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Mixing techniques for Motown sounds Dynamic Microphones
Old 17th November 2011
  #1
Mixing techniques for Motown sounds

Obviously there is the final product to be taken into account when tracking, but in mixing I figured I would get your suggestions for 'standards' in Motown, and maybe some suggestions on taking things that were obviously tracked with a modern approach and mix them in a way to emulate a Motown tone.
Old 17th November 2011
  #2
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Detroit or LA?

If Detroit, I would search any of Bob Ohlsson's posts hear or at The Womb, or google Bob Ohlsson Motown and read any of the material that comes up. Most of it already out there, though I suppose Bob does not seem to mind repeating himself.
Old 17th November 2011
  #3
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I remember at an AES seminar I attended with Bob & Bob that one of the things they did as matter of course was to (brick wall) HPF everything at 80Hz. They figured the lisrteners' brains would figure out the rest anyway (i.e. the fundamentals), and it bought them a few extra dB on the side.

I could dig out my notes if you'd like to know more, they went through quite a few production tips and practices, iirc.

Cheers,
Thor
Old 17th November 2011
  #4
I would be very interested in those notes and production tips swell
Old 18th November 2011
  #5
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I'm away all weekend - pm me a reminder and I'll see what I can find :-)

Thor

Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku View Post
I would be very interested in those notes and production tips swell
Old 18th November 2011
  #6
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Without going into the importance of what goes into the mic and the room itself, here's a clip that gets sort of the vibe of the original while being tracked/mix with a modern approach.... it's not a motown sonics knockoff by any stretch, but it gets into the neighborhood during some moments-
Dionne Bromfield - Ain't No Mountain High Enough - YouTube

Hey... what are the vocal mics there on the two singers?

Anyway.. oh yeah.. motown sound.. To me, the drums sonics aren't right on that clip above, and the overall ambience isn't right (imo for a closer motown sonics experience) but you may want to ask the guys who tracked and mixed this for more info on what they did. ha... if they'll talk to you.

I have personally spent about 40 some years taking the original Ain't No Mountain High enough apart (sonically... notwithstanding the great song, arrangement, and vocals). I don't think you're gonna nail it (or other Motown approaches) very close at mix. The one-room-all-guys-playing-at-the-same-time .. and the room sound itself.. is gonna be a big factor.
Old 19th November 2011
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ryanojohn View Post
Obviously there is the final product to be taken into account when tracking, but in mixing I figured I would get your suggestions for 'standards' in Motown, and maybe some suggestions on taking things that were obviously tracked with a modern approach and mix them in a way to emulate a Motown tone.
The "magic" if you will was a combination of the Funk Brothers..James Jamison(bass) Uriel Jones and Pistol Allen (drums) Robert White,Joe Messina and Eddie Willis (guitars) ,Earl Van Dyke and Johnny Griffith(keys) and Eddie Brown,congas and Jack Ashford vibes and tambrine
The instruments were all taken direct via a five input custom built direct box built by studio wiz Mike Mc Clain who custom made everything including the consoles,eqs,pres you name it
The first studio was just three track and then Baby Love was the first eight track session
The machine was custom built by Mike Mc Clean as well
Motown (detroit) was never more than 16 track and Brickhouse was the first 16 track session
The control room was tiny and it overlooked the studio which was basically of an RCA design
The floors were wooden planks
The building is a converted small house,bungalow style and the control room was where the back sun porch would be and the studio was a cinder block add on that you walked down to via four steps into the "snakepit"

The Motown sound was about GREAT SONGS AND GREAT PRODUCERS
I will post some pics at a later date if anyone is interested
Old 19th November 2011
  #8
Gear Head
It has already been mentioned, but aggressive HPF, as well as the natural extended frequency rolloff in both directions of older tape machines, makes a lot of the sound we associate with older recordings. Getting a lot of the lower frequencies out of places where they aren't sonically important is a big part of the picture. To get the 'motown sound,' you're going to have to look at your arrangement too though, the players who were on almost every motown record had really individual and unique styles, and studying their note choice is essential to coping that recorded sound.
Old 19th November 2011
  #9
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jono_3's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by thenoodle View Post
Hey... what are the vocal mics there on the two singers?
They look an awful lot like a pair of black U87ai's
Old 19th November 2011
  #10
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What the noodle said, pretty much...
It´ll be hard to get that Motown thang happening at mix, if it´s not arranged and tracked that way...

Listen to the mid 60´s Motown stuff and then just try to get that feel and sound when tracking (to tape), commit is the word here...

Best,
Tom
Old 21st November 2011
  #11
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u b k's Avatar
 

Well, it's true that the vibe of the music and musicians themselves was at the heart of it all.

That said, having had the pleasure of laying my ears on more than a few motown multitracks spanning the early Detroit years and into the early LA years, I can tell you that three things stick out to my ears as being consistently part of the vibe and texture of that label's productions:

1) distortion

2) compression (tape, especially)

3) aggressive midrange focus

The mic technique those engineers had was fantastic. Their ear for processing was also remarkable; from the 16-track era, when they were able to keep a few key tracks for safety, I've heard the dry, naked vocal track of a superstar vocalist side by side with the compressed/distorted bounce, and to say the processing was aggressive is a serious understatement... and most of what you hear in the final product is that heavily processed, smashed, distorted vocal sound.

Drums, same thing, very compressed, but not in the way we do it today. Much more of what tape does when you print to it, bounce a few times, mix to tape again. Bass was very growly, lots of harmonic drive.

In short, Motown's sound was dirty and bandpassed compared to what most folks get up to these days. So I'd say crunch it up, and roll off the top and bottom because digital is very clean and very extended in contrast. Mix on funky midrange refs and really get the honk dialed in.

But aside from all that, if the tune isn't soulful, the melody and groove infectious, and the performances pushed all the way to the brink of everyone's capabilities, none of it will matter anyway.


Gregory Scott - ubk
Old 21st November 2011
  #12
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Mixing technique? What mixing technique?





Do you see the box with the 5 VUs to the left of the Hammond? That's were guitars and basses were plugged, directly (watch the video below). As for the console, what do you think you can do with that, six inputs and 8 returns (from an 8/16 track recorder).

The Motown sound was made exclusively in the arrangements and with the performances of the Funk Brothers. There was no "magic box".
Just 3 mics for drums. RCA77 on the kick and 67s on the snare and single overhead. Vocals either 67 or 87. Real chambers on the attic of the house for echo. Done.




Ok, they had some mixing rooms at Motown Center, but that doesn't change the above as those electrodyne consoles were extremely simple by today standards.
Old 21st November 2011
  #13
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Oh boy, where to start! I was one of the only two people who did all three jobs of mastering, mixing and tracking at Motown in Detroit so I had a pretty good overview.

First off it was a 70 Hz. 24 dB./octave high pass filter and it was introduced around 1967. Nothing earlier was high-passed and the mixers compensated for it in the mix typically by putting in an 18 dB/octave filter followed by a healthy boost at 60 using a Pultec. It was used primaraly as a means of making our in-house prototype masters done on a Neumann system match up better with the final production masters that were done by RCA using a Scully/Westrex system. It also covered up hum problems in the outside tracks of our 8 track machine.

The studio started out mono in Berry's sister's basement. (This was where the dirt floor was.) Berry would bring his musician friends in who had been customers in his jazz record store. They would record backing tracks that Berry and and a couple friends would edit and then take into one of Detroit's two recording studios to overdub vocals on. "Money" by Barrett Strong is probably the most notable example from that period. After he had some success as a manager/producer he purchased a photography studio near Detroit's advertising agencies and recording studios and converted it into the studio we now know as "Hitsville" where I got my start.

I'll write some more about this later.
Old 21st November 2011
  #14
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Here's a brief autobiography Mike McLean gave the University of Michigan.

Living Music: Search Interviews
Old 21st November 2011
  #15
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Great info, Bob. Thank you.

The studio room seems to have a low ceiling and some sort of panelling applied. Was it as low as it appears?
Old 21st November 2011
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thenoodle View Post
The one-room-all-guys-playing-at-the-same-time .. and the room sound itself.. is gonna be a big factor.
Precisely! It has to be recorded that way, warts and all. Killer musicians on decent kit in any room with pro audio people and gear will always kill. ALWAYS. We capture Vibe, remember.
Old 21st November 2011
  #17
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u b k's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by jindrich View Post
The Motown sound was made exclusively in the arrangements and with the performances of the Funk Brothers.

The sound was "exclusively" in the arrangements and performances? Nothing else mattered? Not the mic choice, mic placement, DI submixing, mic amps/comps/eq's/console, gainstaging practices, tape machine calibration, monitors, balances, eq and amount of echo... none of it.

It's an absurd notion.

There was as much technique involved in every aspect of Motown productions --- including the mixing and balancing of sounds --- as there is in anything done today. And those techniques and choices, whether conscious or otherwise, added up to a very specific sonic signature that goes beyond the music, players, and arrangements, and is quantifiable as an element unto itself, every bit as meaningful to the overall production, every bit as crafted as the notes and spaces it captures.


Gregory Scott - ubk
Old 21st November 2011
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by u b k View Post
The sound was "exclusively" in the arrangements and performances? Nothing else mattered? Not the mic choice, mic placement, DI submixing, mic amps/comps/eq's/console, gainstaging practices, tape machine calibration, monitors, balances, eq and amount of echo... none of it.

It's an absurd notion.

There was as much technique involved in every aspect of Motown productions --- including the mixing and balancing of sounds --- as there is in anything done today. And those techniques and choices, whether conscious or otherwise, added up to a very specific sonic signature that goes beyond the music, players, and arrangements, and is quantifiable as an element unto itself, every bit as meaningful to the overall production, every bit as crafted as the notes and spaces it captures.


Gregory Scott - ubk

Too many people want to boil down complex alchemy into a twitter sized sound bite.
Old 21st November 2011
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by u b k View Post
The sound was "exclusively" in the arrangements and performances? Nothing else mattered? Not the mic choice, mic placement, DI submixing, mic amps/comps/eq's/console, gainstaging practices, tape machine calibration, monitors, balances, eq and amount of echo... none of it.
I should have worded it more properly. If you read my post you'll see I also included photos of the studio and the main tools used. But I wanted to stress the fact that unless you have the right arrangements and the musicians, everything else won't make a difference. Always remember that the Arrangement is the most powerful EQ, Compressor and processor.
For the same token I wanted to put emphasis in that the "mixing" back then had nothing to do with what we understand with mixing nowadays. At that time there was just 8-16 tracks with a VERY simple mixer, some limiter and a (real) echo chamber and that was it.
Not much you could do compared to a modern SSL+3348, let alone a DAW.

In all, the sound was made at the TRACKING stage, NOT at the MIXING stage.
Old 21st November 2011
  #20
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Ok, back from my weekend excursion, here are a few things I noted at the AES NY 2009 seminar with Bob. And as he pointed out, the HPF was at 70Hz.


"Motown disk cutting was brickwalled @ 70hz, letting the 1st harmonic of the low E on bass (80Hz) be the lowest note on the record, as they found that the 1st harmonic & fundamental @ 40Hz were about equally loud & prominent during their testing. They often Boosted 100 & 200 (sometimes 300) to keep the bass line clear & defined, and also added more energy from 2-15k compared to other bands of the era.

Mixes often crept up in level through the song, if more than 1db, they slowly attenuated it while cutting. Because level drops are less noticable than level jumps, they often turned the volume down as they got closer to the inner grooves, up to 2.5db.

Motown "hard" bass: 34Hz brought way down, 63Hz down several db, 125/250Hz boosted.

Motown vocal: parallel comp with eq - split vocal to 2 tracks, boost 8k & presence frequencies, add heavy compression post eq (10db GR, 4:1 ratio, soft knee used for best effect, no makeup gain, just over 100ms release), mixed in with original vox. Gives a natural effect.

Barry Gordy hated limiters, parallel compression was used to keep a natural feel to the vocals.
(How far we've come today - where you have to search far and wide to find a natural sounding vocal!)
No eq or limiters/comps were used while tracking in the early days.

"The Sonic Cliff" - Motown cutting engineers spent a lot of time doing in-house research to find the point where the music becomes too gritty, muddy, distorts, or the needle skips. Stay on the cliff, don't fall off! Today's music has largely fallen off that cliff."

That's the gist of my notes, I hope Bob can chime in and fill out the details and missing pieces. It was a pleasure and privilege listening to him tell how they did things at Motown back in the day. A lot we can learn there.

Cheers,
Thor
Old 14th January 2012
  #21
Quote:
Originally Posted by swafford View Post
Detroit or LA?
Deeetroit
Old 14th January 2012
  #22
Some great notes in here, thanks much.

For those of you that keep saying its in the tracking... Well, you either didn't read the post, or you for some reason think that this is impossible to do, both of which aren't really helpful.

I'm not saying the tracking isn't important, but rather, my question is about things you can do in the mix.

Would you say something like an EMT Plate 140 would be the closest emulation to what's on most of those vocals?
Old 14th January 2012
  #23
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

I should add that RCA used the same Studer C37 tape machines and we supplied them with our filters and equalizers.

The eq'd parallel compression was a work-around to deal with the loss of high frequencies on track 1 of our home made 8-track machines. After we got our Ampex MM-1000 16 tracks we started tracking using flat parallel compression with no eq. or gating. Looking a singer in the eye and singing along in your mind while riding the mike fader during tracking is a powerful technique that has almost been lost today. When you do that the vocals never need nearly as much compression.

We had an EMT 140 and two live chambers that had been built in the attics of two of the houses. (Motown occupied at least five houses I'm aware of along one block of West Grand Boulevard before taking over an abandoned office building in downtown Detroit.) Our consoles were the first I've ever seen that had three send pots allowing a mix of different echo chambers and the plate. We also had the ability to mute the dry signal and work on just the reverb mix.

It certainly was in the tracking but we were always pushing the bleeding edge of technology too. Channel mutes and building an arrangement on the board began at Motown. So did punching in parts which used technology we had lifted from motion picture dubbing where three people previously needed to make no mistakes mixing mixing 100+ tracks for an entire ten minute reel. Hollywood invented it and we jumped on it.

We had the earliest console automation system I'm aware of although it was dropped almost immediately after being put in service because spliced up hand mixes sounded more compelling than the over-thunk automated ones.
Old 19th January 2012
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
We had the earliest console automation system I'm aware of although it was dropped almost immediately after being put in service because spliced up hand mixes sounded more compelling than the over-thunk automated ones.


thank you sir, from the deep of my heart
Old 19th January 2012
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zumbi View Post
thank you sir, from the deep of my heart
The nice thing about being first is that you have an open mind with no concepts of how things "should" be done.
Old 19th January 2012
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
The nice thing about being first is that you have an open mind with no concepts of how things "should" be done.
Bob, first off thank you so much or your posts ... I'm sure I'm not alone when I say your insights are the highlight of this entire forum.

With regard to your previous comment, Do you feel that a lot of what is lacking in music today is the lack of a mix 'performance'? I see posts where people are asking how people could mix without 'recall' and things like this. To me, this is akin to programming guitar solos with MIDI or something! Do you agree?
Old 19th January 2012
  #27
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The original question here is kind of unanswerable in the sense that back in the '60s, getting to the mono master was all part of one process. I don't think the 'mixdown' can really be separated into its own section. Not sure about Motown, but there are plenty of '60s recordings where elements were added live during the mix. Combine this with the amount of mixing that was done live while recording, and bouncing along the way and ... you see what I mean.

I'm not even sure it was even called 'mixing' ... I think Brian Wilson has referred to it as the 'dubdown' or something
Old 20th January 2012
  #28
Gear Nut
 

mixing techniques vs performance

With the technical limitations, mixing a project in those days was "closer" to mixing a live performance instead of fixing errors. Singers knew how to "work" the mic (sibilance and backing when belting out ) and there was no autotune they were real performances and kept the small errors for a great sum.

Musicians played to accomodate the dynamics of close musicians in the snake pit. Today we breakdown every bit (micromanaging) to make everything more in your face.

My 2 cents
jf
Old 20th January 2012
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post

Looking a singer in the eye and singing along in your mind while riding the mike fader during tracking is a powerful technique that has almost been lost today. When you do that the vocals never need nearly as much compression.
I agree with that one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post

We had the earliest console automation system I'm aware of although it was dropped almost immediately after being put in service because spliced up hand mixes sounded more compelling than the over-thunk automated ones.
Wait a sec. You mean that you'd mix a section at a time over to the two track with everyone manually handling the faders and then stop when you had an adequate sub-mix..... cut the two track tape and splice sections in with the razor blade after you had done that with all the various sections?

A skill I really only knew as being common in later decades by Yes,

I always had fear of the razor blade and always stuck with my vcas.
Old 21st January 2012
  #30
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Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

This was how everybody mixed! The downside was that we needed multiple copies for an international release and had to take a generation hit to do it. Automation meant one could run multiple original generation copies. Digital actually made the original reason for automating mixes obsolete!
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