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The Clarity of Donald Fagen's THE NIGHTFLY
Old 24th June 2014
  #1
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1 Review written
🎧 10 years
The Clarity of Donald Fagen's THE NIGHTFLY

I've been listening to The Nightfly on several different systems and I am stunned by how clear it sounds on each of them. Now I know that detractors will say that it is a very "thin" recording, which I will concede to a degree, but it sounds amazing. I certainly haven't heard a modern digital recording that sounds better.

Does anyone know how they got such incredible clarity on that album? Console/preamps/EQs/buss processing?
Old 24th June 2014
  #2
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tekis's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Don't forget to factor in great arrangements, crack engineers, stellar musicians and an uncompromising production team...
Old 24th June 2014
  #3
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1 Review written
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Oh course, but let's get real...this record doesn't sound good only for those reasons. I want to know gear. Whatever preamps they used they are damn clear in the midrange, unlike many modern pres.
Old 24th June 2014
  #4
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🎧 15 years
Its easy to assume it was due to the gear.
But it wasn't.
The gear was all the usual suspects.
It's the ears behind the board, ears of the players not to mention the ears of the composer.

Google search it. You will find all the detailed you seek but its all the normal gear that you would expect.
Old 24th June 2014
  #5
Gear Maniac
 
2 Reviews written
🎧 5 years
I think the mix engineer has just spent a really long time on the top end, and all the musicians playing on the record have great time and articulation.
Old 24th June 2014
  #6
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bigbone's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Gear got nothing to do with it, song, arrangement , musician make
what it sound.

P.S. listen closely to the bass part of all of the song, none of it play a downbeat , it's all a melodic line……...
Old 24th June 2014
  #7
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🎧 10 years
They used 3M digital tape machines. They did a lot of this at Automated Sound in NYC. They had a pair of 8078's. They had or still have an 8038/48 at The Village in California. I'm not sure about the other studios. In all sincerity, you'd be surprised by the how much of "the sound" comes from the players. I've worked on sessions (as an assistant) with Will Lee, Chuck Rainey, the Brecker Bros., Anthony Jackson, and Bernard Purdie. They would come in and play on the house drums and the house B-3. We would use standard mics and the console pre's and out came glorious sound. It would stop you in your tracks. I'd look at the console to see what the engineer was doing--absolutely nothing out of the ordinary with little compression from dbx 160's or 1176's. Bass was usually direct thru a Countryman. Exotic right?
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #8
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drBill's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by burns46824 ➡️
Oh course, but let's get real...this record doesn't sound good only for those reasons.
Sorry, but like everyone else here has said - that's the majority of the reason I'm afraid. Everybody wants to buy a mic pre and sound like Steely Dan, Fagan, (fill in your fav band...). Doesn't quite work that way. Arrangements and players and experienced production/engineering teams make a HUUUUUGE difference. Something that's lost on a lot of guys starting off in the DAW era.
Old 24th June 2014
  #9
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🎧 5 years
It's clearly more than just the players or the arrangement - it definetly has a particular sound - nothing sounded like that prior, nothing Gary Katz and Roger Nichols were involved with in earlier Steely Dan stuff and several after, even though they were in on this project. It's almost too bright and transparent.

It's what Fagen heard in his head, and without Walter Becker reigning him in...that's the result.

IMHO, it doesn't hold a candle sonically to either Aja or Gaucho, which has all the clarity but is full and warm sounding at the same time...dare I say it, Nightfly sounds too 'digital'.
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #10
Nrt
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by 12tone ➡️
IMHO, it doesn't hold a candle sonically to either Aja or Gaucho, which has all the clarity but is full and warm sounding at the same time...dare I say it, Nightfly sounds too 'digital'.
Agreed, but I like Nightfly. 3M digital sound is fine.
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #11
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audioez's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by tekis ➡️
They would come in and play on the house drums and the house B-3. We would use standard mics and the console pre's and out came glorious sound. It would stop you in your tracks. I'd look at the console to see what the engineer was doing--absolutely nothing out of the ordinary with little compression from dbx 160's or 1176's. Bass was usually direct thru a Countryman. Exotic right?
Amen brother, how does your quote become a sticky note of inspiration?
Old 24th June 2014
  #12
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wreckordist's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
A great song (most importantly), arranged well and played/"performed" by excellent musicians that know what they're doing will sound "finished" just by pushing the faders up. Those elements in the hands of an engineer like Roger Nichols and a producer like Gary Katz becomes a high water mark for the art and the craft. Sure, they worked in studios that were well equipped but, they were not equipped so differently than thousands of other studios where thousands of other productions were made and resulted in albums that have been forgotten by the majority of the listenership.
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #13
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burns46824's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by 12tone ➡️
It's clearly more than just the players or the arrangement - it definetly has a particular sound - nothing sounded like that prior
The truth. It's not just about the players for goodness' sake. This is definitely about the console and the recording medium. Half of the instruments are DI, after all! (All drum samples, all synths (I assume), bass (I assume)).

I agree that it is not a "full" sound, but it translates SO well on cheap stereos. It is crystal clear. It is one of the sounds I eventually hope to achieve. I have not heard any modern digital records that are this clear. No way, no how.
Old 24th June 2014
  #14
Village Idiot
 
Labs's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
I have nothing interesting to add re:production, but the lead vocals seemed flat on the 3-4 songs I took soundbites off of.

Gustav
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Labs ➡️
I have nothing interesting to add re:production, but the lead vocals seemed flat on the 3-4 songs I took soundbites off of.

Gustav
Hah, definitely do not hear that at all. Donald Fagen is a perfectionist, doubt he would mess that up.
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #16
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by burns46824 ➡️
The truth. It's not just about the players for goodness' sake. This is definitely about the console and the recording medium.
no, it is less about equipment, but more about production techniques and choices, as other productions have used the same equipment and sounded totally different.

Sure it has something to do with it, but not as much as you seem to want. In that sense the choice of players and the direction given, as well as the arragement choices by Fagen have as much to do with the overall sound of the album...

If you listen to Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go which came after, they are more even in terms of sonic balance and less 'shrill' and thin compared to Nightfly, coincidentally the major difference is Walter Becker is also involved...
Old 24th June 2014
  #17
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
Fagen on recording later album Morph the cat, yet quite generally speaking, as he doesn't seem to vary his workflow from album to album:
Donald Fagen

"The mix was pretty much straight ahead," continues Fagen. "There are a few effects, but overall a little bit of reverb is basically it. When we are mixing, I will go out of the room, and Elliott will set up a basic track mix. I will then come in and do some serious alterations. I usually listen to the mix very carefully. I'll start with the bass and drums. My work is mainly to do with level adjustment, like the balance between kick drum and snare drum. The thing that I'm good at is the balance of instruments, so I will do a lot of that and also adjust vocals EQs, things like that."
about Nightfly DF reckons : "So much has to do with the miking, the material, the studios, and the engineer. "
Engineer Elliott Sheiner adds :" Donald is pretty focused when we mix, but he never touches the faders. Number one, I won't let him touch the faders, and number two, he knows that he may be deleting information, so he won't want to touch them. If he was actually sitting at the console, and wanted some low end taken off, I don't think he'd know what to reach for."

quite funny, considering how much of a sound guru some people have taken him
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #18
Village Idiot
 
Labs's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by burns46824 ➡️
Hah, definitely do not hear that at all. Donald Fagen is a perfectionist, doubt he would mess that up.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7L6L1NbJuIo

Really sounds an eight of an inch flat (consistently) throughout, perfectionist or not.

Doesn't make the music more or less boring, though

Gustav
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #19
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bigbone's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by burns46824 ➡️
Half of the instruments are DI, after all! (All drum samples, all synths (I assume), bass (I assume)).
No drums sample on that one, what you hear from Jeff Porcaro, James Gadson and Steve Jordan are the real drums plus some EQ……….
Old 24th June 2014
  #20
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
DF says they were using Roger Nichols' Wendel during The NightFly, so i guess self-sampling and drum-replacement was indeed used to tighten up the grooves the way DF intended.
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #21
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by burns46824 ➡️
Hah, definitely do not hear that at all. Donald Fagen is a perfectionist, doubt he would mess that up.
You can hear the sound of a particular tape recorder, but you can't hear that the lead vocal is way out of tune? I think maybe your priorities are wrong.
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #22
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bigbone's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by early ➡️
DF says they were using Roger Nichols' Wendel during The NightFly, so i guess self-sampling and drum-replacement was indeed used to tighten up the grooves the way DF intended.
Not on the Nightfly CD, Roger Nichols Wendel were use on Gaucho CD and only on a few song, and never to " tighten " the groove…...
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #23
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chrisso's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by early ➡️
DF says they were using Roger Nichols' Wendel during The NightFly, so i guess self-sampling and drum-replacement was indeed used to tighten up the grooves the way DF intended.
I think there is a lot of real drumming going on, and real drum sounds.
Gotta agree with the sage contributors further up the thread, it ain't about the gear.
And to say nothing sounded like it before?
Quite a few fusion, and soft rock albums sounded like Nightfly before Nightfly.
Old 24th June 2014
  #24
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
sorry but according to both DF and Roger Nichols they did.

from Wendel | Roger Nichols
1981: Wendel-II 16bit 8086 version with digital i/o to 3M digital
32 track recorder. Used for drums and percussion and audio sampling on Donald
Fagen’s "Nightfly" album. 50kHz/16bit.

and from Donald Fagen

This was in the days when digital was still very primitive," recalls Fagen. "Roger's machine did not even have any switches, it only had a regular computer keyboard and he had to type all these bytes out, huge lists of numbers, which took him 20 minutes, and at the end he would hit Return, and we heard this one snare a beat. It took so long. It got a little better during The Nightfly, but it was so horrible, I have tried to figure out how to get out of sampling ever since."
Old 24th June 2014
  #25
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chrisso's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
The Steve Jordan track sounds exactly like Steve Jordan's usual drum sound, and Jordan's usual playing style.
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #26
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bigbone's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisso ➡️
The Steve Jordan track sounds exactly like Steve Jordan's usual drum sound, and Jordan's usual playing style.
And the Porcaro Track sound exactly like him, and the Gadson track sound like him……
Old 24th June 2014
  #27
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
I love everything that is Steely Dan related simply because of their studio sound. I love using their music as a benchmark for any monitors I use. The truth is the arrangement has a lot to do with leaving space for all elements of the mix to breath and occupy their own space in the mix. They never really seem to over produce when it comes to instrumentation. I think that Donald and Walter are always thinking of the end product when they are recording and trying to leave space for everything. You can make anything sound pristine if you do not have lots of elements to deal with in the mix. It's really not rocket science. Of course I'm not trying to say that my mixes are on par with those of Donald or Steely Dan either. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Old 24th June 2014 | Show parent
  #28
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bigbone's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by early ➡️
sorry but according to both DF and Roger Nichols they did.

from Wendel | Roger Nichols
1981: Wendel-II 16bit 8086 version with digital i/o to 3M digital
32 track recorder. Used for drums and percussion and audio sampling on Donald
Fagen’s "Nightfly" album. 50kHz/16bit.

and from Donald Fagen

This was in the days when digital was still very primitive," recalls Fagen. "Roger's machine did not even have any switches, it only had a regular computer keyboard and he had to type all these bytes out, huge lists of numbers, which took him 20 minutes, and at the end he would hit Return, and we heard this one snare a beat. It took so long. It got a little better during The Nightfly, but it was so horrible, I have tried to figure out how to get out of sampling ever since."
Sampling and " tightening " are 2 different thing.
Old 24th June 2014
  #29
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
please READ about Wendel, and the technology involved.
Roger Nichols was using the recorded drum tracks, and programmed the Wendell as you would copy/paste in a DAW, in a way to get a super-steady beat, the way DF intended. this is pre-DAW days, remember? it's like looping with a digital recorder, if you ever did... i did... long and painful process

i tend to believe the guys when they re saying they were using drum replacement on Jeff Porcaro, James Gadson or Steve Jordan -
though personally, i probably would not
Old 24th June 2014
  #30
Gear Guru
 
chrisso's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
The web page says it was used on Nightfly. It doesn't say it did all the drums on Nightfly. It could have done a snare on one song and a cowbell on another.
The Steve Jordan track 'Raindrops' is unmistakably Jordan.
Lot's of buzz rolls too, which is hard if not impossible to do in early sampling technology.
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