How has recording changed since you started out?

How has recording changed since you started out?

A lot in many ways, and not at all in others. The factors that should stay the same are great musicians in the right acoustical environment and ambiance, a wide range of high-end mics expertly placed, and an experienced engineer and producer. Lots of folks have de-emphasized these things in the switch to digital, thinking they can fix all this “in the box” after the players are gone. Sometimes you can, in today's DAWs. But sometimes you can't. In the pure analog days, it was a joke to say "We'll fix it in the mix." Tape made you get the performance right before thinking much about effects and editing.

Between 1972 and 1990, I did hundreds of songs and, uh, jingles on tape, using some great boards and outboard gear. My favorite board was the Harrison 3232C, with the Trident 80B right behind. We did a lot of our earliest work on one of Welton Jetton's first Auditronics 501 boards (mostly after modifying the eq on the channel strips), and later on an MCI JH-532. Mellencamp's single "Crumblin' Down" was recorded on the MCI. We had fader automation on it, the Harrison and the Trident. Took up tracks on the tape machine, and sometimes worked. That MCI board was so dense with electronics that you could feel the heat radiating up off the console. We upgraded the HVAC in Studio B twice.

Anymore, we tend to take DAWs for granted. I was remixing a McDonald's jingle the other day for fun. It had been recorded on 24-track tape with Dolby SR, so some time was spent baking, transferring, and decoding. Once we had it in Pro Tools, though, I was again amazed at what a different experience it was from back when we mixed it from tape. The male and female lead vocals were very good, but not perfect. So, into Melodyne they go. Now they're perfectly in tune. The male singer came in late on one entrance. Cut, paste (could have done it in Melodyne, too), boom - he's right on cue. And the flexibility with comping and mixing enabled a much better in the box. Instead of stuff coming by you in real time, 24-tracks at once, I could fix tracks one by one while looking at the waveforms as well as listening. A different, and probably better, experience.

On the other hand, rather than bouncing, I did real-time mixes to a "2trk" track in Pro Tools. So, when everything was ready to go, I could still have the experience of moving the faders myself when they needed to be moved. Fun to do, and no time-waster on a 60-second spot.

In fact, printing the mix in real time, especially as the final mix approaches, is my standard procedure now..