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  The '60's!  

Q) What are the sonic characteristics that define the pop recordings made in the late Sixties? When we hear a classic song by the Beatles or the Byrds or the Zombies, we immediately know they were recorded in the Sixties, whether we are familiar with the song or not. What is it that tips out ears off?

Is there something about the EQ? Is it a matter of compression? Is it in recording techniques? -Kevin

All of the above. To understand this, go from the source to the final product. The bands then were influenced by earlier sounds, and so their playing had a characteristic based on those influences. Their instruments were constructed in such a way as to produce certain tones. This is why many vintage instruments are so valued. Their very construction altered the tone. For instance, a 54 Stratocaster had individual cuttaways made closely fitted to each pickup. In new models, one large "swimming pool" hole is where all three pickups sit. It sounds different!

Next, when the artists were in the studios, all of those vintage Neumann mics were nearly brand new! All tube electronics (very slow slew rate) and bulldozer-solid construction was used in very minimal circuit consoles. Crude (by today's standards) monitor speakers were the "lens" that the engineers "looked through", so a whole eq curve was the model - far different from today's listening systems.

The studios themselves were designed differently, and had a sound. The tape of yesteryear had a sound, and the machines were made like tanks.

The attitudes were different then too. It was rare for the musicians to make production decisions, especially at mix time. Engineers were more a quirky, conservative breed, with mostly a classical recording background. Mastering engineers were mysterious scientists with glasses, shirt-and-ties and thinning hair, who rarely even met the artists.

Think of the clients they had in those days - the big bands, the one-day-a-song recordings made by everyone playing at once, and very little multitracking.

In those days, there weren't samplers and loops and presets and Pro Tools. The players had to PLAY it correctly, or it didn't make vinyl. They had to be creative with physical objects, vs. computer-driven mass-marketed synths.

The singers knew that they would have to sing every chorus, not just one... and then the rest would be flown in via sampling or digital cloning. So they had a whole different intent when they rehearsed and recorded. The engineers didn't have 48 tracks to take a zillion different versions and then patch together the best take. The take was the take.

So there was a different flavor, a different context.

I know consideration had to be made for bass levels so that the stylus wouldn't jump on record-players.

Bass peaks and phase content, to be more exact. Many mastering engineers had equipment that made the signal mono from 60hz-down, and a total roll-off at 20hz. But since many consumer speaker systems and turntable systems were colored in their response, it didn't matter as much as it does today, with our super-duper-boom-a-mudo hyper Jogman listening systems.

It's become a bit of a personal quest for me to record a song that sounds like an AUTHENTIC Sixties

Sounds like fun to me!

I realized how hard it is to actually pull off.

I think what's hard is getting people to turn off their auto-tune gizmos and be called to sing each chorus, sing it in tune and in the pocket. People don't realize how much training the engineers of yesteryear gave to musicians. Nowadays, recording at home robs artists of the invaluable feedback they'd get from an experienced expert who knows in a heartbeat when the track isn't grooving, the arrangement is cluttered, or the part is being overplayed.

I understand that, in comparison to modern music, the recordings I'm talking about are probably seriously technically flawed.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. From where I sit, I don't think we have to buy rules. We buy results. Music in the 60's was special, if not magical. Record companies had many more musically sophisticated people in places of power, and far less lawyers calling the shots. Entertainment had a certain excitement from the newness, and some extent the shock value, but it wasn't as disturbing as some of today's styles. There was more hand-holding and fewer jagged little pills.

But I'm interested in embracing and duplicating those flaws.

Start with tight drum booths and deadened drum heads. Classic mics, consoles, amps, instruments, and arrangements based on minimalist overdubs. Add in analog tape, great miking methods, natural room reverbs, leakage, basic passive eq ... and musicians who want to give peace a chance instead of gunning down their enemies in the hood ... and you'll have a great start!

I think that making magic, whether it's musical or otherwise is what life's all about. Your own touch is part of making heard that which is yet unheard.... and mixing differences together can have cool results. Drum loops are a great example where an old groove gets shaped into a new technological hook.

Even in our daily lives, we can co-mingle our differences if we have an open mind to greater possibilities. It's just a bonus way to create something original. Now, I do have to acknowledge that in the past our spiritual differences have lead to some serious issues... ...but there's good news even about that...

Principles of quantum physics are setting new foundations for scientific stuff that explains the previously unexplainable.
(Thousands of years ago a television would have been unexplainable, right?) Today's new discoveries are so fantastic that the distinctions will start to fade between what is called "normal" and what is called "holy." That could mean that our spiritual differences can start to hold unified ground, where before, we perceived great oceans between us all. Woah, that was heavy! Far out man! So like musical differences can blend into a new groove, life differences of all people can hold a new tone of harmony and love for one another. Now there's a '60's concept for ya! Peace!

Created 11/22/00 - Modified 03/18/03
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