This is an excellent piece, summing up the current situation in recording.
I do disagree with the idea that computer-based recording sort of automatically removes the imprecision from music. It's a choice to use Autotune or maximizers or whatever.
Case in point: I'm recording my own first full-length album, which is a hybrid of electronic/acoustic/electric instrumentation and vocals.
I do use maximization and things like PSP's Vintage Warmer...but I use them sparingly, and more for effect than anything else -- if I want a specific drum track to sound heavily and artificially compressed. (Think of the opening drum riff from U2's "Zoo Station" if you've ever heard it.) I only use Auto-Tune on backing vocals, and then I'll only use it on one track, just to provide something like a frame for everything else to hang from. And I mix it way back.
I used the flatline mastering tools for a while, but I got tired of them and their sound. As far as I'm concerned, those kind of heavily compressed maximized radio-friendly songs are the equivalent of dudes who walk around in West Coast Choppers work shirts, fauxhawk haircuts, big wraparound shades, and refer to everybody as "bro" or "bra" or "broseph".
Douchebags, in other words. It's douchebag music. And if culture is one big conversation -- as I tend to believe -- those are the songs I don't want to have a conversation with.
By the same token, I don't accept the old-timer wisdom that a song recorded in one room in 1965 by Joe Meek's tea boy is inherently sonically superior to anything we can do now. It's just different, you know? And if you put your band in a room at Abbey Road and record them with a high-end mic and run it to Pro Tools instead of a tape, it's not gonna sound that much different.
It's the song and the performer, not the medium, that matters. I think that what we as digital musicians/engineers/producers need to do is stop being in love with our tools and start being in love with music. Which a lot of us already are.
"In a very few years, we’ll have 1 terabyte iPods, easily capable of handling thousands of recordings in their original high-definition form."
There's something similar happening to Movies, isn't it? Blu-ray discs are big enough to hold non-compressed video files, without that mpeg noisy pixels. Something similar could happen to music, as you said. Hope so.
Excellent article. I plan to point all my musician friends to it. Frank Zappa's term for it is "imaginary rooms".
There's a bit I'm not sure about, and if you don't mind, I'd like to talk it out.
Comparing the mix on the Stones' Bigger Bang to "fixing" Al Kooper's organ on "Like A Rolling Stone", I think between Dylan's personality and the resolute oddness and coolness of the organ, it'd be a fight, even today, to get Dylan to let you align the organ.
The bassist falling off the beat in "Tombstone Blues"? That's much more likely to get fixed. But then again, would a take where the bass loses track of the beat make it on a Sinatra album of the period? On a Phil Spector Wall of Sound track? And don't you think someone like Beck would mix that front and center?
i am making my first record right now for a major label which can remain unnamed. this article made me want to weep because i am trying to make hits, but consistently feeling as though i am betraying myself in a small way. too small to stop me from stopping my bigname producer from autotuning, quantizing, and mastering loudly (at sterling nonetheless). i love music so much, but i have come to realize making anything with a label is the making of an audio product that happens to contain an artists heart and soul(the song as it was when i recorded it in my bedroom as a demo), but at the end of the day it is a just another product. i wish i could be as cool as the white stripes, but i make pop music with electronics/synths and extensive beats. i have been recording digitally since i was 16 and the endless possibilities of that medium are what got me here. now the endless possibilities of that medium have completely removed any of that innocence i had when i was a kid with multitrack software. my next record, if i get to have one, will be primarily recorded in my bedroom on a decent setup and then mixed on some big board somewhere so that in the end, if i get f==ked i can f==k myself (at least a little bit haha). i dont want to work in an office, or do anything other than play music, and this is the only option i feel i have, its the only chance i have been given and its scary to face loosing it all if that 7 second clip doesnt hit home. i dunno, im sitting here paying out of pocket after spending close to 200k of label cash over tha last 5 months and i just wanted to vent to the readers of this blog, of which i have been one for years. this is my 1st post and prob my last. long live men in white coats. i hope the scientists can come back someday.thanks.
Dave: Yup, the Dylan thing was pushing the point a bit. Certainly someone like Beck might turn a bug into a feature, but - as Karl shows - there's an awful temptation for less confident musicians to polish out all the soul.
Karl: Your post made me want to weep. Hope it all ends up OK for you.
And is it entirely coincidental that you can plot the dramatic decline in sales of recent years from the increasing standardisation of every element of the recording and manufacturing process? All businesses seek to take the uncertainty out of what they do but so often they also remove the thing that people love about their "product" at the same time.
...but what piece of equipment or software is being employed to make Kylie's recent efforts sound so particularly vile? They hurt both my ears and my sensibilities and just make me reach for the volume knob and turn it right the way down.