It seems some companies are now scraping the barrel to resurrect old vintage hardware so they can make yet another plug-in emulation. One day you're none the wiser, and then the next someone has found a compressor that no one had ever heard of five minutes previously, but now you're not going to be able live without it.
It's the same with synths, some of the emulations coming out are of stuff that no one gave a rat's ass about when they were first around. I was selling synths in the 80s and some of the stuff now described as a sought-after classic, we couldn't give away, even in a fire sale.
So you've amassed a load of 'classic' plug-ins, but the real treasure is not in gear but the classic and often lost art of recording.
It doesn't matter how many classic compressors, EQs or effects you have, it's not enough.
What many people miss when thinking about 'the good old days' is not how innovative the gear was but how ingenious the engineers and producers were so that they could squeeze magic out of limited resources.
As Tony Platts has said in various interviews 'it starts with listening'. Hearing what the band sounds like, the instruments, the room and then finding out how you use what you have to get down that magic into a recording. It involves learning about mic placement, how you lay out the band in the room, how much bleed you want. It means messing around with amps, tuning drums, trying different guitars, mics and more.
A couple of weeks ago I was sent a recording of a drum kit. The engineer had used one stereo mic but had placed it in the right place in the room, as they had the drum kit. The drummer played with skill and passion, and all I can say is wow! It beat many of my multi-tracked, sound replaced, fixed attempts at drum tracks.
An excellent performance filled with passion and recorded well is always going to beat some sterile, quantised, tuned 'perfect' multi-tracked, multi-take recording that lacks it.
Check out some of Vance Powell's video tutorials he has recently made with Universal Audio. And while you are at it, listen to some recordings like Chris Stapleton's Traveller. After that listen to 'Band of Joy' by Robert Plant and produced by Robert and Buddy Miller. Then listen to some Motown tracks like 'Jimmy Mack' by Martha and the Vandellas. Produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier and with the talents of The Funk Brothers, it is super groovy and full of life and an instant hit - which incidentally was shelved in 1964 when recorded and released later in 1967. Or check out 'When The Levee Breaks' by Led Zeppelin, listen to those drums. Recorded by Andy Johns at the bottom of a staircase using two Beyer M160 microphones. Just imagine if he had suggested that in most forums, he would have most likely been insulted and ridiculed, thankfully he trusted his instincts and his ears.
These are just a tiny example of good old-fashioned, vintage, classic, record production.
We seem to have got lost in the theory of recording and thinking some magic product is going to fix all our issues and in doing so we have lost the art.
We can spend all day in a forum talking about the merits of a microphone or a channel strip, but until we get into a room with the talent and listen, then it's the difference between the science of genetics and the gift of lovemaking.
It means understanding the song and the intention, the story that needs to be told and the voice that needs to tell it. That means concentrating on the arrangement and then making sure the musicians are good enough and rehearsed enough to nail the performance.
Don't get me wrong I love vintage gear, I have both hardware and software, but it's only half the story, don't get seduced by the gear and miss the point entirely.
Are we wasting money buying all these emulations of vintage gear? Well that depends, the real vintage magic happened in the performance and the engineers and producers who knew how to capture it.
There's no substitute for the classic art of recording and the more time we invest in learning the craft, the more we will benefit from the fantastic emulations we have to use in the process. Think of them as icing, but we still need a cake.
If you want to learn more and get inspired then here are some resources to check out.
- The Art of Recording a Big Band - Al Schmitt and Steve Genewick
- Vance Powell's Top Miking Techniques with UAD
- Buddy & Jim - EPK - Check the room they are recording in, it will send those who spend all day talking about acoustics into a fit.