In the Still of the Night

26 06 2009

I hear the wolf howl, honey

Last night I attended a panel discussion sponsored by The Recording Academy and Shure, featuring record producers Mike Clink, Ron Nevison and Keith Olsen. These guys have recorded the Who, Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses, Heart, Bad Company, the Rolling Stones, Whitesnake, Fleetwood Mac, and countless other amazing bands.

It was a fantastic evening, listening to the songs on Shure’s amazing PA system, and hearing the stories behind famous records. Among the fun tidbits:

Stevie Nicks wrote “Landslide” in Olsen’s bedroom after a huge fight with Lindsey Buckingham.

The hoarse vocal bits on Heart’s “These Dreams” were comped in from the scratch vocal, as Nancy Wilson had a cold when she recorded the scratch and the final vocal was too clean in those bits. Nancy asked Nevison to switch it back but he refused (that’s actually my favorite part of that vocal, so I’m glad he won the argument).

Nevison and Pete Townshend flew in the sound effects on Quadrophenia from broadcast cart machines during the mix because they didn’t have enough tracks to print them to the multitrack tape.

John Sykes’ solo on Whitesnake’s “In the Still of the Night” was assembled on 1/2” tape one phrase at a time (sometimes one note at a time) and flown in manually…because Sykes recorded the solo in another studio…over the wrong section of the song.

I love hearing about stuff like that. It’s part of the audio geek mindset. Are any of these anecdotes going to help me make better records? Probably not. But their thoughts on working with musicians, or use of psychology to bring out great performances and keep temperamental artists in their comfort zone (or out of it as needs require) are invaluable.

Some of the Q & A was pretty good too. A couple of “gotcha” questions, a couple of folks trying to look cool, one question that made no sense…and then the question I knew was coming but really hoped wouldn’t.

“Do you think that modern tools like Pro Tools, Autotune and Beat Detective are making musicians lazy?”

Seriously? You’ve got three guys in front of you who have produced or engineered albums that have collectively sold over 300 million copies and you’re going to ask a question that you have already answered for yourself. Just the fact that you’ve asked it gives me a big clue to the position you’ve taken. And now you just want the guy who recorded Appetite For Destruction to agree with you. Come on, man.

I’m not saying it isn’t a valid question these days. I’m not saying it isn’t a concern, an issue we all have to struggle with every time we go into a session where there’s a computer involved. But for one thing, it’s one of those almost religious issues that is never going to be resolved, and for the other, if you really want to talk about it, go to Gearslutz or TapeOp and wait a few minutes—someone will start up a thread about it. It happens almost daily. This is a rare opportunity to actually learn something; ask a better question, not a cliché.

Music technology has, over the last 50+ years, developed myriad ways to alter performances. It didn’t start with Autotune. The first time a recordist punched in a phrase in the middle of a vocal track, or cut two different performances together using a razor blade and tape he was creating an artificial representation of a musical event. Is that reductio ad absurdum? Perhaps. Is a staunchly conservative stance against digital workstations overly reactionary? Very possibly.

If you think that Pro Tools, Autotune and Beat Detective create lazy musicians or are “destroying music”…don’t use them. They’re tools, nothing more, and the positive or negative results from the use of those tools rests squarely in the hands of the craftsmen.

Here endeth the rant.




One response

26 06 2009
If you’re not automatically redirected… « Toxic Blog’s Bag

[…] Mac, and countless other amazing bands. I’ve written a little bit about it over at the Donny Who Loved Bowling blog because, well, it seemed to make more sense over there. Feel free to check it out and let me know […]

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