Lately I have been hearing quite a bit of bragging about how bands are going back to analogue (analog) means of recording and mixing. Over the past few years this “return to realness” is being broadcast by the likes of David Grohl, Slash, Jack White and many others. So why the hype? What’s the difference? Here’s a short lesson for you kids out there..
Being a mediocre singer myself, I am shamefully not opposed to a little digital boost to widen range, round out a tone or help me reach thru a long phrase without feeling like I will pass out before my next breath. One such commonly used program for this is Pro Tools. Created by 2 college students in 1989, it has capabilities to make anyone singing or playing an instrument sound fantastic by digitally altering the sound frequency to the tiniest slightest degree or completely alter to something you could not imagine possible. . The Beach Boys were first to record an album with Pro Tools. Was it really necessary? The Beach Boys have already established great harmonies and a unique sound? So, yeah, those legendary harmonies got a bit of a boost but did they need it, really?
There is a place for altered music, electronica, dance, all use sound manipulation technology to create their booming or exceptional to nature sound. Films, TV shows, commercials require things to be done quickly and may require fantasy type scores. Even remastering old soundtracks benefit from a bit of tooling.
Analogue on the other hand, is as close to live performance as you can get. The first recording device is a debate between a German company in 1935 and Thomas Edison in 1877. Over the past few centuries, the technology has evolved, but analogue means, as close to real as one can get.
Some ensembles will perform their part individually, mixed in later, there is no fixing it. If you screw up, the tape stops, gets physically cut out or re-wound and you start over. This is time consuming and expensive so the process requires one to be prepared and know what they are doing. Analogue also has less ability to manipulate a sound; a tonality of a piece will depend on the instrument, mic type, style,placement and quality. Other variables include the mixing boards frequency control and the ears of all involved in producing the sound. Comparison, hand tossed or microwave pizza, you don’t really want a machine to make that do you?
The realness of music is deeper than just the lyrics of an artist pouring his / her heart out for all to relate to and sing along. Being against the use of digital enhancement of music Jack White said;”I think Pro Tools is highly inappropriate to record music… It’s too easy to correct mistakes, it’s too easy to fix things. We hear this sort of clean, plastic perfection that’s been applied to all the tracks. That is not the kind of music we grew up loving and listening to and wanting to be a part of”.
The return to realness is a direct reflection of a demand for quality. First and foremost, the demand of an artists expectations for their work, above all must be authentic to their vision. Second, from the consumer / fan perspective, the fallen economic status of many has inspired the astute frugal consumer to clip and save; but, how can you ( legally) do that with music? ( Or any art for that matter?) To demand quality and authenticity is one way to get your monies worth.
If you’re old enough to recall a time when electronic music ruled the charts, it was a time of prosperity, people had more money to spend, music acts came and went quickly. Quality was not a priority due to disposable income. If you don’t like something, you bought it knowing it would fade and you could buy more. That’s not the case now a days. And the consumer is now demanding higher quality from everywhere. In the music community, its not always cheaper to use analogue methods. You have to hire one or two extra people to work with the machines, tapes and transfers. Then, the extra step of transferring that to a digital format. But its well worth it when you see the concert and can recognize the breaks, the breaths and while listening to your personal music purchases digitally, you don’t loose out on hearing the pick hit the strings.
Some bands have always used analogue, but most have been tempted to stray. The return to realness is a welcome revival of a retro means of giving us just a little bit more, getting us just a little bit closer to our Favorited Lords of music we love to worship.