ensemble and self-mixing.
Old 14th April 2014
  #3
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depulse's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Mixing when recording. The singer closest to the one microphone used for all and the rest lined up around him depending on how loud the instrument was and how high in the mix the instrument should be.

No mixing to be done, it was a mono track. Some EQ to adjust the track when preparing the shellac or vinyl records.

Still sounds great due to great performers and experienced recording engineers in addition to suitable arrangements.
Old 14th April 2014 | Show parent
  #4
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by depulse ➑️
Mixing when recording. The singer closest to the one microphone used for all and the rest lined up around him depending on how loud the instrument was and how high in the mix the instrument should be.

No mixing to be done, it was a mono track. Some EQ to adjust the track when preparing the shellac or vinyl records.

Still sounds great due to great performers and experienced recording engineers in addition to suitable arrangements.
Before that you you didn't have mikes properly so you'd get every one into a tiny room (like a closet) and play as loud as possible and hope the combination of reverb and loud performers would move the needle enough to make a recording.
Old 14th April 2014
  #5
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lune ➑️
How did they get that stuff sounding so good?
Spending a ****ton on the best available at the time, for one. The equipment to make those timeless hits was concentrated in what, tenish (or less?) studios across the USA, controlled by the labels. It's not as if they had the choices between cheap and serviceable that we have today.
Old 14th April 2014
  #6
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🎧 10 years
What is amazing is how they pulled off great recordings of large ensembles also. The movie track to "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is pretty good still- even now. I don't think they had things like compression, parametric EQ, and all that (?). I guess it all came down to real rooms, physical shaping props like plates, mike placement and mixing. They also probably took tons of takes to get it right because they couldn't fix the problem with audio tools.
Old 14th April 2014 | Show parent
  #7
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by pandar ➑️
Before that you you didn't have mikes .
Aye, there were no Mikes.
There was a few Michaels, Mitch's and a Mick, but definitely no Mikes.
Old 14th April 2014 | Show parent
  #8
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spaceman's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lune ➑️
They also probably took tons of takes to get it right because they couldn't fix the problem with audio tools.
"Just fix it in the mix" (wich is the norm today) was an alien idea at that time. "Get it right at the recording or don't do it at all" was the norm back then.
Old 14th April 2014
  #9
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🎧 10 years
I'm glad someone brought this up.

I was just reading an article in Sound on Sound about some disney track about snow or something. The pro tools spread was as usual to dense to fit on the page. I read about all these tracks, tricks, bouncing, stemming out, re-mixing, mastering etc etc - got really excited - googled the track - and -

It was like the most dull sort of Katy Perry song, sung by a shouty voice and pretty pallid production. Honestly reading the article I thought these guys are the tops - I could never hack thier world.

But the end product does not stand up to anything recorded in the past. Any of the musical numbers from 30's/40's/50's films would sound better. How come all those Jazz singers and largley forgotten names like Peggy Lee and June Christy sound absolutely awesome? Have you heard the drum and bass sounds on 50's jazz records? So what is all that multi layered crap/sample replacement/transient designed mush that passes for drums today? Sounds like telephone directories hit with a spatula. How come in the past a double bass in mono was enough for the coolest baslines, and now its all multed out, re-amped, doubled, layered etc etc for nothing?

All that 96k high end converters anxiety is totally bogus. as is most of the fret about moderrn recording. The performance trounces fidelity everytime.
Old 14th April 2014
  #10
Deleted 61b93a1
Guest
You could see the '50s as the beginning of the first golden age of recording:

By the '50s, big studios like Capitol had really, really good mics -- Neumann tube mics, RCA ribbon mics, some dynamics. They had expensive mix boards with tubes in them, sometimes custom-built, and echo chambers for reverb (an actual room, with reflective walls, where you'd send the dry tracks out through a speaker and use a microphone to send the sound from the room back to the mixer). The mix might be live, to mono or stereo, while the musicians were playing.

They also had great-sounding rooms to record in, and a pool of professional musicians who could play well together without making a lot of mistakes, speeding up, going out of tune, etc..

---
What they didn't have in the '50s, for the most part, was multi track tape recorders or outboard effects. So recordings were much more reliant on getting a performance with everyone playing at once. (People were overdubbing additional material onto basic tracks by the '50s, but it wasn't as easily or commonly done as later on in the '60s and '70s, when 4-, 8- and then 16-track recorders became widely available in commercial studios.)

And of course, recording some new, personal kind of music out of your head was more difficult, compared to what we all do today at home; you'd probably have to persuade a record company to rent the studio and pay the musicians. If you got that far, you'd have a short time (probably less than a week) in the studio, trying to use written music and verbal instructions to get the musicians and engineer to make the sound you wanted. (The PET SOUNDS box set from the '60s gives an example of what this was like -- the recording methods are very '50s.) The only way to get new textures in your music was if the musicians actually made new kinds of sounds in the room -- what the jazz and classical innovators did.

---
Electronic music as we know it (and its grandfather, Jamaican dub music) really grew up with more advances in recording technology.
Old 14th April 2014
  #11
Registered User
 
🎧 10 years
I'm sure once they fought off the bears and the angry villagers, it wasn't too bad. Starting the fire was probably the hardest part.
Old 14th April 2014 | Show parent
  #12
Registered User
 
🎧 10 years
They'd keep an angry villager around to keep the band in tune with his (tuning) Pitch Fork.
Old 14th April 2014
  #13
Registered User
 
🎧 5 years
no matter how much reference I read to how amazing and classic records were made...I still can't bring myself to simplify my workflow. I fall into the old habits over and over. But still, reading it is inspiring.
Old 14th April 2014
  #14
Registered User
 
🎧 10 years
The tape music/musique-concrete stuff is probably the most analogous to electronic music today -- and in that respects the DAW makes everything so much easier (i.e. possible for mere mortals).

Berberian Sound Studio is a movie worth watching for older workflow (even though it is more of the 60s/70s).

I've also said this before about guys like Aphex Twin in the relative early-days who were working with very little technology -- they were "it puts lotion on its skin" mental with the chopping and the cutting and the rearranging and the pasting -- and it sounds good. Izotope sells Stutter Edit for over $200 bucks -- which is pretty expensive for a "one-trick" VST -- but they market it to people who remember the old days.

In terms of musicians who can self-mix, one of my favorites is Miles-era Wayne Shorter in an electric live setting when he cuts in but is four or five feet from the microphone and walks in to fade-up to maximum volume.
Old 14th April 2014
  #15
Registered User
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lune ➑️
I saw some videos on mixing with DAW's and it made my head hurt- there must have been 30+ plug-ins and the signal path looked like it was drawn up by the Air Force for an invasion.

Which got me wondering- there are tons of great hits from the 40's and 50's by Sinatra, Elvis, etc. How primitive was their equipment? How did they get that stuff sounding so good?
its was hard back in the old days , everyone was eating bread and jam , no meat in the shops , sinatra i think was one of the old school , he could sing in a mic from a toy and make it sound like sammy davis junior , just class .

Back then they used tapes and valves and even amps and stuff and somehow it just sounded right but maybe back then their was more hope which created some kind of perceptive bias ? so they thought they were great and kind of were ? i think simplicity is the key , that combined with a overriding complexity thats simplified but the air was cleaner back then , children could play on bikes in the country without fear of being abducted , mothers stayed at home and did not have to pay off half the mortgage whilst their kids walk themselves to school and cars were less wind resistant , perfection had not got a grip on the mentality of the studio technician / musician and men were men .These days you cant tell whats going on , big business is destroying capitalism and george bush is painting tony blairs portrait ? i think that era was a golden age , like the point just before the milk boils over or the egg starts to go hard on the yoke , that point just before the mix goes into distortion , were long gone now , right down the shitter.
Old 14th April 2014
  #16
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 5 years
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Old 14th April 2014
  #17
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🎧 5 years
It would have sucked to be a Gearslut back then.
Old 14th April 2014 | Show parent
  #18
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chrisso's Avatar
 
🎧 20 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lune ➑️
They also probably took tons of takes to get it right because they couldn't fix the problem with audio tools.
Actually it would be more like one or two takes.
It was common to make an album in a day.
Old 14th April 2014
  #19
Registered User
 
🎧 5 years
The op amps in our portable audio interfaces can't possibly be happy on their meager 5v usb diet. They need a hearty +/-15v split rail power supply to grow and be strong. Old equipment ran on high voltages and used a lot of power like god intended.
Old 15th April 2014 | Show parent
  #20
Registered User
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisso ➑️
Actually it would be more like one or two takes.
It was common to make an album in a day.
The players must have rehearsed like hell the day before or just had crazy levels of born talent.
Old 15th April 2014 | Show parent
  #21
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Acid Mitch ➑️
Aye, there were no Mikes.
There was a few Michaels, Mitch's and a Mick, but definitely no Mikes.
Sadly, most Mikes came into service in the late 70s to early 80s. You didn't find quality Mikes until mid 90s unless you had deep pockets.
Old 15th April 2014 | Show parent
  #22
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chrisso's Avatar
 
🎧 20 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lune ➑️
The players must have rehearsed like hell the day before or just had crazy levels of born talent.
People can sight read incredibly well.
It just depends what you are used to and how much work you've put into your skill set.
I have no doubt most of those old recordings were second or third time ever playing the arrangement. And often the arranger or composer would make changes after each take.

Studio players are expected to nail it second or third time. The only difference between the 40's/50's and now is that everyone played together then, on fewer mics, so if one player made a mistake everyone had to redo. These days you just drop that individual in for a fix.
Old 15th April 2014
  #23
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🎧 10 years
Also, guys in lab coats.
Old 15th April 2014
  #24
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PatrickFaith's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
the older guys & equipment reminded me more of the super brainy SMPTE shops(i.e. modify circuits, do complex IR math, modify tube circuits, lot of weird analog control theory for the tape systems, like the dolby atmos&auro crowd ...). So i'd say it was a lot more mathematically/engineery but with fewer paths (tons of wires though). The optical flow processes for sound i thought was amazingly complex. On the "art" complexity i say it was a lot less complex, almost military in that the system was designed to be easily calibrated - and you did exactly what the head engineer said.
Old 15th April 2014
  #25
Registered User
 
🎧 15 years
It's worth mentioning that much of THE most valued gear today is from those eras and still in use in the best studios...

Nuemann U47 (perhpas THE vocal mic, if one existed)
Nuemann U67
Nuemann U87 and so on.

TAB Funken V72 pres

Fairchild 660
Fairchild 670

EMI consoles

Putnam conosoles

And so on...

They actually had better gear on the whole AND had the right recording ethic... ie, get it right.

-a
Old 15th April 2014
  #26
Registered User
 
🎧 10 years
Woah, nostalgia & mythology.
Old 15th April 2014
  #27
Old 15th April 2014
  #28
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
If you think things are more complicated today......



Back then to even be an engineer, required 10x the knowledge of most of this board.


Would the people here who can't even bare to freeze a track have the balls to cut tape?

You had to make decisions and move on.


90% of todays "players" would be laughed out of the studio back then. A good watch is the Monkeys documentary. The guitar player showed up to the studio with his guitar expecting to lay down the track..... The producer flat out told him he only invited him to be nice.

There was only one way to make a record back then. Pay professionals good money to nail it in a couple takes.
Old 15th April 2014
  #29
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rids's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lune ➑️
I saw some videos on mixing with DAW's and it made my head hurt- there must have been 30+ plug-ins and the signal path looked like it was drawn up by the Air Force for an invasion.
But think about it as you hear and compare what you are hearing from music from each of these eras. Sound is being processed with so many plugins, there's more chance for the sound to be less organic sounding than something that was more pure back then. They had more of a simplistic approach and it was more about the musician and less about the processed sound.

Back then they used a lot of quality sounding equipment instead of a lot of average pieces.

Plus the mindset has changed from performing and capturing the moment to just trying to make things as loud as possible. It's too bad that's a clichΓ© now, but it is reality. I think it sounds terrible and is fatiguing to hear this in modern music, but it goes to show you it's not about the music, is it? These producers are trying to convince you somehow by making your head spin and ears deaf that loud and squashed equals a better experience. Not true. A lot of listeners don't pay attention and don't care. So it happens again and again. The people producing music like that only care what most musicians ever cared about, which is money. So nothing has changed there, but the way to get money has and always will in music. But it's definitely not as respectable as stuff back then that was a more pure approach.
Old 15th April 2014 | Show parent
  #30
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Teknobeam's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisso ➑️
One or two tracks.
Great mic placement. And the musicians and artists excelled at playing as an ensemble and self-mixing.
I think that this comment captures the essence of it all.

Whatever existed in terms of technology at that time was more of a vehicle or a conduit for the talent that was providing the input (garbage in garbage out).. Also,, you really had to have some stuff in order to even be in front of a mic. in a studio at that time since there weren't many of them out there.

The talent was filtered down and concentrated into gold by virtue of the above reality.

There wasn't a studio in everyone's apartment.

Electronics, and recording techniques were in the state of infancy, but the equipment was pushing the envelope of perfection in that microcosm. In fact, people are still chasing it like the holy grail.

Working within limitations (even though at that time they weren't limitations...they were liberating tools of the era).

a small finite amount of tracks to work with.....pushes your creative efforts in another direction.....it manifests itself eventually.

So.....recording and mixing evolved and inside that evolution, the art of recording and mixing gave birth to, and ushered in the art of recording and mixing as an art from in itself. That actually started to happen very early on. The realization that the material could be altered either on the input or after the fact in very creative ways opened the doors wide open to unlimited possibilities. The mediums have changed, but the idea of the possibilities has not
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