Edge cases

July 27, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Events that occur around the edges of normalcy are often remarkable enough to make news, like the centenarian who smoked and drank their entire life. Novel and perhaps newsworthy, hardly a model for the rest of us.

Remarkable recordings made in a home studio sometimes come to our attention. I still am blown away with Billie Eilish and her brother Fineas.

It is indeed remarkable what one can manage with a laptop, a couple of A/D converters, and a handful of decent microphones. Compared to the former era of home tape decks, what’s possible today is light years better.

And we’re impressed when on occasion a really good sounding home recording bubbles its way to the surface. It makes news not because it’s so good but because it’s so good in spite of the fact it was made in a home studio.

I have nothing against home studios. They offer a chance for more music to come our way. My worry is being lulled into lowering the overall bar for recording quality.

Like everything in life, it’s not so much about the tools as it is the craftsman using them.

Michelangelo had but a chisel to work with.

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41 comments on “Edge cases”

  1. You don’t even need a home studio. There are lots of pay-and-play studios that are well equipped and provide access to experienced and skilled musicians. Some near me operate 24/7. There are also plenty of facilities in schools and universities. Getting good sound quality recordings these days does not seem to be an issue.

  2. At school, a couple of lifetimes ago, I will always remember arguing with my maths teachers about, ‘why do I have to show my workings as long as the result is correct.’
    Ok, so if I get the wrong answer then the teachers can point out where I went wrong so that I wont make that mistake again…eventually, after some erroneous answers, I understood why.
    These days the calculator in my ‘phone does all of that.
    However, I would apply the same argument here about where & how an album is recorded, from an end-user’s point of view; who cares how the end result came about, as long as the result is correct, ie. it sounds amazing; maybe even uncannily realistic.

  3. I just find that bands were more dedicated to play together in the studio and of course technology had a big play in why that would happen.
    The tech today is incredibly convenient and allows bands and musicians to not play in one room together to really make it work. Big digital tech has allowed bands, in general to be a bit softer and less dedicated to playing together, which I feel some of that studio magic can be lost.
    To be honest a lot of the modern recordings of rock and metal I listen to don’t sound terrible, but of course really don’t sound real.
    Over processing takes over that real studio feel.
    I can give you an example. Let’s take Deep Purple for instance. Now this is a band that has been around for 50 years. Their latest album “whoosh” was produced quite well by the great Bob Ezrin, however it sounds far too polished and over processed. I’m not saying it sounds like crap, but it has no studio feel or intimacy. Compression is an ugly culprit of that as well.

    So to refer back to Paul’s last post “ why modern recordings sound worse” for me would be band dedication and over processing.

    1. When I read your post it made me think of the Eagles. I am a fan of the Eagles and when they released their last album “Long Road Out Of Eden” in 2007 it was not well received by critics or fans. By this time they was only four guys in the band: Henley, Frey, Schmit and Walsh. Rolling Stone did an interview with Joe Walsh about the album shortly after it was released. Joe said that there was this thing called Pro Tools that would allow you to go through the music note by note and change whatever you wanted to. And then he said that is exactly what Henley and Frey did. That has become my definition of “over processing”. 😀

      1. Long road out of Eden is one of my favorite albums. I guess I can throw my ability to hear music out the window. Possibly because of the opening number which is a cappella and sounds incredible to me. Overprocessing? Wow!

      2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Road_Out_of_Eden

        A 7x Platinum seller… I just read several reviews and not one mentions the audio quality only the fact that the reviewers feel it’s “the same old same old”. I think it’s a beautiful recording with wonderful lyrics and melodies. I’m probably biased because Eagles are my favorite rock group which doesn’t say much for my being a real rock fan.

        1. Guys, I am a huge Eagles fan and I can say that after going from Ike and Tina Turner, Albert King, The Temptations and The Four Tops to The Beatles, The Stones and Dylan. I just think they really blew it when they booted out Don Felder and Randy Meisner. They were at their peak when they did Hotel California.

          1. There has been long mythology that Hotel California referred to an old insane asylum near Camarillo. This is now UC Channel Islands campus, not far from home. It is a spooky place to go by still to this day.

            You would think some ghost of an old cook would be seen wandering around campus.

  4. I listened to a digitized recording yesterday that was taken (restored) from a demo tape for Klipsch way back in the day.
    “The Joe Holland Quartet”

    There is an immediacy and presence to the presentation that seems to be elusive to a lot of today’s recordings. When reading about things there was no mixing and only 2 mics were used. All 4 musicians were together. Mostly done in one take, on one day… those takes that didn’t ‘cut the mustard’ were redone in the same session.

    It becomes very easy to hear why this became a demo tape for Klipsch products back then. It’s worth a listen to both get an idea of what a good recording from ‘back then’ was, Along with some great drum lines by Joe mixed in.

    There is a tremendous amount of recordings and techniques out there. Some standout for both the music and technical value. It’s kinda fun to learn about the evolution of recordings and have a chance to listen to them redone or born (created) with today’s technology.

    1. Hi Mike
      Regarding the Klipsch demo: I googled Joe Holland Quartet but came up with zero.
      Do mean Dave Holland?
      Thanks for information.

  5. Paul said that, “he had nothing against home recording studios.”
    I’m glad to know that!
    I may not pull it off in the remainder of this year, but I am working on building a recording studio, right here, in the house that I live in.
    But my goal, is to make recordings that sound grate on any system.
    And, yes, that can be done.
    You just have to know what you’re doing with the tools that you happen to have in your hands.
    I’m gonna use the ADA approach to recording music.
    I will do it in analog first.
    Then go to digital, and right back to analog.
    But the trick that I wish to pull off, is getting that sound that was on records, in the 40’s 50’s 60’s and 70’s.
    But sense noone seems that, they don’t know the way to tell me how to do that, then I have to find my own way to it.

  6. Michelangelo not only had a chisel, but as rwwear said, a hammer and medium too. And let’s not forget about his brushes, oils, canvas and ceilings!

  7. Paul,
    I’m glad you mentioned Eilish. I think the youtube videos her brother uploaded describing the process he used are very interesting too.
    We all have recall bias regarding recordings. We (fortunately) remember most of the good ones and gratefully forget the very bad recordings of the past.
    As you said, it is easy to set up a pretty good recording venue at your home. Call it as you wish. But the learning curve is pretty steep. It does require a lot of time to figure out how to use it correctly. Nowadays, it is easy to get great equipment to record at home but, the “production” side still requires a lot of frail human touch.

    Even an AKG Lyra plus Garage band can actually perform “miracles”. Like everything, you have tp practice and aim to get better. It is not about practice alone.

  8. as in many cases, simple is best. some of my favorite recordings are from the 50’s and 60’s blue note records by recording engineer rudy van gelder. he made many classic recordings in the living room of his parents house in hackensack, nj. when you see photos from the classic “blue train” session you see venetian blinds and the outside neighborhood in the background!

  9. Michelangelo had many chisels and mallets of different weights and shapes, probably a slew of them. Some chisels were pointed. Some toothed. Some smooth. He also used files and rasps for finishing. And he had live models which no doubt made his work more interesting. At night he wore candles on his hat.

  10. Better technology today… Better musicians in the past. Darkness recorded well does not make the music happiness inducing sounds like were once known. I find that to be a bitter irony. I do not speak of my era only. I speak of past times when music had a soul and inspirational quality not found anymore,,,,,,,

    We now get fake news. Fake muse.

    1. But we’re so much more enlightened 😉

      How many of our grandparents and parents told us when we were young that what we listened to wasn’t real music?

      1. I was a musician when they said that to the young folks… But it was not always bad….

        You seem to think generations do not go wrong? I learned to see beyond the music and into the culture it promoted.

        After seeing a few young people I know die of the drug use that permeated the music industry (of the late 60’s..) I then knew my parents were right. Especially my dad, who was an excellent musician during the swing era. But, they were not all that critical either. My cousin Hal used to promote the Four Seasons, and my aunt Florey used to write for Elvis. I was getting ready to make music my career… but the sh_t that was going on in the late 60’s caused me to throw down my sticks in disgust and found myself living in depression for years having cut myself off from what I excelled at. Music still could be great. It can also be used as a political tool to change a culture, rather than encourage it. That is what changed.

        My dad used to tell me that he wished they had hi-fi equipment to record the music he used to hear in the 40’s when he was playing professionally.. And, some of that music I now can see on YouTube was utterly fantastic. Benny Goodman was playing riffs on his clarinet that some blues guitarists played later. Same feel. Ever notice that?

        1. I guess I never gave the whole culture / philosophy of music a lot of thought. I’m a late ‘baby boomer’ so the 60’s were just a tad before me. (Old enough to know, but wasn’t old enough to appreciate it all at the time) One might argue the whole ‘counter culture’ where anything was ok was just reflected in the music of the day. Maybe brought on by the strict unbendable rules of society of the time. Young and responsible are not two words that normally go together especially when it comes to chemical drug use.

          My closest relatives were not professional musicians, but rather well accomplished amateurs. The thing I remember is that they were willing to listen and then share their preferences. As I’ve grown older my appreciation for swing era music has also grown.

          I’d like to think ‘society’ isn’t lost but on tangential path and maybe the fundamentals of society will return. It’s very easy to not to see that….

          1. Mike:
            >>>>>One might argue the whole ‘counter culture’ where anything was ok was just reflected in the music of the day. Maybe brought on by the strict unbendable rules of society of the time.<<<<

            What we are returning to is not new and progressive. Its a working backwards into the moral degeneracy of the Roman empire. Its not progressive as some try to label it. Its regressive. Its all been done before. What we used to have before the 60's was seen as revolutionary in regards to history.

            1. I don’t necessarily disagree with your analysis Genez. But the ‘progressive generation’ is what raised the offspring of the current society, and are its current leaders. So then the conclusion… morale decline leads to regressiveness and possibly the demise of a society.

              I’ve longed believed that it’s going to take some major catastrophe or worse to unify any given society, but specifically the US. It seems now it’s all about ‘me’ instead of ‘we’.

              Thanks for the discussion and thoughts. I’m retreating to a few hours of music now… Maybe some Dana Fuchs to start.

              1. Mike … what we have now is historically an invite for catastrophe. People smile and call themselves enlightened and open minded…. As they open a door of the flood gate. The barbarians are at the gates…. Its happened before. Those who crave absolute power must eliminate the option people have before them as an alternative for what they insist must be offered. Hitler tried it and could have done it if it were not for what is being torn down today. The Iron Curtain tried it and also ran out of momentum… But, many today are inviting their wishes to come true. No one wants to fight for freedom anymore. They feel that has become obsolete for we who have now become too advanced in the illusion of choice.

                1. Hello Genez,

                  Again your analysis and thoughts could be absolutely correct. Time will tell. (Hopefully a really long time)

                  I’m holding out hope that once the masses realize they’re loosing something, some semblance of moderation, cooperation and morale integrity will occur. It may be too late / or not. The last great coming together of the US happened around 1945. My guess it will take something of at least that magnitude before the uniting for a common cause happens again.

                  So In the mean time I’m not going to think, stress, or become depressed about it.

                  The “I told you so” line never works and is often said after it’s too late.

                  1. This time it is going to take an earth shaking spiritual reformation where all the bull crap that religion has been stuffing down our throats will be exposed and refuted in a crushing way not seen in modern times. Traditions that have lived beyond their purpose must be burned. Not like BLIM and ANTIFA manifests in destruction. But, something that will build up walls of defense against the lies we see constantly surrounding us. Liberals are now being given liberty and freedom to prove themselves. What finally we see is the best they can offer. Its vanity without substance. Time is running short. God only knows what’s next.

        2. This is an interesting observation. There is a documentary on Apple TV called 1971. I found it very enlightening too. I recommend it. I was just a bit young for full appreciation of what was going on. Barely into high school by then.

        3. Good morning Genez!
          When it comes to hifi gear, I am a little bit of an historian.
          In the 1940’s, there was some talk about 2 channel hifi systems being developed.
          But before World Wore 2 happened, we got FM radio, which sounded better with music.
          But when World Wore 2 happened, the hifi thing got put on hold until the early 1950’s.
          They started working on it, in 1952.
          But the stereo didn’t come full circle until 1958.
          But today, we have multichannel surround sound systems.
          All this, came from 2channel stereo.
          There is a little bit of history for you.

  11. It isn’t better musicians as much as it is far more experienced musicians. We’ve lost the local live venues where musicians and singers learned how to perform.

  12. Edge case will always remain edge cases. They will never become the norm. Same with the very best. It’s the less than the best where most of the noise comes from. How else will they be noticed ? Life is full of second class noise. Just stand back and enjoy. Can be very amusing. Regards.

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