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Question for old-timers Effects Pedals, Units & Accessories
Old 4th September 2011
  #1
Question for old-timers

I was just curious if the strong opinions regarding auto-tune and the such are similar to the time period when mulitracking started becoming widespread.

Of course there was a time when there were minimal mics and a single take. I can see how the argument about talent and ability could be equally leveraged in both situations.

Any interesting similarities?
Rob
Old 4th September 2011
  #2
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doncaparker's Avatar
 

I qualify as an old timer (if age is the sole criterion), so I'll chime in.

Yeah, there are similarities, but there are differences, too.

To be more clear about what we are talking about, I think what you are trying to say is the following. Correct me if I am wrong:

You contend that the negative reactions by many of today's old timers to auto-tune is similar to the negative reactions that the old-timers of the 1970s had when the widespread use of multitrack recording allowed folks to make records that were stacks of individual performances rather than an actual joint performance by a musical ensemble of real human musicians.

To me, the similarity is that there can be a tendency to treat anything truly new as bad. There can also be a tendency to glorify the old days and make it sound like the folks today have it too easy. I get that, and I get that you young folks tend to roll your eyes and put up with us geezers when we get that way.

However, when it comes to auto-tune (and more specifically, the abuse of it), there is a pretty big difference.

When it comes to stacking performances on multitrack tape, at least those performances were real performances by the individuals who gave them. If all of the musicians could be in the room at the same time, they would likely give a great ensemble performance. Maybe the same person did multiple parts, but at least that person could actually play those parts. On the other hand, with auto-tune, there are literally singers out there who cannot sing, but we make it seem like they can through the use of this tool. That just feels like a step too far for me. Call me a curmudgeon for feeling that way. I can take it.

Let me also say this:

The older I get, the more I believe that the old timers of the 1970s were right. I think full bands sound better than stacked individual performances, and I think a group performance "means" more than stacked performances.

That doesn't mean you can't make wonderful music by stacking individual performances; you certainly can. In fact, you can make wonderful music with auto-tune (there, you heard me say it). However, there is nothing like the excitement of seeing and hearing real music played live and played well by a group of folks working together. The next best thing is a live recording of that experience. The next best thing is a multi-track recording of individual performances at different times playing the same music. The next best thing is a group of performances manufactured through the use of cutting and pasting and auto-tuning and whatever else can be done to create a performance that was never actually performed by a human being. See my point?
Old 4th September 2011
  #3
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popmann's Avatar
Multitrack brought better fidelity at the expense (to a degree) of musical performance, since playing your part while hearing the rest static in the cans is an unnatural proposition at the core.

Autotune brought worse fidelity (although at this point that might not be a factor) in an attempt to make a better performance. I'm not convinced it did. I have heard, in professional "on the radio" capacity, it ruin a wonderfully intonated vocal to make some engineer like the pitch better.

If an artist (vocalist themselves) wants to use it...that's they're call...not the engineer's, IMO. Plain and simple. Because you're second guessing their choice in performance. I don't envy you folks trying to run small studios where (I know-been there) the clientele is hideously under talented. Maybe that changes the rules...when it just godawful.
Old 4th September 2011
  #4
Gear Addict
 

In the 1960s and early 70s, all of our studio's personal recordings were direct to either one or two tracks. Many, many mics were often used, with no gates, no input EQ, or compression. While minimal EQ and effects were used in mixing, no compression was used. Multiple takes of songs were the order of the day, and little editing between takes was done.

Recently, I gave my young studio partner a partial copy of an extended project by one individual and his friends, from that time period. The entire project was about 40 songs. The group was not a band, per se, but they were dedicated, competent, and well rehearsed, and the songs themselves were of excellent quality, textually and musically. Most were written out for rehearsal, as all were music readers. The project had been accomplished over about 7 - 8 years. Near the end of the project, we had introduced early 4-track technology into the mix. My young friend's main question was 'how did you ever get that sound?'

'Old timer?' Probably. But I was not an old timer, 'back then.' I knew my place, and was happy to learn from mentors, many of whom knew the physics of sound and its application to early stereophonic recording, to a level very far above mine. I owe my beginnings to one man in particular. He was opinionated, crotchety, smoked a foul pipe, and had literally and figuratively forgotten more audio truths than I will ever know. His patience with me was legend.

We current 'old-timers' have watched audio history unfold of late, in a manner completely alien to our audio values. In the 'old' days, the goal of all audio was to improve fidelity. In fact the term 'high fidelity' used to mean that the product being presented to the public was as close to recorded reality as could be accomplished, at that time. The accomplishment of that lofty goal improved more and more with each generation of equipment and knowledge of its use. We have watched that goal be bastardized in recent years by the likes of mp3, AAC, etc. I am a retired public school teacher/college professor/defense industry manager/studio owner of 44 years, who had students in my classroom in the latter part of my career, who had no idea of the reality of 'high fidelity.' Mp3 was their benchmark.

And so, here we are. Strong opinions about Auto-tune and the like? Of course. My partner and I run a two location studio, in which each location is connected to the other, over the internet. We have Auto-tune, its clones, hardware, and all the PT, DP (etc.) software necessary to do the job. What frosts the 'old-timers' is the assumption that Auto-tune and other many and sundry devices and software, can be - and often are - used to make up for inadequate preparation, shoddy musical material, and the attitude that goes with those anomalies - on the part of clients.

Do superb, creative, and prepared clients exist? They certainly do. And it is a pleasure to work with them. However, I fear they are no longer in the majority.

To attempt to directly answer your question, Rob: Please know that when an 'old-timer' is asked a question, the entire experiential base of the 'old-timer' and that of the possibly 'almost-no-time-at-aller' can come into defined bas-relief, internally. The old timer is not necessarily 'right.' Trust me, I have no need to be right... I am not sure there is a 'right or wrong' here. Just 'different.' Also note, that I choose to be in business with a much younger person, in whom I have the ultimate respect. Our studio would not be a success without him. He is certainly not an 'old-timer.'

To whit: The outcry over multi-track recording was very muted, in comparison to that of Auto-tune, Beat-Detective, comping, extensive sampling, and the like, today. There are a number of reasons for that. One reason is that the 'audience' for the introduction of multi-track recording was incredibly small. There were few home studios. People that were to use the new recorders were few and far-between - highly trained, and knowledgeable in electronics and studio techniques. The price of those early machines could easily purchase a home or two. Today, anyone with a few bucks and a bedroom area can purchase sophisticated hardware and software. I heard an engineer (a real one - electronics degree) say that the phenomenon reminds him of giving an F1 racer to a person who has not yet passed his driving test. A second reason is that multi-track recorders were taking the goal of high fidelity in the forward direction. 'Old-timers' often see the above software's main use as being reparative - not creative.

Success must begin with the music, and the well prepared talent that performs it. I understand that GS is what it is, and why it exists. However, the love of gear must always be tempered by the knowledge of what is really important, in the end. I think the value of the music and its performance parameters sometime gets lost in the jet exhaust, created by the flavor-of-the-month-newest-and-bestest.

With respect.
Byll
Old 4th September 2011
  #5
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It's actually worse than steroids in pro sports because at least the sports players have some talent before injecting themselves. It's fake and everyone knows it's fake, basically the same fake as Milli Vanelli. I can see why the industry uses it heavily. It's all about getting some good looking kid who wants to be a star with no business sense or decent representation signed to a horible one sided contracts and keeping them as indentured servants (why nobody ever legally challenges these crap contracts under the "unjust enrichment" legal principal is a mystery to me (we need more Tom Petty's in the industry willing to fight for what is fair for artists)). When the idiot has outlived their usefulness you toss them aside and on to the next idiot who wants to be a star. If they had real talent and some brains then they would ask for a better contract or compete against you with one of your rivals (the way it used to be) and you would not make as much money so why sign someone with talent or intelligence. There is a reason a handful of companies control 85% of the market and each one of them want to continue maximizing profits. Cheating is their answer and until enough of the audience refuses to buy autotuned releases or attend lip synced concerts they are going to continue cheating and lying about it. As far as recording in the old days vs. multitrack two things come to mind. First, not all old recordings were done in the first take. Multitracking allowed a different form of song construction possible and while its cheating editing several takes down to one, you still had to have the talent to make each take yourself. Given some modern day artists (can we even keep a straight face when they are termed "artist") now give a performance in a monotone and pitch is added later, A little modern day truth in labeling would be nice if they just listed the lead vocalist as the computer. Thanks for posting a topic for the old guys to vent LOL.
Old 4th September 2011
  #6
Gear Addict
 

Bassmankr: Well said, Sir. I have personally not been able to use the word 'artist,' in most instances. I always use 'entertainer' or 'talent.' The last is often a stretch. And yes, I have recorded artists - and still do...
Best.
Byll
Old 4th September 2011
  #7
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KevWind's Avatar
It does seem that entertainment to = $ has supplanted actual musical artistic talent in many (not all) but probably far to many cases. Of course being an old fart thats my take on Rap by in large. That said the other thing IMO, is that now auto tune maxed or when obvious after Cher, has been beaten to death and is boring. Bout time to go back to the megaphone effect (Winchester Cathedral re-mix ?)
Old 4th September 2011
  #8
Gear Maniac
 

Basically, time has changed, bands and singers are making more money from products endorsement than selling music nowadays (even the great Quincy Jones has gotten into endorsing headphones for Sennheiser). A lot of rappers made most of their money from their clothing labels than records, and many pop stars (and footballers) made millions from their perfume lines. Pure talents just don't sell, if you want real talents, go and watch Youtube, there are thousands of very talented musicians there who don't need auto-tune or multi-tracks to sound good, they can sing or play live way better than most 'artists' in the charts, but do they have the potential to make huge amount of money? Not a chance! If talent is needed to get into the charts, then most of the artists in the Top 40 right now wouldn't have been there right now. I think the internet has really changed people's way of perceiving values. Most youngsters nowadays don't think they should pay for music or entertainment in general, they think that people who actually paid for music or movies are losers. Why pay for music when you can download for free? And anything that don't look (seemingly) perfect or sound (seemingly) perfect is not even worth the time watching or listening to, hence heavy airbrushed photos and auto-tune vocals. To be honest, if you were a record company, would you rather spend your money promoting a real talented singer who looks like the dog's bottom or a tone-deaf home coming queen who could sound perfect with the use of auto-tune? It's sad but inevitable.
Old 4th September 2011
  #9
Gear Maniac
 

If I read the OP's question correctly then you're asking about "cheating" - Multitracks giving us the option to re-take and comp making up for lack of talent. There was no controversy amongst engineers, not in my circle anyways. The bottom line was that we had to do whatever necessary to get a performance and we did whatever it took. Having said that, unlike today the real no-talents never got past the demo stage.

One other thing - it has been a VERY long time since we did direct to master recordings, (of course there are exceptions - do Linn still do this?) Not since Les Paul first started overdubbing in the mid-50's and blew everyone's minds!! Most of those old guys - the ones to who we owe everything - have long since departed, the rest of us not-quite-so-old old-timers never knew a time before multitrack recording.
Old 4th September 2011
  #10
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popmann's Avatar
While the financial bottom line you speak of exists and there is a sense of resentment about "cheating"...I come from neither camp, honestly.

Right above me is my issue-the pretty folk who can be made "perfect" with digital manipulation is the fallacy. They can be made presentable-NOT perfect. In fact not even GOOD sounding.

Which is why the element of "cheating" doesn't bother me or think it factors in. I say if you want to use those to improve your performance, you go...because I know it still won't be good enough to matter.

I take the biggest offense when some engineer thinks he knows better what the pitch was supposed to be...and thinks "touching up" a good performer (whether pitch or time "correcting") is acceptable or called for. At some level of competency, you have to let it breathe.

As to the record companies' use to hire prettier (and actually more desperate stardom *****s to be more accurately) over those who've dedicated their life to the playing/study of music...I do think one needs to be careful calling that a success. How are those companies doing now? Take away catalog sales and how have they been doing for a couple decades now? I wouldn't be so quick to put much positive weight on the "need" to use such DSP to sound modern and compete with those whose popularity and sales are dying away.
Old 4th September 2011
  #11
Relative old-timer here. I don't think tech types had much problem with technological innovations like multi-tracking.

People in the mainstream culture and some music critics did some complaining. I remember a segment on a TV 'news magazine' in the early 60s where a 'reporter' went through a modern recording process, doing some punches, using some reverb, and using guide and ghost singers (still used today, of course). When it was all done, they had her blended into a rough approximation of the big pop sound of the era and her decent-enough shower voice did fine, blended with the 'back up' singers.

Again, though, it wasn't really the tech types doing the complaining as far as I could tell -- but then I was a kid and not behind the scenes in the studios.


FWIW, I, personally, don't have any more problem with fixing a performance through tuning than I do through punches, editing, ghost/backup singers, etc.

My only problems with Auto-Tune and variants are these:

I hate tuning-for-correction where the vocal editor couldn't be bothered to do a decent enough job to keep the artifacts from sticking out like sore thumbs. Or maybe he/she simply couldn't hear those obvious artifacts?

At any rate, it's dumbfounding. I can't figure out how so many clumsily obvious tuning-for-correction hack jobs have come out of the big label projects -- particularly in Nashville, where we used to expect slick if nothing else.


And the other thing: the sound of Auto-Tune, Melodyne, and other tuning artifacts really, really bugs my ears. It's safe to say that it causes me physical discomfort and anxiety.

You want to cheat, I'm cool with that. Just do it right.

And then
, just don't try to make me listen to tracks with tuning-as-effect, because they really drive me nuts. It's not an aesthetic/moral thing. It's a physical thing. That sound just makes me crazy.
Old 4th September 2011
  #12
Registered User
 
Rick Sutton's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Solidtube View Post
It's sad but inevitable.
Yes, it is sad. I'm just hoping that it is not inevitable. I've seen styles/trends change many times over a 40+ year career and it can and will keep changing. It's very likely that heavy Autotuning will someday be seen as the gated snare reverb of this era. Now, how it changes is the question.
Old 4th September 2011
  #13
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skybluerental's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by popmann View Post
While the financial bottom line you speak of exists and there is a sense of resentment about "cheating"...I come from neither camp, honestly.

Right above me is my issue-the pretty folk who can be made "perfect" with digital manipulation is the fallacy. They can be made presentable-NOT perfect. In fact not even GOOD sounding.

Which is why the element of "cheating" doesn't bother me or think it factors in. I say if you want to use those to improve your performance, you go...because I know it still won't be good enough to matter.

I take the biggest offense when some engineer thinks he knows better what the pitch was supposed to be...and thinks "touching up" a good performer (whether pitch or time "correcting") is acceptable or called for. At some level of competency, you have to let it breathe.

As to the record companies' use to hire prettier (and actually more desperate stardom *****s to be more accurately) over those who've dedicated their life to the playing/study of music...I do think one needs to be careful calling that a success. How are those companies doing now? Take away catalog sales and how have they been doing for a couple decades now? I wouldn't be so quick to put much positive weight on the "need" to use such DSP to sound modern and compete with those whose popularity and sales are dying away.
this is spot on brilliant!
i could not have said it any better myself.
cheers.
Old 4th September 2011
  #14
Yeah, props to popmann. I think his point about an engineer 'correcting' a possibly quite sophisicated vocalist up or down to the equal-temperament grid and assuming that's actually musically more correct is spot on -- and an issue poorly understood by many engineers and more than a few musicians.

The one thing you can say with certainty about equal temperament -- the only intervals that are not harmonically out of tune are the octaves.

Equal temperament - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Old 4th September 2011
  #15
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chessparov's Avatar
 

Fantastic thread!

Only a "old timer" listener (47+ years doing that @ 52), but as singer will NEVER use pitch correction. Largely as coming from an acapella background
(lead/Barbershop Harmony Society). We're very ingrained against artificial pitch correction-live or studio.

Even regarding "comping". Guess if you were under an immediate deadline,
had a leg broken it, sick etc. might be O.K. Although of course all this could actually be a big plus for a Blues/Country singer...or a Dylan tuneheh.

Chris
Old 4th September 2011
  #16
Quote:
Originally Posted by chessparov View Post
Fantastic thread!

Only a "old timer" listener (47+ years doing that @ 52), but as singer will NEVER use pitch correction. Largely as coming from an acapella background
(lead/Barbershop Harmony Society). We're very ingrained against artificial pitch correction-live or studio.

Even regarding "comping". Guess if you were under an immediate deadline,
had a leg broken it, sick etc. might be O.K. Although of course all this could actually be a big plus for a Blues/Country singer...or a Dylan tuneheh.

Chris
Harmony singers, of course, largely eschew equal temperament -- and arrangers sensitive to harmony group concerns will generally bend over backward to keep equally tempered instruments from conflicting with the pure harmonic intervals necessary for dead-on harmonies.

On the last thought above -- the apparently light-hearted/facetious comment about tuning being a big plus for a blues/country or 'Dylanesque' singer actually highlights one of the problems with tuning for correction: the more harmonically complex the vocal (rougher, scratchier, smokier, whisky-voiced, etc) the more difficult it can be to do dynamic correction (as opposed to moving a whole phrase up or down, which should generally be transparent).

When I first puzzled over Dylan's singing style in the 60s, like many folks, I described it as a monotone... but what confused me was that I could still get a melody out of it.

It took me many years to realize it was more that Dylan (and many other folk/blues styles singers) didn't necessarily change their vocal system's resonance in order to enhance/frame the note they were currently singing. Their vocal chords were vibrating at (more or less) the right frequency -- but they weren't using the rest of their vocal apparatus in such a way as to support and resonate the melody.

The result was a little like sending a melody through a complex but extreme filter... the melody does actually change -- but it's filtered through that more or less static filter.
Old 4th September 2011
  #17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bassmankr View Post
Thanks for posting a topic for the old guys to vent LOL.
haha

Cool to read notes on this from people with a depth of experience.
Old 4th September 2011
  #18
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Ken Scott's Avatar
 

Hi,
FWIW, Auto-tune isn't the problem, it's just a small example of what is wrong generally within our culture. And it's nothing new. The first time I heard a wah wah pedal I thought that's great. Well so did everyone else because it only took a short time before almost every record had a wah wah part on it. More recently, one TV exec comes up with a reality TV show that proves to be successful and look where we are today. We overdo EVERYTHING. From cell phone usage to CCTV. From fuzz pedals to auto tune.

I personally think we lost a lot of good music when we lost recording contracts that called for 2 albums a year. At that pace engineers and producers had to make decisions and an artist had to perform, even/especially with overdubs. That's when we had talents that would give a great vocal performance first take and writers that had the song before walking into the studio. The Beatles eventually started to spend way more time in the studio than anyone had ever done before. But they came out with Revolver and Sgt Pepper. Now that amount of time is much more the norm but I certainly don't hear anything as innovative, in fact the complete opposite.

Oh yes, in answer to the original question. Four track recording was originally brought into Abbey Road for classical recordings. I started just as the move to multi-track recording was made for pop acts and I never heard a single complaint from any of the EMI engineers.

Cheers
Old 4th September 2011
  #19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Scott View Post
Hi,
FWIW, Auto-tune isn't the problem, it's just a small example of what is wrong generally within our culture. And it's nothing new. The first time I heard a wah wah pedal I thought that's great. Well so did everyone else because it only took a short time before almost every record had a wah wah part on it. More recently, one TV exec comes up with a reality TV show that proves to be successful and look where we are today. We overdo EVERYTHING. From cell phone usage to CCTV. From fuzz pedals to auto tune.

I personally think we lost a lot of good music when we lost recording contracts that called for 2 albums a year. At that pace engineers and producers had to make decisions and an artist had to perform, even/especially with overdubs. That's when we had talents that would give a great vocal performance first take and writers that had the song before walking into the studio. The Beatles eventually started to spend way more time in the studio than anyone had ever done before. But they came out with Revolver and Sgt Pepper. Now that amount of time is much more the norm but I certainly don't hear anything as innovative, in fact the complete opposite.

Oh yes, in answer to the original question. Four track recording was originally brought into Abbey Road for classical recordings. I started just as the move to multi-track recording was made for pop acts and I never heard a single complaint from any of the EMI engineers.

Cheers

Thanks for sharing. Awesome post. Love the above line.
Old 4th September 2011
  #20
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Heartfelt View Post
I was just curious if the strong opinions regarding auto-tune and the such are similar to the time period when mulitracking started becoming widespread.

Of course there was a time when there were minimal mics and a single take. I can see how the argument about talent and ability could be equally leveraged in both situations.

Any interesting similarities?
Rob
not really
just new technology

as with others you get benefits
and you have drawbacks
taht you need to tradeoff
Old 4th September 2011
  #21
Registered User
Autotune/Melodyne etc does not HAVE to mean Equal Temperament. There are many scale and tuning options - it's an advanced science, which admittedly few people know how to use properly.

On the other hand, Equal Temperament worked pretty well for JS Bach. And i've been very influenced by Walter/Wendly Carlos, who is a real guru of synths and tunings. I find it very interesting how those pre-midi, pre-polyphonic synth albums were made - and the slavish attention to tuning that was put into them. The results speak for themselves - it's nothing like the crap that comes out of GM synth modules.

Even the best singers have their pitchy moments. Nobody would be complaining if these pitch correction tools were just being used for very careful pitch correction. Most people just wouldn't even know.

I think much of this debate is just about the aesthetic decisions of some people. The boundary between the human voice and synth sound is being blurred, and I don't necessarily mind that.

On the other hand - if it's just a bad Autotune rush job by someone who isn't paid enough to care, and if the producer is too tone deaf to hear it, then it's just bad work.
Old 4th September 2011
  #22
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popmann's Avatar
Quote:
Autotune/Melodyne etc does not HAVE to mean Equal Temperament. There are many scale and tuning options - it's an advanced science, which admittedly few people know how to use properly.
No...and I've used the manual mode to pull a note OFF equal temperament. Not to mention using it back in the day to Just Intonate sampler strings. It can be a nice tool when used to bring the track closer to intention...

But, that's the thing--very few people are using it to tune by ear. And the "just intonation" is just as bad, because it assumes that THAT is exactly what's needed/intended...sometimes there's a tempered note too close to the vocal melody for that to sound good...it still just second guessing intention. And if you weren't the performer...and they're not involved, I think you're doing them a disservice to do so.
Old 4th September 2011
  #23
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Scott View Post
...I personally think we lost a lot of good music when we lost recording contracts that called for 2 albums a year. At that pace engineers and producers had to make decisions and an artist had to perform, even/especially with overdubs. That's when we had talents that would give a great vocal performance first take and writers that had the song before walking into the studio. The Beatles eventually started to spend way more time in the studio than anyone had ever done before. But they came out with Revolver and Sgt Pepper. Now that amount of time is much more the norm but I certainly don't hear anything as innovative, in fact the complete opposite...
A-MEN!

I had the privilege of working with Stevie Wonder on some of his very first productions where he played almost every instrument using our brand new 16 track machines. He performed utterly brilliant parts that were each inspired by a very specific musician who he was invoking from an utterly encyclopedic knowledge of American music and its history.

Yes, Stevie played all the parts but it was really so much more than that. What was the absolute right approach for Stevie Wonder is so wrong for most people.
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