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Help me settle an argument with tracking bands in the Golden Era
Old 18th October 2018
  #1
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Help me settle an argument with tracking bands in the Golden Era

I'm of the opinion that, most of the 60s/70s rock bands tracked live off the floor, playing in a room together, gobos or isolation booths as required.

Not all of those tracks were kept, but the rhythm bed tracks were likely kept.

Overdubs would've been guitar leads and double tracking, vocals, percussion, possibly other layers.

I'm thinking Zeppelin, Sabbath, Deep Purple, The Who, etc. Bands that could and did fill arenas, bands with chops.

Counter to that, a colleague believes that these albums (and those like it) were tracked one at a time: drums (to a bass scratch track), then bass, then guitar, etc. etc., with minimal amount of tracking done as a group.

I find that hard to believe, going by photos of gobo'ed up Olympic Studios and other big rooms of the day, biographies (which tragically seem to gloss over recording process/workflow), and a few good articles and posts I've found online.

Also feel like a ton of energy would be lost if tracked separately like that: I know I play off of vocals and lead as much as I play off of the bass, etc.

Looking for some definitive voices of the era here so I can prove my point and we can on with tracking the "right" way
Old 18th October 2018
  #2
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Definitely mostly tracked live by the whole band in the studio. By the seventies there was some "track by track" tracking going on, but starting with everyone playing at once was still the most common method. But I'm not a "definitive voice of the era." Maybe check all the "Classic Tracks" columns from Mix magazine and Sound on Sound magazine. Just do an internet search for "mixonline classic tracks" or "sound on sound classic tracks".

Last edited by dirker; 18th October 2018 at 07:50 PM.. Reason: clarity
Old 18th October 2018
  #3
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I worked in a lot of studios back in those days and embellishments did not begin until the base tracks were in place. These were generated from at least a drummer, rhythm track, i.e. guitar or keyboard and a bass player as well as a vocalist guide track. There were exceptions but 90% of the time a core band created the song basic tracks live. Production and song structure were worked out live and then immediately recorded in some cases.

The one track at a time thing came later.
Old 18th October 2018
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gravyface View Post
I'm thinking Zeppelin, Sabbath, Deep Purple, The Who, etc. Bands that could and did fill arenas, bands with chops.
I wasn't there, but I think you're right. Those bands definitely tracked live. Some of those Sabbath records were recorded very quickly. No way did they waste time working one-at-a-time. Plus on youtube you can find isolated drum tracks from Sabbath, Zeppelin, etc. and hear the bleed that proves they were tracked live.
Old 18th October 2018
  #5
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TexasCat's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Oldone View Post
I worked in a lot of studios back in those days and embellishments did not begin until the base tracks were in place. These were generated from at least a drummer, rhythm track, i.e. guitar or keyboard and a bass player as well as a vocalist guide track. There were exceptions but 90% of the time a core band created the song basic tracks live. Production and song structure were worked out live and then immediately recorded in some cases.

The one track at a time thing came later.
My experience as well.

I really miss working that way...
Old 18th October 2018
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TexasCat View Post
My experience as well.

I really miss working that way...
Bands not up to snuff to do it? You'd think with today's tight budgets, more bands would be tracking live off the floor.

Or maybe the rooms can't support it (i.e. the huge rooms are all mostly gone)?
Old 18th October 2018
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gravyface View Post
Bands not up to snuff to do it? You'd think with today's tight budgets, more bands would be tracking live off the floor.

My assumption was the opposite, that tracking together in a live room would require a large budget, due to multiple microphones and possibly multiple pres/channels being required. If all you have is one or two mics and corresponding pre-amps, it's much more cost effective to track separately. As well, if your band isn't perfectly skilled, it's easier to record the parts separately in case one member messes up. The process is more controlled recording separately.

Many artists don't tend to record a perfect track in a single take, especially when being pressured to play increasingly complicated stuff. If you have 3 or 4 people all playing, with a different person possibly messing something up each time, tracking together can become problematic quick.

There's also the room factor that you mentioned.
Old 18th October 2018
  #8
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Originally Posted by KhaosSignal View Post
My assumption was the opposite, that tracking together in a live room would require a large budget, due to multiple microphones and possibly multiple pres/channels being required. If all you have is one or two mics and corresponding pre-amps, it's much more cost effective to track separately. As well, if your band isn't perfectly skilled, it's easier to record the parts separately in case one member messes up. The process is more controlled recording separately.

Many artists don't tend to record a perfect track in a single take, especially when being pressured to play increasingly complicated stuff. If you have 3 or 4 people all playing, with a different person possibly messing something up each time, tracking together can become problematic quick.

There's also the room factor that you mentioned.
Well, if we're talking budget/home studio, yeah, mic/channel limitations would obviously be a problem, but they likely don't have the room for a full band to track in with any modicum of separation.
Old 18th October 2018
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gravyface View Post
Well, if we're talking budget/home studio, yeah, mic/channel limitations would obviously be a problem, but they likely don't have the room for a full band to track in with any modicum of separation.
I think a large room is less of a limiting factor than having the multiple necessary recording channels. Treating a large room is many magnitudes cheaper than buying multiple additional recording chains/channels, that is if we're talking about multi-thousand dollars per channel.
Old 19th October 2018
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dirker View Post
Definitely mostly tracked live by the whole band in the studio. By the seventies there was some "track by track" tracking going on, but starting with everyone playing at once was still the most common method. But I'm not a "definitive voice of the era." Maybe check all the "Classic Tracks" columns from Mix magazine and Sound on Sound magazine. Just do an internet search for "mixonline classic tracks" or "sound on sound classic tracks".
Indeed, this is an argument that can easily be 'settled'. A great number of these famous sessions are well-documented through interviews, magazine articles, books, and so on. The majority of the principals are still alive. It's not like some dark cloud of mystery hangs over it.

there is also a website called In Search Of The Click Track that analyzes songs for rhythmic consistency. If a click track was used, it will be evident. If the band played "free" it will also be evident.

link
In search of the click track | Music Machinery
Old 19th October 2018
  #11
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Originally Posted by KhaosSignal View Post
I think a large room is less of a limiting factor than having the multiple necessary recording channels. Treating a large room is many magnitudes cheaper than buying multiple additional recording chains/channels, that is if we're talking about multi-thousand dollars per channel.
Maybe, but a big room means more mass/material in the walls; I could see the construction budget being quite large, not to mention the actual property costs involved or rent.
Old 19th October 2018
  #12
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It's telling in the groove. There's a reason why some of those records sound so good compared to now - and it ain't the console or the room or the booze.

Overdubbing with headphones on always feels weird to me. The gusto of locking in with your band mates, eye to eye, reacting to each other's shifts and drags, knocking the air around the room in a unique synchronicity - it cannot be replicated or faked up IME. When a band is absolutely smoking it in the live room, and you just KNOW it's not an illusion, all technical engineering concerns can go out the window. Maintaining and capturing that unique vibe will do much better service to the music than agonising over snare mic choices ever will.

Most of those bands would have cut their teeth playing top 10 stuff on stage, in sweaty workingmens clubs 5 nights a week in a fiercely competitive environment. If they ever got far enough to make it to a studio, you can be pretty confident that they have a great rhythm section, great singer, great sound fresh off the bat. All you would need to do is just put a mic or two on it and have them do the thing they do, and with no small amount of incredible luck you might be Shel Talmy

But I think there's also psychology and science in there. Sound takes time to travel through air, and many "pocket-player" musicians react somewhere in between what they see (when the drummer begins the arc of a swing at the snare), and what they hear (when the snare note hits your ears). I think of it like a "micro-delay sensory feedback loop". The drummer pushed the bass ahead, the bassist pulls the drummer back. Friction, grind, groove

Next tracking session you do, try sending the bass player home and then getting something half-decent out of the drummer, to a click/guide track. Then send him on his way, get the bassist back in, and make him overdub the bass to that.

Then... On playback, immediately throw the whole project into despair while everyone questions if the band is actually as good as they thought it was... "but I thought we were playing great on stage? Was I mistaken? Why does this suck?"...

Some bands embraced the studio challenge and made some incredible jigsaw puzzles. Eagles, Steely Dan, ELO, Fleetwood Mac et al. But, listen to what happened to Motown when the Funk Brothers were no longer in the picture.

Probably the biggest teachers here are the Stones, especially chalk 'n' cheese... Keith 'n' Charlie. Apparently Keith leads the beat, Charlie follows along behind Keith, and Wyman would watch Charlie's left foot and play to that.

Again, put a few mics on it. Voila, it's the Stones. Putting a few mics on it like Glyn Johns or Jimmy Miller did is another matter. We could get each guy to overdub, spend all the hours and days and money you care to on a single snare sound; great. But where else could that time be spent?

Would you rather hear the Stones badly recorded, or a bunch of old millionaires yawning in perfectly balanced harmony? Exile, or Babylon?

Preaching to the choir, I know. good topic though. Deserved an overwritten rhetoric in response, heh. Thanks!
Old 19th October 2018
  #13
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TexasCat's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by gravyface View Post
Bands not up to snuff to do it? You'd think with today's tight budgets, more bands would be tracking live off the floor.

Or maybe the rooms can't support it (i.e. the huge rooms are all mostly gone)?
Tight budgets directly effects the availability of a proper room and the gear that accompanies it.

For me personally I no longer own a Commercial Studio. When I was in business I had a purpose built studio and all the toys to go with it. Now I'm in a spare room in my house. I record with other musicians literally thousands of miles apart who also have similar working environments. I think many people work that way today.

You can do quality recordings this way and technology makes it easier and cheaper than ever before but it's just not the same.

There's nothing quite like getting a well rehearsed band together in the same room and capturing the performance. We all debate here on GS Analog vs Digital but I have always been of the opinion that the old methods of recording contribute more to "that" sound so many are chasing.
Old 19th October 2018
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TexasCat View Post
Tight budgets directly effects the availability of a proper room and the gear that accompanies it.

For me personally I no longer own a Commercial Studio. When I was in business I had a purpose built studio and all the toys to go with it. Now I'm in a spare room in my house. I record with other musicians literally thousands of miles apart who also have similar working environments. I think many people work that way today.

You can do quality recordings this way and technology makes it easier and cheaper than ever before but it's just not the same.

There's nothing quite like getting a well rehearsed band together in the same room and capturing the performance. We all debate here on GS Analog vs Digital but I have always been of the opinion that the old methods of recording contribute more to "that" sound so many are chasing.
And maybe we get too caught up in the room too.

I've been tracking in our rehearsal space for years; it's not ideal, but it's not terrible either: it's 20x25, 15' ceilings, covered in sheet metal (and quite a lot of treatment), so you kind of always get the Levee Breaks drum sound even when you want 70s dead room

Obviously a great room is a great room, but Exiles was in a basement in France, was it not? And Regent Sound Studio was a tiny place with egg crates on the wall, but Black Sabbath's first album sounds great to my ears.
Old 19th October 2018
  #15
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The early - mid 70s albums by those bands were basics cut live. Later years they did do quite a bit of trickery in some cases. Still nothing like what is done today. Probably because they didn't have the tracks but the magic of those bands was their live energy. That was their gimmick, actually playing live. Who would have thought?
Old 19th October 2018
  #16
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Drumsound's Avatar
That's still how I make records. Get the musicians playing music as the foundation. I put amps in iso booths (usually), so if there's a small mistake, we can punch in to fix problems. When everybody is trying for a take, the lever of focus (and often good takes) goes up.
Old 19th October 2018
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gravyface View Post
I'm of the opinion that, most of the 60s/70s rock bands tracked live off the floor, playing in a room together, gobos or isolation booths as required.
in the old days musicians played together as a group.

engineers kept as much of the original performance as was possible.

because time was money, and the vibe of performance was valued.

overdub city came later, and albums started taking months not days.

Motown tracks were often cut in hours.

Buddha
Old 19th October 2018
  #18
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Originally Posted by Drumsound View Post
That's still how I make records. Get the musicians playing music as the foundation. I put amps in iso booths (usually), so if there's a small mistake, we can punch in to fix problems. When everybody is trying for a take, the lever of focus (and often good takes) goes up.
one room operation here, so have to gobo and/or work with mic nulls.

I've thought about amp sims and re-amping, but the guitarist complains about the amp interaction or lack thereof, and the organist has a Leslie, so I just live with the bleed.
Old 19th October 2018
  #19
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Drumsound's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by gravyface View Post
one room operation here, so have to gobo and/or work with mic nulls.

I've thought about amp sims and re-amping, but the guitarist complains about the amp interaction or lack thereof, and the organist has a Leslie, so I just live with the bleed.
I've done things that way as well. Most recently a jazz quartet, rhythm section in the live room, vocalist in the booth so she could re-sing if she wanted to. I think she redid 2 of the 12 songs.
Old 19th October 2018
  #20
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This is a short book and a good reference. Tracking was done with a full band as often as possible. In fact, one of the authors claims that multi track recording was the worse thing that ever happened to the industry, and that consoles with more than 8 or 12 channels are for micro management.

From Downbeat to Vinyl: Bill Putnam's Legacy to the Recording Industry: Bob Bushnell, Jerry Ferree: 9781589098305: Amazon.com: Books
Old 19th October 2018
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pcbiz View Post
In fact, one of the authors claims that multi track recording was the worse thing that ever happened to the industry, and that consoles with more than 8 or 12 channels are for micro management
I wonder how that particular author rationalizes that. I could understand how multi-track recording might hurt some genres, but it essentially is what made the modern music revolution possible. So many genres would be entirely impossible without it.
Old 19th October 2018
  #22
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Originally Posted by pcbiz View Post
This is a short book and a good reference. Tracking was done with a full band as often as possible. In fact, one of the authors claims that multi track recording was the worse thing that ever happened to the industry, and that consoles with more than 8 or 12 channels are for micro management.

From Downbeat to Vinyl: Bill Putnam's Legacy to the Recording Industry: Bob Bushnell, Jerry Ferree: 9781589098305: Amazon.com: Books
Beauty, just ordered it.
Old 19th October 2018
  #23
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There are no rules. There were no rules. "Stadium" bands of 1966-1973 did whatever approach they decided to do based on what they wanted as a result and the calculation of managing the number of tape tracks they had.

The op named several specific band names. For every session where those guys tracked a song's basic track with all 3 or 4 or 5 guys in the room, those bands...and zillions others....pieced stuff together for other tracks one element overdub at a time....even often overdubbing drums late in the process.... the hardest way I personally consider operating.
Old 19th October 2018
  #24
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I heard an Arrowsmith 2"-24tk that the band cut live at a studio I used to frequent. The tracks were frighteningly good. Not that big a surprise back in the day...
Old 19th October 2018
  #25
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It was an evolutionary process. As the track counts went up ( 1-2-3-4-8-16 & 24), the tracking process started to change. Some of the bands you mentioned would have been on the the leading of the technology in their day and would have the luxury of being able to retrack guitars, vocals etc, but likely would have laid the bed tracks as a full rhythm section. 1966-1975 saw tremendous changes in track counts and a move to solid state technology. Studios, engineers and musicians started to crave control over the recording process. Consoles got larger, track counts higher and rooms got dryer, almost anechoic. By 1975, the first year of disco records that I recall, sounds were tight and most tracks could be recorded individually. Whether or not a band chose to go that route was left up to the individual decision makers (ie producers & engineers).

I was just a young teenager when I did my first recording session in 1974 on a four track. All live off the floor. All the walls were filled with two foot thick fiberglass and there were gobos between each of us. Pretty typical for the time if you weren't Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath.

Last edited by voodoo4u; 19th October 2018 at 10:10 PM.. Reason: typo
Old 19th October 2018
  #26
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In the old days a group of people known as a band played together and were recorded by an engineer.

These days single people rant into a mic and a group of engineers try do something with it.
Old 20th October 2018
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
...

there is also a website called In Search Of The Click Track that analyzes songs for rhythmic consistency. If a click track was used, it will be evident. If the band played "free" it will also be evident.

link
In search of the click track | Music Machinery
I wouldn't put too much faith in that site. I have a handful of songs on there marked as definitely done to a click, but weren't and we are far from a tight band. One song was comprised of an intro from one take edited to another take with a razorblade. We didn't even use a click to count us in.
Old 20th October 2018
  #28
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Worked from ‘74 to ‘88 in major LA studios. Stevie Wonder could be a one man band, and sometimes built tracks from a click. Richard Perry once took a full session (with a gospel choir and solo singer live in a booth) and went back and erased and re-tracked almost every element except the choir and drums.
With those two exceptions, I don’t recall a single album that was recorded from the start in those studios that didn’t initially record a rhythm section of at least bass, drums and guitar, often with a scratch vocal track. After all, that’s what those big rooms and 24-plus channel boards were originally intended to record. Rythmn sessions generally used an average of 8 tracks on a 16 track tape, or 12 on a 24 track. When studios started to sync two 24 track machines for overdubs and mixing, initial track counts sometimes got larger, not smaller.
Some people on this thread seem to have some of their recording history jumbled.
Old 21st October 2018
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vincentvangogo View Post
I wouldn't put too much faith in that site. I have a handful of songs on there marked as definitely done to a click, but weren't and we are far from a tight band. One song was comprised of an intro from one take edited to another take with a razorblade. We didn't even use a click to count us in.
Can you tell us more? Which songs do they refer to on the site that you know for certain aren't done to a click, though the site argues that they were?

Have read that page a few times and have only seen the plots for some very classic songs (Highway To Hell, Stairway etc.) and some well-known modern ones (Never Again)..

The plots seem like compelling evidence for the presence of clicks or not.. They generally look to sounds right as well.. One can very easily here the tempo increase before the first chorus of 'Highway To Hell' for example..

Can you link to the song plots for the 'handful of songs' you know to be incorrect?

Thanks,

-MM
Old 21st October 2018
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gravyface View Post
Obviously a great room is a great room, but Exiles was in a basement in France, was it not? And
Part of it, yes. But they also tracked at Olympic in London and many overdubs were done at Sunset Sound in L.A.

In France they didn't really have the space to record everybody in one room as you can see in the pictures that exist from those sessions.

Ironically the track 'I just want to see his face' always stood out as the ultimate voodoo-drug haze-sonic overload to me which I associated with the 'Exile' basement sound.. Until I learned that it was actually tracked at Olympic. And now I realize that you couln't get that sense of depth from a small basement space.

But it's still about musicans playing together in a room, even if it often took TONS of takes and still lot was then replaced and overdubbed later.
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