History of microphones in pop music...

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by manosaurus, Dec 2, 2007.

  1. manosaurus macrumors 6502

    manosaurus

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    Aug 22, 2006
    #1
    Anyone know any resources where I can find out about this sort of thing specifically detailing the type of microphones (techniques as well) used for famous pop recordings of 50's and 60's pop music ,specifically vocals - Elvis Presley, The Beatles and such. I am curious if they were using ribbon, condenser, dynamic, tube mics, preamps or even microphone types that I am not aware of.
     
  2. CanadaRAM macrumors G5

    CanadaRAM

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    Location:
    On the Left Coast - Victoria BC Canada
    #2
    There's a relatively new book on the Beatles that reportedly details what was used in sessions - don't remember the title.
    Otherwise, you're unlikely to find this level of detail, other than in interviews with recording people. Several of the recording studio oriented magazines run regular articles on "how this classic track was recorded" and also run in depth interviews with engineers and producers. Check your library for back issues of Sound on Sound, Recording (formerly Home and Studio Recording), Mix, EQ, and sometimes Electronic Musician.
     
  3. SRSound macrumors 6502

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    #3
    Our studio has an absurd collection of highly valued classic gear (some of my favorites include aretha's U47, the console that mixed led zeppelin IV, one of Harrison's rickenbackers, etc...) - lots of history; if you have any specific questions I'd be glad to offer what I know. Otherwise there are great books out there that interview engineers and producers and offer technical insights. Right off the bat, I can suggest that the two key components to the sound of 50's and 60's music are tubes and ribbons!
     
  4. manosaurus thread starter macrumors 6502

    manosaurus

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    Aug 22, 2006
    #4
    SR,

    Well, I don't know much about audio but here's what I can say, one, the vocal sound from that era sounds very different the from the following decades and two, I like that sound of vocals more than the vocal sound today.

    I am doing a project right now where I try and write, perform and produce recordings of would've been hits from the 50's or 60's. I have written several hundred but only reocrded 12 so far. Doing it just to learn more about songwriting and production as well. I think I have come close to accomplishing this. I pretend that I am hired to write a "hit" for this or that band and I write something and record it. They are not all hits but a few of them I think would have been. Specifically three, two for The Beatles and one for The Kinks. I do it pretty low budget. The first few I only plugged Shure SM58 dynamic mic striaght into my notebook with an adapter. A lot of multitraking but don't really do amy mixing.

    Here is the first one I did in the style of I'm not sure who:

    http://www.jeromeperry.com/They Say That Love Is A Wonderful Thing.mp3

    Anyway, this project has got me thinking about and noticing the difference between vocal recording from yesterday compared to today.

    I aslo do some modern pop stuff and I would like to experiment with using 50' and 60's vocal reocrding practices.

    Ribbon mic you say? I have heard of those and read wikipedia articles on those but what would you say is the main difference from a condenser or dynamic? Are studios still using ribbon mics today? And how do tubes fit into this?
     
  5. SRSound macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2005
    #5
    Love the MP3! You're right, I'm sure that wouldve been a hit. You're doing a wonderful job of capturing a vintage sound both stylistically and sonically - I'm impressed! Sticking to equipment (try an AEA 44 on your voice, if possible) and instruments (archtop hollowbodies, upright bass, etc) of the era will be a plus.

    Its really important to remember that every voice is unique, and the same is true for mics. Ribbons cant be classified by one sound because, like I said before, all mics have their own characteristics - put a 44 up to a 122 and it will be night and day. It can be a tough task to find the right mic for a voice, so while we may have an idea of what we would like to use, the final result can sometimes be surprising.

    I guess what it comes down to is that in the 50's and 60's there were still limitations on how accurate audio capture equipment was (coupled with playback systems) while today we have extended frequency responses and incredibly accurate playback systems. Stick an Earthworks QTC50 into a clean preamp (think grace 801) to get exactly what is happening or take a 47 or (better yet) a 44 into a neve 1073 and get "that" sound that you're looking for. Musically, though, you're on the money. Spring reverbs were also huge back then, so dont be afraid to go nuts! ;)

    Ribbons are making a huge comeback (thanks partially to Royer) and the products available are phenomenal (122!!!!) - silky is the word that comes to mind. If I want character (similar to what I think you're looking for) I reach for a vintage condenser or ribbon; if I want accuracy I go for a modern condenser, and if I want high SPL and noise rejection (among other things) I usually use dynamic. There are millions of exceptions to this, of course, but it's a start...

    I'm sorry if that was useless. If you have specific questions, i'm happy to help where I can.
     
  6. manosaurus thread starter macrumors 6502

    manosaurus

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2006
    #6
    SR,

    Thanks for all the info!!! Man I would love try that mic (AEA R44C?) but unfortunately it's worth more than my life, lol!

    I've done several more oldies songs since the last. Here's one that I did to day but I'm not sure how "oldies" it is. I wasn't going for any particular artist on this one though. It's no hit but it gives you any idea of the vocals I'm going for:

    http://www.jeromeperry.com/Dandelions.mp3

    And here's one where I was trying to write a song like the Kinks' early hits. My self imposed challenge was this hypotehtical situation:

    Before the Kinks are big, thier record company comes to me (I'm playing songwriter - producer I guess) with two of thier unreleased recordings which are "Girl, You Really Got Me Now," and "All Day And All Of The Night" (because you know that both those are notorious for being too similar, lol) They tell me that they think these recordings are going to be hits and they hire me to write a third one just like these that would also be a hit. Mine's called, "I'd Say Yeah."

    http://www.jeromeperry.com/I'd Say Yeah!.mp3

    Anyway, I'm not trying to get feedback on songwriting or trying to plug my work or any of that but hoping that you'll get an even better idea of what kind of mic, etc. would be great for me.

    Another question I have is what about a tube preamp? There is an inexpensive one by PreSonus called "Blue Tube." Is this worth a damn?

    If not is there another one you can suggest that is under $500 or so?

    I hear you on the hollow body guitars now! I tried that on one I wrote for the Beatles and it reeeeeeeeally makes a difference. I haven't put that one on my website yet though but I will.

    Thanks SR!!!!
     
  7. QuarterSwede macrumors G3

    QuarterSwede

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    Colorado Springs, CO
    #7
    Also, remember that reverb was all done mechanically.
     
  8. manosaurus thread starter macrumors 6502

    manosaurus

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2006
    #8
    Don't remember. Wasn't even near being born yet. What do you mean, mechanically? I have no clue about this stuff.
     
  9. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    Jul 18, 2002
    Location:
    toronto
    #9
    plate reverbs were (well, still are) popular...

    [​IMG]
     
  10. QuarterSwede macrumors G3

    QuarterSwede

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    Oct 1, 2005
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    Colorado Springs, CO
    #10
    Thanks! Hahaha.

    The biggest one I've seen was in the basement of a studio in Nashville. It was about the size of a queen sized bed, if not longer.
     
  11. manosaurus thread starter macrumors 6502

    manosaurus

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    Aug 22, 2006
    #11
    Sweet! I've got one on order!
     
  12. SRSound macrumors 6502

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    Jun 7, 2005
    #12
    Mechanical Reverbs make for sweet sweet effects. Before digital reverb systems came about, some producers/engineers became known for getting massive reverb effects by channeling the studio sound through underground chambers of different sizes and shapes with complex mic/re-amping systems. Pretty crazy that all we have to do nowadays is select a plug-in and its parameters.

    Anyway, avoid presonus gear like the plague. It WILL break down on you. A cool thing about audio equipment is price *generally* reflects quality, and one piece of gear that is highly underrated/under appreciated is the preamp. A good pre can turn a crappy mic into a great mic; a good pre can turn a great mic into a phenomenal mic. Search ebay for anything by Neve (see if you can get your hands on a used 1073 - you wont regret it)

    P.S. I'm loving the clips!
     
  13. manosaurus thread starter macrumors 6502

    manosaurus

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2006
    #13
    I'll keep my eye out for something like that. Meanwhile, I'm stuck with a tascam us122 and the firepod.

    BTW, have any idea as to the equipment/methods for the vocal sound in this The Zombies tune:

    http://www.jeromeperry.com/The Way I Feel Inside.mp3

    I love the sound of this clip and use it sometimes to try and match will I'm setting levels but I can never get the warmth richness achieved here. I mean someone that knows nothing about recording might never know the difference but I can tell. It's not a performance thing. I have an exceptionally easy time mimicing this singers vocals for some reason.

    Please, please specifally listen to the sound on the last line on the song, the word "hide" on the note D# and the following "way" on the note E. There is this subtley crunchy sound that absolutely blows my mind. It could be in his his throat but I think it is the equipment. There are a few other in the track but these are the ones that I like the most. I can never get it right when I try to reproduce it. Adding a touch of some kind of distortion doesn't do it right. I have tried getting my levels to where those exact notes would hit near clipping in my performance and that does nothing. Is this where the tubes are coming into play?
     
  14. manosaurus thread starter macrumors 6502

    manosaurus

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2006
    #14
    Oh yeah, is that plate reverb action on that track? One thing that I notice about this reverb is that it seems much more sympathetic to his vocal amplitude. What I mean is it seems like the reverb is richer when richer tones are produced by the singer. The reverbs that I have seem to process the same amount of reverb regardless of amplitude. Of course if the signal is louder than the reverb is louder but that is not what I am talking about. Does that make any sense?

    I have noticed this effect singing into the sound hole of an acoustic guitar, course you have to sing pitches that will sympathize with the tuning of the guitar strings. I have thought about sticking a microphone inside the guitar hitting record and singing from a few feet away, tuning the strings to as many diatonic pitches of the key of the song as possible to get the mopst sympathy. Piano is the same way I should try that too. Actually I'm going to try that this week. Rambling...
     
  15. SRSound macrumors 6502

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    Jun 7, 2005
    #15
    (Real reverbs are in a different league than crappy digital emulations; while they are very good and work most of the time, even the best convolutions dont stand up next to the real thing or even some of the original digital boxes [AMS reverb/chorus: drooooooool]. Use a real one and you'll find its much sweeter and more responsive)

    Sounds like a touch of gain overload (unintentional overdrive possibly caused by a slow compression attack rate). You will have trouble duplicating this with its richness and warmth because analog overdrive is a completely different beast than digital distortion (what would occur on your system if the signal overloaded). One is beautiful, one is awful.

    Aside from working on your smoker's cough, I believe there are Tape Saturation emultators and Analog Distressors (both hardware & software) that may help you get more of what you're looking for.

    Personally I've never intentionally overloaded a signal, but the first thing I would think to do (at least right now) is to duplicate the track, run the second through some sort of overdrive patch or even guitar pedal that provides a buttery tube overdrive, and then automate the distorted track up ever so slightly to add that edgy accent wherever you want it.

    On a side note, it's funny how used to pitch-corrected vocals we become. Some of those stick out like a sore thumb....yech
     
  16. gvdv macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2007
    #16
    'Recording The Beatles: The Studio Equipment and Techniques Used To Create Their Classic Albums' by Kehew & Ryan.

    I paid $129 U.S. for the deluxe, first edition (which has some mistakes), but it is a great book, and I believe they now have another edition on offer.

    "Though it cannot be said with absolute certainty, it is quite possible that the Neumann holds the distinction of being the only microphone to have been used on every single Beatles session at Abbey Road" (p. 166). Neumann U47 and U48's are the mics. under discussion most here.

    Also, Neumann KM53, 54, and 56's were used, as were U67's and M49 and M50's, along with a host of other microphones (STC 4033-A, STC-4038, AKG D19c, AKG D20, AKG C12, RCA 44-BX, Sony C38A, STC 4136, and other 'talkback' microphones not used - as the ones I've mentioned here - for vocals or instruments).

    Don't forget, though, that the microphones are part of a 'chain' (of recorders, effects, and so on) which can drastically alter the sound being recorded if one of the components or settings is varied.

    Hope this helps,
    GV
     

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