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What Changed in the 90s to Affect the Sound of Records
Old 25th September 2009
  #1
What Changed in the 90s to Affect the Sound of Records

I've seen many posts asking about "how to achieve this sound?" or "how to get a tight low end?" etc. etc. My question is sort of a different approach. I'm wondering what factors changed the sound of mixes in the early 90s. It seems to me that the sound of records changed significantly from that period and has maintained a similarity in quality.

It is a general question, but I'm thinking mainly about urban music: R&B and hip hop. IMO that format changed from that period and has maintained a certain mix sound since then. The sound I'm referring to is a tight low end, somewhat dry mix, lush vocal harmonies, and overall, a very solid and focused feel. Everything seemed very present and loud as well.

We were getting into a new era of influential engineers and producers (Tony Maserati, etc.), and the sound changed, but beyond the human contributions, what technical/gear changes made such a drastic difference? Was it the beginning of the PT and DAW era? Was it the sudden renewed popularity of tube and other high end analog gear? Was it the fact that CDs had become the primary format? I know SSLs were common mix consoles of choice, but many of those models had been around for a while, so I don't know if that could have been much of a factor.

Anyway, just wondering what others on here think of this.
Old 25th September 2009
  #2
Gear Maniac
 

A fast answer would be : The popularisation of digital recording technology, 18 bits, 20 bits, 24 bits.. besides classic mixing techniques, lead to better, clearer sound.

But i think it has been a 2 step movement: First to digital and second back to some analogue gear to add that warmth lost in DAW.
I think many engineers still use 2" tape reels...

This is a first opinion/approach to your question.

JAY X
Old 25th September 2009
  #3
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themaidsroom's Avatar
 

tape
and
really good mixing boards
and
tape
and then
all that going
away
Old 25th September 2009
  #4
If I didn't have space limitations where I am in NYC, I would consider buying a 2" machine. The current prices are very tempting.
Old 25th September 2009
  #5
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distressors + rock music
Old 25th September 2009
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JAY X View Post
I think many engineers still use 2" tape reels
Nope Protools
Old 25th September 2009
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JAY X View Post
I think many engineers still use 2" tape reels.
Quote:
Originally Posted by hipass View Post
Nope Protools
Actually, many (and that's a relative term) engineers use both. Track to 2", bounce into PT for editing, mix analog (if they're using outboard) or ITB.
Old 25th September 2009
  #8
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitrax View Post
Actually, many (and that's a relative term) engineers use both. Track to 2", bounce into PT for editing, mix analog (if they're using outboard) or ITB.
That's interesting. I was convinced that tape was becoming very rare in the production process these days.
Old 25th September 2009
  #9
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The mass execution of competent guitar players.
Old 25th September 2009
  #10
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Digital
Old 25th September 2009
  #11
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Distressors are kinda plasticky, no?
Old 25th September 2009
  #12
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RCM - Ronan's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by alkooloid View Post
Distressors are kinda plasticky, no?
No.
Old 25th September 2009
  #13
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alkooloid's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by alkooloid View Post
Distressors are kinda plasticky, no?

I guess it's easy to abuse them if you don't know what you're doing or are in a hurry. Never let me get behind the .50 Cal. There'll be problems, for sure.
Old 25th September 2009
  #14
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more than anything?

BUDGETS


there is not the money top keep open the rooms, the infrastructure and growth development of personnel... the cross pollination of people meeting in the lobby'[s of big studios' went away... less time to be able to make great records in great rooms.

This is all related to the disaster of large multi-nationals taking over the business and making short term artistic decisions over long term development.... thus, less ground breaking artists being found and developed.

Couple that with rise of the internet and the whole stealing of music which resulted in the collapse of brink and mortar which lead into (again) the decline of financial support and you end up with a diaspora of talent... scattered to hundreds of studio's that simulate the great tones and art of yesterday... the Golden Age is gone... never to return.
Old 25th September 2009
  #15
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toneguru's Avatar
Whats the dif tween the 80's and now?

In the 80's fantasy, exotica and all things Japanese were cool. It was reflected in the music. There was an uptown sheen and hi production points on many hits back then. Of course it helped that the budgets were huge.

Then in 1989, the Japanese stock mkt crashed and with it the allure of the far east.

In the 90's the opposite ruled the day. Grunge, hip hop and a streetwise reality was the flavor for many years. Plus lots of recordings were being made in rooms that paled in comparison to the likes of Cello #1 (then Oceanway) or Air Studios etc.

I miss the sound of some of the great 80's recordings. Thomas Dolby had it going on. Also, there is this one hit wonder by an artist that I do not recall, the song is "One Night in Bangkok" and it is a great example of the era. If you have not heard it you have to check it out... a truly stunning production.

On the other end of the spectrum from Bangkok would be the album "Superunknown" and I am sure most slutz are familiar with that asskick'n album.

Viva la dif...
Old 25th September 2009
  #16
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inthere's Avatar
 

A lot of stuff was sampled in Hip Hop on cheap samplers early in the 90's. The sampling quality got better and producers started finding players that could play the parts, so overall quality improved.
Old 25th September 2009
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alkooloid View Post
Distressors are kinda plasticky, no?
That's what they remind me of. Very plasticky. But they're still the coolest for making a snare go SMACK. And other things.
Old 25th September 2009
  #18
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Rupert Limehouse's Avatar
 

Also, there is this one hit wonder by an artist that I do not recall, the song is "One Night in Bangkok" and it is a great example of the era. If you have not heard it you have to check it out... a truly stunning production.

[/QUOTE]


One Night In Bangkok was not really a one hit wonder - it was written and produced by a certain Benny and Bjorn of the then recently defunct ABBA. The later ABBA records sound awesome - check out the remastered edition of Voulez Vous if you don't believe me
Old 25th September 2009
  #19
Can't forget about the Adat revolution
Old 25th September 2009
  #20
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Slightly tongue in cheek but with a subtle undertone here - The 90s sound changed because of
1 SSL
2 Stock Aitken and Waterman (certainly in the UK) see also 9
3 R&B becoming a sterile cliche in the US Charts lasting for about 8 years
4 Rock taking a bit more of a backseat
5 Akai samplers Especially S1000/1100/3000/3200
6 A&R legends leaving their hands-on positions,moving upstairs and being replaced by people with an extreme lack of musical taste and knowledge. These were then replaced by more accounts-focused executives who slashed budgets or talent depending on which was costing more
7 The collapse or amalgamation of the Independent Label into a major which then followed the systemic errors of 6
8 The assumption that only good records could be made in expensive studios - see 6
9 Formula record making - lets have another 10 of them there thingamajigs again - also see 6
10 Marketing practices resulting in staged and manufactured artists dominating the market leading to audience disenchantment
11 The systemic failure of the industry to remember that music is an artform with commercial potential rather than the other way around.

Having been involved for a while during this period in many areas, there is no doubt that technology added colour to the way the music sounded, but there was a real creative hiatus too which I believe was the significant result of all of the above points.

But mainly 6

Please wait until I put the crash helmet on. . . .
Old 25th September 2009
  #21
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Empire Prod's Avatar
 

Autotune
Old 25th September 2009
  #22
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abtech's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by hipass View Post
Nope Protools
Okay, now we know what you use, but I see quite a bit of 2" machines every session I do these days . . .
Old 25th September 2009
  #23
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Sugarnutz's Avatar
I think this is the culprit:

Old 25th September 2009
  #24
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narcoman's Avatar
 

Reverb dried up.....

Many here seem to have a problem with modern mixing?

Not me.... some of the best recording I've ever heard are "now" records.. Lullabies to Paralyse, Electraglide in Black, Catch me if you can soundtrack, matrix soundtrack, Kronos Quartet records....

I can go on !!
Old 25th September 2009
  #25
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitrax View Post
Actually, many (and that's a relative term) engineers use both. Track to 2", bounce into PT for editing, mix analog (if they're using outboard) or ITB.
It's interesting to see the responses in this thread. Even though the OP specifically stated a focus on R&B and hiphop, most of the people chiming in are talking about rock music. Well i guess it's obvious what most people listen to here.

I have yet to see ANY Rap or Hiphop artist track vocals to tape. Never happens. If it does, it's the exception and not the norm. And for the most part, Hiphop is SAMPLED from CDs and records into digital samplers, sequenced and programmed along with other digital samples... then recorded into a DAW or digital recorder. Then vocal are added...then mixed.

In some rare cases, the final tracks are printed to 2" tape and mixed off that, but that usually doesn't happen anymore. it's protools all the way, usually split out across a console (SSL seems to be the preference) for mixing.

Everything has to have a context. I'm talking about Hiphop and Rap like 50 cent, Beyonce, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, etc... I was on an AES panel discussion with Chris Athens a couple years ago and he was saying one of his Rap clients (I think it was Redman??) came in WITH the protools sessions and mixed right out of the box into his mastering chain. There were no printed "mixes" of the songs. It was a laptop sending outputs 1-2 to chris. And as he was mastering it, they were tweaking the mix for him at his request.
Old 26th September 2009
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sugarnutz View Post
I think this is the culprit:

LOL.. funny ****! heh
Old 26th September 2009
  #27
Good stuff!

Yeah, Pro Tools definitely played a part as we moved into "Y2K", but most of the label projects in the 90s were done using 2 inch machines synced up, at least in my experience. The vocal reel, instrument reel, etc. But as the 90s came to a close, everyone was definitely jumping on Pro Tools.

It makes sense that certain samplers, and of course drum libraries & new patches, had a lot to do with the sound too.
Old 26th September 2009
  #28
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AllAboutTone's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by grantlandau View Post
distressors + rock music
Still cannot figure how this one relates ? NO
Old 26th September 2009
  #29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Z View Post

Anyway, just wondering what others on here think of this.
I gather not to many people around here were engineering in the early 90's.

First of all there were no Distressors or ProTools. The Distressors came out in the mid 90's and ProTools really grabbed a foot hold as a viable working platform for music production in the late 90's. Working around that time(late 80's/early 90's) here in NYC i can remember 3 reasons that stuck out to me:

1) The maturity of the technology and the engineers maturity of how to use it to its best

2) The influence of the "NYC sound".

3) The spread & crossover of NYC engineers to other styles of music

1) The 80's and the production/engineering that was popular then was an ongoing process, both bombastic & excessive at times, reflecting the times and the creative demands of the artists/producers. The problem was that the technology then still had not matured to keep up. Midi had just been introduced just a few years earlier, the computers could not do hard disk recording yet because of things like the price of ram and samplers were just starting to be both affordable & sound good. So back then it took a lot of creative choices on how to give sounds the same impact that people were used to from the years gone by. Also since everyone around then had come out of the 70's the techniques used & taken for granted today in mixing electronic elements were slowly taking a foot hold. By the early 90's not only had the electronic technology got better/affordable but the engineering techniques for making great sounding electronic records had over a decade to marinate & really become cemented. Add to this the fact the effect heavy sounding records of the past decade had become passe and a more "in your face" but polished sound had become the norm.

2) In the history of popular music, when the NYC influence is felt there is a change in the sound. If you look at the popular records made in the middle 60's, late 70's & early 80's that came out of the NYC scene you will hear it right away. Maybe its something about the city and its "up in your grill ness" or the fact the NYC is known for "keeping it real yo", but the records are usually drier, more upfront and just jump out at you. In the middle 80's Unique studio was the mecca for Midi records. They had the first all midi room in a major studio dedicated to an all "keyboard/drum machine" production that at the time was unheard of but made them the most popular studio at that time. Lots of major artists came through there & the engineers that could take advantage of incorporating the technology became superstars. 2 of them in particular were CLA & TLA who not only made names for their "NYC sounding" mixes but their remixes using the midi technology. Fast forward years later and with the popularity of the electronic music coming out of NYC, lots of the NYC producers were hired as A&R's and talent scouts. So the influence was felt all over especially in the R&B scene. Run DMC(Queens) had already established Rap as a viable selling commercial product years earlier and Teddy Riley(from Harlem) was riding high as one of the most in demand producers of the day. When producers started marrying the 2 it was like a natural extension for a money making venture. The NYC rap sound is gritty and hard hitting & R&B is known for its smooth polished vocals, so combine the two & voila you have a hard hitting but recognizable sound that regular folks can relate to.

3) Just as the technology & production matured, the NYC engineers who were popular at the time started to spread out and take advantage of their popularity in other styles of music. The big 3 were Andy Wallace,CLA & TLA. All 3 were top NYC dance & pop mixers & its no coincidence that when they shifted their attentions to mixing rock in the early 90's that sound of modern rock/pop completely changed and basically the sound dried up and got aggressive. No more big reverb on the snares & toms, but punchy & in your face guitars & drums became the norm. The dried up sound influenced all styles of music and there was a backlash against the dated sound of the 80's. The guys who could mix this way and get the sounds pounding quickly rose up. Who were better equipped than the engineers who came up mixing wimpy electronic keys, drum machines & loops and making it sound big and massive. The use of compression, EQ's, delays, distortion, automation became more important so SSL as the console of choice forever cemented its place in history that continues to this day.

I believe history has a way of repeating itself. I think in the next decade when the current engineers really grasp & understand the best ways to maximize the current technology, we will start to hear great sounding popular records done on a DAW. And the sound in contrast to what you hear today will be a sorta "anti 2000" backlash.

Until then you will have to continue to sit through the overly stressed records of today.
Old 26th September 2009
  #30
Wow, what a great post! Lots of history there. I wasn't aware of the rock side of it and how it was all related...and Unique was part of the equation. Also a great reminder of Uptown and the whole movement in Urban music that led to Bad Boy and so on.

I guess the semi-dry, aggressive mixing style had an influence on the outboard gear craze that developed among engineers and producers...just a guess. With parallel compression and other ways of playing around with transients and the envelope of sounds, it seemed like everyone was looking to build a collection compressors, eqs, etc.

Of course now that lots of us are working out of our own rooms, the outboard gear craze is really on.
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