First, watch this classic, short clip from “Sunset Boulevard,” with Wm. Holden and Gloria Swanson
Studio Blues (the session)
So we’re sittin around
We are, so far, not happy
It doesn’t sound like us at all
The urge to get it right
to project confidence and
unity in the band’s sound…
Technology can get in the way:
Today was a clusterfrack of
padded drums with five mikes
and 64 tracks on the sound board
and an OCD tech whose mantra is
(If he were a makeup artist,
a single smudge would be verboten)
Inquisitive as to our dissatisfaction
(this being an old-style jazz recording)
he joins us and digs into the
delicious coffee cake make by
the bass player’s girlfriend. I activate
the discussion: “It’s too clean.”
Tech gets defensive. “I’ve made
stellar recordings for (so-and-so)
It takes the master’s touch to clean up
the blips and merge all the tracks.”
“Look,” sez I, “let’s do a Sinatra session.
Strip the drums – Mike, use brushes
Jimmy, get your stand-up bass, no more electric
Screw the keyboard effects, Stu, just
tickle the baby grand in the corner. One
mike on that, and I’ll sing in the center,
Billie-style. Lower the lights and let’s
get the mood right.” Tech is instructed
to merge all tracks simultaneously and
create a single, live session. “But there
will be off notes and sometimes the
guitarist squeaks on the strings!” frets he.
“You need reverb, some sweetening…”
I honey/hotsauce him: “Listen, babe,
I’m a singer, not a vocal machine, and
we want soul, not squeaky-clean.
“Wanna know how we did it when
I started out? Watch this and
get schooled, learn from someone
who came up in smoky clubs.
“Dusty Springfield sang sitting on a toilet
because the sound was better in the bathroom.
We didn’t NEED reverb then…
We had voices.”
© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Well, the Real Toads had a “come one, come all” today, so I thought I’d pick up a prompt from The Sunday Whirl. This comes from my “old school” background in music, where the singers whose catalogs I raided (Sinatra, Billie, Bennett, Satch, Nat “King” Cole, the early years of Barbra Streisand) all had one thing in common: They recorded live with their band or orchestras. No fiddling around with the sound post-session.
Once Madonna came on the scene, she was sued for using a second singer’s voice to give her own so-so voice that high-nasal feel (She lip-synched most of “Like A Virgin” at the Grammy Awards, but no one noticed because she was writhing on the floor). Studios full of baffles, drum rooms, and solo vocals recorded separately after the band, a jillion tracks they could add later, as well as reverb (the first vocal enhancement) and eventually the vocanizer, which not only “sweetens” a vocal flat note but was used by Cher on “Believe (In Life After Lov e)” – that “it takes ti-i-i-ime” computerized effect, used to create an interesting vibe.
MY PEOPLE SANG. Sinatra always had an audience (women had to remove all clinky jewelry); Billie sat in the middle of a circle, mike suspended from the ceiling; Streisand, accompanied by full orchestras in her 20s, had a knack for getting her emotional performances on the very first take. Nat live in sessions, playing his own piano? The livin’ end.
In other words, things change, but I don’t have to follow the trend. None of the recordings you have heard from me have ever had any monkey business, no sweetening, etc. Pure, simple jazz. Peace, Amy