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Why were vocal recordings so much better in the 1950s?
Old 22nd May 2020
  #1
Why were vocal recordings so much better in the 1950s?

Just what the title said: listen to Perry Como, Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Julie London and others recorded way back then. They sound as if they're right in front of you. Now, with all the technological advances, it's rare to hear vocalists sound anywhere near as real and many I can't believe the engineers actually passed for release. They sound scheissehausen.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #2
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vernier's Avatar
It's a matter of opinion whether bigger fuller warmer vocals sound better.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #3
Gear Maniac
 

In my opinion, most back then were just better singers period. They knew much more about the art of music.
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Old 22nd May 2020
  #4
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Sharp11's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
Just what the title said: listen to Perry Como, Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Julie London and others recorded way back then. They sound as if they're right in front of you. Now, with all the technological advances, it's rare to hear vocalists sound anywhere near as real and many I can't believe the engineers actually passed for release. They sound scheissehausen.
In the late 50's, when Mitch Miller (sing along with Mitch) brought Johnny Mathis into Columbia studios for a marathon session experimenting with close mic's and an "intimate pop vocal sound", the art of pop vocal recording changed forever - in some cases, for the better, but in other cases, not so much.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
Just what the title said: listen to Perry Como, Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Julie London and others recorded way back then. They sound as if they're right in front of you.
Listen to those records again tell me what you think of the kick drum sound.

Or the bass.

Or the guitars.

The vocals 'stand out' on those recordings because let's be honest, the mix is mostly vocals. If audiences would stand for that in 2020, I am sure you could get the vocal to sound as if they were right in front of you. It's not technological "magic" - hey some of those same mics are still in service - it's simply a different aesthetic. It's not "better" IMO, that would be a matter of taste.

If I mixed a modern band's song like a Perry Como record, the singer might dig it, but the guitar players would be outside my door with torches and pitchforks.
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Old 22nd May 2020
  #6
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600 ohms
Old 22nd May 2020
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
Listen to those records again tell me what you think of the kick drum sound.

Or the bass.

Or the guitars.

The vocals 'stand out' on those recordings because let's be honest, the mix is mostly vocals. If audiences would stand for that in 2020, I am sure you could get the vocal to sound as if they were right in front of you. It's not technological "magic" - hey some of those same mics are still in service - it's simply a different aesthetic. It's not "better" IMO, that would be a matter of taste.

If I mixed a modern band's song like a Perry Como record, the singer might dig it, but the guitar players would be outside my door with torches and pitchforks.
Ding'.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vernier View Post
It's a matter of opinion whether bigger fuller warmer vocals sound better.
Everyone's entitled to my opinion.
Chris
Old 22nd May 2020
  #9
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BIG BUDDHA's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
Listen to those records again tell me what you think of the kick drum sound.

Or the bass.

Or the guitars.

The vocals 'stand out' on those recordings because let's be honest, the mix is mostly vocals. If audiences would stand for that in 2020, I am sure you could get the vocal to sound as if they were right in front of you. It's not technological "magic" - hey some of those same mics are still in service - it's simply a different aesthetic. It's not "better" IMO, that would be a matter of taste.

If I mixed a modern band's song like a Perry Como record, the singer might dig it, but the guitar players would be outside my door with torches and pitchforks.
perfectly said.

Buddha
Old 22nd May 2020
  #10
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pr0gr4m's Avatar
MONO!
Old 22nd May 2020
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
Listen to those records again tell me what you think of the kick drum sound.

Or the bass.

Or the guitars.

The vocals 'stand out' on those recordings because let's be honest, the mix is mostly vocals. If audiences would stand for that in 2020, I am sure you could get the vocal to sound as if they were right in front of you. It's not technological "magic" - hey some of those same mics are still in service - it's simply a different aesthetic. It's not "better" IMO, that would be a matter of taste.

If I mixed a modern band's song like a Perry Como record, the singer might dig it, but the guitar players would be outside my door with torches and pitchforks.
I was gonna say...you only hear the band when the singer ISN'T singing....you can't say that the strings on "Wonderful World" sound as "real" or as "in front of you" as any modern orchestral recording can you? But Louis sounds as if he's in front of you for sure!
Old 22nd May 2020
  #12
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Interestingly, I usually prefer remastered recordings. And I love playlists and recordings that marry old and new:

Lauren Daigle blew me away with Behold - including White Christmas. It sits along with Bing Crosby and The Drifters and Elvis versions all spaced out across my Christmas playlist. The Elvis Presley Christmas Duets with Martina McBride and Carie Underwood work in there as well. Last year I added Christmas Valentine [Ingrid Michaelson & Jason Mraz]. . .beautiful, bright vocals.

Broad playlists that cross many diverse artists, genera and decades of talent and recordings work extremely well for me. . .magnifying the value of each sound.

One of my favorite playlists contains two versions of My One and Only Love - a vocal by Sinne Eeg [Remembering You, 2009] that leads into an instrumental by Oscar Peterson [We Get Requests, 1964]. The two versions are amazingly effectively sitting next to each other. . .especially as the next tune up is Renee Olstead with A Love That Will Last and Aretha Franklin with Until You Come Back To Me. . .then Halle Loren with La Vie En Rose. . .and Trijntje Oosterhuis singing Trust in Me. . .etc. That playlist contains many diverse romantic/danceable recordings from across the better part of a century - favorite arrangements of favorite tunes from numerous genra and eras that somehow work together. Bria Skonberg makes Almost Like Being in Love dance on voice and trumpet right after Frank Sinatra swings through Iโ€™ve Got You Under My Skin. . .and weโ€™ve barely scratched the surface.


Variety is the spice of life,

Ray H.

EDIT: Lots of 'recent' recordings that I absolutely love on that playlist. . .There I've said it again.

Old 22nd May 2020
  #13
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Hyder boy's Avatar
 

They werenโ€™t
Old 22nd May 2020
  #14
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In the 50s, engineers didn't spend their time on the internet asking for opinions on hundreds of boutique repli-mics. Or trying to use out-of-date coupon codes to save 10 bucks on the latest hyped-up plugin that emulates the sound of success.

Instead, they just put up the bog-standard U47 for Frank, hit record on the 351 and glared out the glass at the band if they got too showy.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #15
I don't know the actual answer. But there are some pretty great vocal recordings from these days too.

In any great recording case it's more about listening, pursuing and knowing what sounds "right" and less about choosing gear/techniques that make you look on-trend.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #16
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kludgeaudio's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
The vocals 'stand out' on those recordings because let's be honest, the mix is mostly vocals. If audiences would stand for that in 2020, I am sure you could get the vocal to sound as if they were right in front of you. It's not technological "magic" - hey some of those same mics are still in service - it's simply a different aesthetic. It's not "better" IMO, that would be a matter of taste.
This is a huge part of it. Another big part of it is that the vocalist is in a real room, sometimes with the band and interacting with the band. A huge part of it is that the vocalists you're talking about were very very skilled people. They knew how to work the microphone, they knew how to take advantage of the room, they didn't need fifty punches in every line.

But these are songs, and it's about the song, it's not about the backing band, so the mix is all built around the vocal with the vocal very prominent.

I'll still record and mix stuff like this occasionally when I have a group that can do it. It sounds great.
--scott
Old 22nd May 2020
  #17
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The short answer: U47s sound a hell of a lot better than SM58s!
Hugh
Old 22nd May 2020
  #18
The record biz kept the posers out of the studio.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #19
I'd say it's fairly easy to make anything sound good if you're somewhat experienced and if you don't have to push things. I mean compression, eq etc.

Good room, good performances all natural with Maybe some master bus eq (if that was available early 50s) and voila!

Professionals at that time where also very good at their instruments. Today it's really all over the place since it's more about marketing hype. Not saying that wasn't relevant back then too, but at least you had to be able to perform and could not hide and disguise things with FX, Autotune etc.

And what people pointed out it was all about the vocals back then.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #20
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voodoo4u's Avatar
The all tube and tape signal path also made a big difference. Tube mic, tube pre, tube tape deck. Some might say it added just the right amount of distortion to create a smooth, even result. Ever been in or seen a 50's recording studio? Those asbestos acoustic tiles everywhere also contributed to a dry sound at the source as well.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #21
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Mr. Peabody, where's my Wayback Machine?
Chris
P.S. Lead in the painted walls at Goldstar.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #22
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Talent and the weeding out process like Jim said. The singers worked all week with live gigs as there were very few lipsync scams being pulled then and no computer correction. The band members main source of middle class income was playing live most of the week so they knew how to play as an ensemble as opposed to an Im the star / doing their own thing (few of the new class is playing with other musicians on a daily basis). Fewer mics in a larger better sounding room. Singers knew how to work the mic and were not swollowing it. Engineers moved players around instead of the mic and thus achieved a better point source balance (mixing desks didn't have that many channels nor did the tape decks so they got it right in the room as much as possible). Better reverb, real reverb chambers. Mono but stereo was pretty damn good too. Tube gear.

Now the low end, bass and kick were lower level and rounded sounding compared to today. If trying to recreate with a modern sound just balance those parts in OUTSIDE of the vocal space.

A main part is also the song itself. Songs of the time now known as "Standards" have a recognizable melody line and chord changes and as such could be done just instrumentally for people to enjoy it. Thats why 50 different bands could record the same song and through their interpetation of the song, sound unique. The vocals added interesting lyrics and brought you in further. So the song itself was typically very memorable. Contrast that to todays pop which is often the same chord changes as a zillion others with mind numbing stupid very limited lyrics which as a hook are over repeated and you have song fragments posing as a song (basically a polished extended jingle). As for EDM you have a large center section of the 3D mix space taken up by the kick which competes with and cancels out part the vocal as opposed to complimenting it.

Lastly its economics. It's more profitable to have a teen or young 20 something with little to no experience sign a one sided contract whose only talent is that they look good and can do a few dance steps as most of the heavy lifting of the singing part can be done by others using a computer.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #23
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Brilliant post!
Thanks, Chris
Old 22nd May 2020
  #24
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
These threads that start out with "Why is it that [opinion stated as a given goes here]? crack me up a little.

Those vocal recordings worked for the way they made records at the time.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #25
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Yea, the '50s! The good old days before engineers started messing around. . .making the talent [so called] sound like something they could never really pull off on stage. . .





This one doesn't sound like a U47, though.


Maybe Hugh was right?

Ray H.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #26
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There was a great DVD that had Frank Sinatra walking into the Studio for a Recording, with Humberto Gatica engineering. With a 5-star Big Band,
including a young George Benson.

It was more a behind the scenes ... just don't recall the name
Old 22nd May 2020
  #27
because it was all analog, higher quality gear on average, and using fig 8 ribbon mics dead zones to seperate instruments using natural ambience instead of trying to mute/seperate everything, musicians as well as singers had to be top notch.
Old 22nd May 2020
  #28
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Imagine a Heavy Metal song, redone this way? Wait! Pat Boone already did it! (In A Metal Mood)
What's next? "I Haven't Got Time For T-Pain".
Chris
Old 22nd May 2020
  #29
Gear Nut
 
Sabovic Adis's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
Listen to those records again tell me what you think of the kick drum sound.

Or the bass.

Or the guitars.

The vocals 'stand out' on those recordings because let's be honest, the mix is mostly vocals. If audiences would stand for that in 2020, I am sure you could get the vocal to sound as if they were right in front of you. It's not technological "magic" - hey some of those same mics are still in service - it's simply a different aesthetic. It's not "better" IMO, that would be a matter of taste.

If I mixed a modern band's song like a Perry Como record, the singer might dig it, but the guitar players would be outside my door with torches and pitchforks.
Squizeme, wut?

You're not actually comparing the relevance of the kick drum to the relevance of Frank's voice - in a Frank Sinatra song, are you?
A voice is a voice and kick is just a kick - you kick it. Occasionally. Frank sings in English, which is important, and drummer drums in a language that no one understands, namely Musical.
So...
Old 22nd May 2020
  #30
tiv
Gear Head
 

I think more people recorded vocals without headphones. For some this can make a more natural feeling when performing.
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