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Alan Smart : The Engineer
Old 31st January 2003
  #1
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Alan Smart : The Engineer

Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney, Eddie Grant, Joni Mitchell... Spill your engineering guts... What are some of the most memorable moments? Any cool tricks you used that you can specifically point out of certain records?
Old 31st January 2003
  #2
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Ok, well, mostly I think of things like wiping a days worth of Eddy Grant's backing vocals…… i thought my number was up....... but Eddy said : I knew that was the wrong part. Lets start again…..

That record was a completely 'follow the fates' style approach which led to the whole album becoming about 8% faster by the time it was mixed. Each time we put down a monitor mix, on cassette, the next day it would speed up because there were some nine or so different machines around the plantation it was played on overnight, all running at different speeds. By the time we finished I'd almost tracked them all down, but we had to lock the multitracks at around +4%, and then wind the speed up quickly before the tracks started, to keep sync at such an increase.

So then, go figure out why on the same project we were comping three syllables of the same word from different vocal tracks. ?

Al
Old 31st January 2003
  #3
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If you had to explain to someone what constitutes the sound of the eighties in popular music what would your answer be ? How did your favourite equipment used at the time factor into this ?
Greetings

Bernd G.
Old 31st January 2003
  #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by Dailydb
Ok, well, mostly I think of things like wiping a days worth of Eddy Grant's backing vocals…… i thought my number was up....... but Eddy said : I knew that was the wrong part. Lets start again
It take a confident person to admit a mistake like a mistake like that! Very strong. More power to you my man!

I have met Eddy on a Ben E. King date I recorded. He appeared to be a very cool cat. I can hear him say that.
Old 1st February 2003
  #5
Quote:
Originally posted by Bernd G
If you had to explain to someone what constitutes the sound of the eighties in popular music what would your answer be ? How did your favourite equipment used at the time factor into this ?
I hope you don't mind me jumping in here (as no one else has so far).
The two things that sum up the 80's for me are big (rather unnatural) reverbs and the Fairlight. Most 80's 'pop' music sounds dated and sterile to me now.
I listened to the 'Slave to the Rhythm' album the other day. I thought it was AMAZING at the time, it sounded rather naff on relistening.
The 80's was the period when everyone was moving rapidly towards digital.
Of course it was the period when many studios junked their 70's consoles and installed SSL.
Enter Al........
Old 4th February 2003
  #6
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In mulling over this, Slave To the Rhythm stuck out in my mind too. So the gear's obvious: SSL 4K and AMS, plus assorted grainy reverbs. Get to the release of DX7 and things got very ugly....

But, more than that, you might say a technological wood-for-the-trees mindset from which, with absolutely NO disrespect, years to produce def-leppard albums and hours to listen to Grace Jones tracks produced by people wearing very thick glasses come to mind.

I can mention that because a certain west-end studio once allowed a plasterboard ceiling to drop on my head whilst commisiioning an SSL console for them...

Al.
Old 20th February 2003
  #7
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Lightbulb Hello AL and Chrisso

I listened to the 'Slave to the Rhythm' album the other day. I thought it was AMAZING at the time, it sounded rather naff on relistening.

Hello Al and Chrisso,

would you mind elaborating a bit on the recording/mixing techniques used specifically on Grace Jones' "Slave to the Rhythm" ? Correct me if I am wrong but I believe it was Trevor Horn producing and S Lipson recording ? I have listened to it and of course noticed the "big reverbs" and other 80s cliches such as gated reverbs on the horn riffs. I assume that some of the samples used came from either the Fairlight or a Synclavier? Al, did you mean by "a technological Wood-for-Trees attitude" using technology for technology's sake ? I just wanted to clarify that. Which part of this production/sound is particularly to the sonic signature of the SSL 4K console? In other words, how would the SSL sound heve affected the overall product as opposed to any other console given at the moment? Would you say that some of the sound comes from the SSL's electro-compressors as opposed to opto compressors used in earlier eras of recording history? Hope you don't mind grilling you here, but I am writing a paper on this subject and am trying to get as much input as possible. Of course you will get credit where credit is due. Thanks a million.

BG
Old 20th February 2003
  #8
A lot of the sounds were generated via the Synclavier system. Even the 'real' playing was chopped and edited on Synclavier.
I tend to listen to the album once every couple of years, but this recent time the rhythm section (bass, drums, drum programming) sounded particularly dated.
Trevor is still an amazing producer, but I think my 21st century ears have finally grown tired of the 80's excesses.
Old 20th February 2003
  #9
Quote:
Originally posted by chrisso
A lot of the sounds were generated via the Synclavier system. Even the 'real' playing was chopped and edited on Synclavier.
I tend to listen to the album once every couple of years, but this recent time the rhythm section (bass, drums, drum programming) sounded particularly dated.
Trevor is still an amazing producer, but I think my 21st century ears have finally grown tired of the 80's excesses.

Hey Chrisso,

Even though the 80's at times were excessive(yeah I know the famous gated reverb sounds), I think Trevor Horn was an exception. I think his greatest talent lie in his orchestrations/arrangements and him being able to lay out a canvas(as Quincy would say) for his talent.

1)Yes-90125
2)Art of Noise
3)Frankie Goes to Hollywood
4)ABC's -Lexicon of Love
5)Malcolm Mclaren-Duck Rock
6) Grace Jones-Slave to the Rhythm

And not even on the list his greatest production(90's) SEAL I and
SEAL II(which was more Wendy and Lisa). Yeah he's had his share of bombs(Cher,Tina Turner,Rod Stewart) but I think every producer has.

As a synth pop producer coming up in the 80's, I remember working at Unique Studios(the most famous midi studio in its heyday) and everyone trying to figure out his orchestrations and sounds.

I think if we are going to talk about excessive or a repetitive 80's formula, than we would have to look at the british production team of SAW. They proved what is true today, that you can get a bunch of hits with the same synths and sounds(these days its the Roland JV/XV series and a Korg Triton/Trinity) if you package it right.
Old 20th February 2003
  #10
Hey, I wouldn't want to knock him.
He was awesome in the 80's and is still putting out class records. I worked with him a few times.......nice guy.
Everything in your top 6 sounds dated to me though.
They are not bad records BTW, just VERY 80's.

About his orchestrations. He is a visionary, but he also surrounded himself with the cream of London's talent. Steve Lipson is no slouch.
About his sounds.....
When I worked with him he was using all D50 presets.
Old 21st February 2003
  #11
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I didnt have anything to do with 'slave to the rhythm', (though I think Trevor Horn used Synclavier a lot) and as Chrisso says he is a production legend !.

To generalise a bit about the '80's though I suppose use of the SSL 4K meant more use of automation; compression and gating because it was never as available. Attention increased on this in the production process...then, synclavier and fairlight emerged, more in the hands of producers than artists; creative focus changed....fixing stuff later; a more technical bias; longer projects became more common.

It's probably the same each time any new technology 'cycles': everyone dives in headfirst, then finds out the drawbacks as well as advantages, and five years on stuff is held in more realistic regard alongside previous stuff. After multitrack, would some of the most significant changes to the recording process have happened through the 80's ?

Audio wise, I think lack of transients characterised sampling and digital formats through the 80's, and 90's. Finding material that has useful transients intact we can use for compressor testing is informative, and still difficult. I'm not an audio snob though....creativity is king...but you need to be given the choice to **** up your transients !.

By the way, I would suggest US producers have always been more aware of audio quality than UK producers.....

Al.
Old 21st February 2003
  #12
UK mastering studios are for the most part, still in the dark ages..

"96k digital? Never heard of it"!

"What is a Masterlink"?

grudge
Old 23rd February 2003
  #13
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Lightbulb "It Sound so 80s"

After multitrack, would some of the most significant changes to the recording process have happened through the 80's ?


Lovely comments everyone I have been trying to get to the bottom of this "80s sound", if there ever was one... . It would be great to start a new thread, but I do not wish to bore you gentlemen. One can see Trevor Horn's "vision" on things like "Owner of a Lonely Heart". I just listened to this again and really think it pointed to the future at the time.
Early digital era 8-bit vs. early 16-bit quantization noise, distortions, low sampling rates etc. (I believe this is what Al described as lack of transients in digital). Drummachines ! Linn, MPCs - distorted and quantized sounds. But what I think is most fascinating is the crass polarity in complexity between synthsounds and "real sounds" (i.e. sounds recorded with microphones) , a theme that seems to run throughout the 80s (FM anyone?). BTW, what kind of stuff did SAW produce?
Of course a marked difference in London vs. NY sound. Could it be that U.K. producers never so much cared about the "fidelity" of the production, but rather about finding new and interesting sounds? This, of course, is not to slag off the talents on the other side of the Atlantic (B. Swedien, Quincy Jones etc.)
BTW. When did it first become so popular to use electro-compressors?
Cheers

BG
Old 23rd February 2003
  #14
Re: "It Sound so 80s"

Quote:
Originally posted by Bernd G
After multitrack, would some of the most significant changes to the recording process have happened through the 80's ?


Lovely comments everyone I have been trying to get to the bottom of this "80s sound", if there ever was one... . It would be great to start a new thread, but I do not wish to bore you gentlemen. One can see Trevor Horn's "vision" on things like "Owner of a Lonely Heart". I just listened to this again and really think it pointed to the future at the time.
Early digital era 8-bit vs. early 16-bit quantization noise, distortions, low sampling rates etc. (I believe this is what Al described as lack of transients in digital). Drummachines ! Linn, MPCs - distorted and quantized sounds. But what I think is most fascinating is the crass polarity in complexity between synthsounds and "real sounds" (i.e. sounds recorded with microphones) , a theme that seems to run throughout the 80s (FM anyone?). BTW, what kind of stuff did SAW produce?
Of course a marked difference in London vs. NY sound. Could it be that U.K. producers never so much cared about the "fidelity" of the production, but rather about finding new and interesting sounds? This, of course, is not to slag off the talents on the other side of the Atlantic (B. Swedien, Quincy Jones etc.)
BTW. When did it first become so popular to use electro-compressors?
Cheers

BG
BG,

Looking back at the 80's(when I firsted started in the biz) the biggest "ripple" in how music was produced was the advent of MIDI(including the Yamaha DX7).

It changed the whole process and it gave a whole lot of technical geeks(like myself) a chance to be cool by making music.

I think in the 80's the best and most adventurous music came out of the U.K.(this is a biased opinion coming from tech geek remember).heh

The synths gave you whole new pallette of fresh sounds to orchestrate from. Also coming out of the four on the floor disco era and the edginess of punk, early 80's music was like a combination(before they killed it and saturated it of course). I think the biggest splash came from 2 bands-Soft Cell and The Human League. They proved that you could have a hit record(here in the states and abroad) without "live musicians". This totally revolutinized the industry. The music industry was sagging(almost like it is now) and this gave them a whole new face into which to put "new" spins on(it also didn't hurt that these bands were androgynous ala "Bowie"and this created controversy in itself).

I think the programming had more to do with the "lack of transients" not the units(I mixed rap for a long time and the"pop"you can get out of an old EMU SP12 is amaxing).

SAW produced lots of pop hits (Banarama-"Cruel Summer",Rick Astley,Kylie Minogue,Samantha Fox and many others that I am sure they are still getting their royalty checks from).

The usage of lots of comps on mixes was probably popularized the most by Tom Lord Alge and Chris Lord Alge over at Unique Recording Studios. In its day Unique Recording Studios had the biggest collection of midi keyboards in America(and i was there). A lot of the "big"keyboard records were produced and mixed there. Tom was one of the first guys to do mixes(for keyboard songs) strictly on the SSL alone(no outboard, which of course has changed if you look at his and his brother's collection). He and Chris popularized a sound which was not "sappy"like a lot of the records out of LA, but "jumpin and poppin"which worked great on the radio(which they continue to this day).

The other person that popularized the sound was Bob Clearmountain. Bob's name speaks for itself. Just look at the hit songs from the 80's and see who mixed them. Bob probably mixed over 70% of them(and this is not an exageration). Bob pioneered the role of the mixer as an important part of the production process(he is also an SSL guy). To me as a mixer, he is the standard by which anyone is judged. He is still doing his thing, sure he doesn't work on as many hits(hey could you imagine Bob doing a Nelly mix?) But once in a while a gem sneaks out from his Mix This studio.
Old 23rd February 2003
  #15
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Talking Thanks Thrillfactor, Chrisso and AL

Thank you, Thrill
you have given me lots to think about. I will follow some of the people you mentioned and see where it leads me.
Cheers

BG
Old 24th February 2003
  #16
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Quote:
Originally posted by thethrillfactor
BG,....the advent of MIDI....

.....I think in the 80's the best and most adventurous music came out of the U.K.....

....Tom Lord Alge and Chris Lord Alge over at Unique Recording Studios...He and Chris popularized a sound which was "jumpin and poppin"which worked great on the radio(which they continue to this day).....
Lots I agree with; (I was being diplomatic giving the US credit for sound quality...I'd side with the UK on creativity !)

At one point I was getting 3 calls a week from studios/engineers wanting our stuff after hearing what Tom was doing. (he subsequently had his C1 stolen !).

Btw, not related to any time period I think I'd rate Tchad Blake and Alan Moulder with Tom in terms of best ever creative use of compression...off the top of my head The Curve and Soul Coughing records stand out; and perhaps TLA might be well represented by Steve Winwood ?

Al.
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