Read In Your Language

Friday, August 5, 2011

LETS HEAR IT FOR THE BOYS (repost, orig: Feb 26,2010)

pictured at left is the legendary Les Paul, the inventor of multi-tracking. he may be more known for his solid body electric guitar, but make no mistake, this is what makes him important to modern music for all of us. he is pictured here with his original eight track board built by Ampex in the 50's. there is no Hank Shocklee without Les Paul...

the other day i was watching a documentary on the copyright issues sorrounding sampling. it was a good documentary, covering a lot of ground that has to do with a lot of today's problems. they had one particular part about Clyde Stubblefield, "The Original Funky Drummer". he was the dude responsible for the drum beat we all know too well, "The Funky Drummer". he was a part of the James Brown band and responsible for the bangin beats behind "Cold Sweat", "I Can't Stand It", and the bonafide bboy classic and one of my favorite records of all time, "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose" (with the notable performance of Bootsy Collins on bass. a lot of greats have palyed with james Brown, even Jimi Hendrix). but as talented as a drummer as he is, and he is a virtual human metronome (i mean, listen to the man hold the tempo and pattern of a complicated drum pattern for FIVE, sometimes EIGHT MINUTES), he alone is not what makes these records the classics that they are. we got to give it to the engineers that sculpted and crafted the sound.

Clyde gave a demonstration of the pattern from "The Funky Drummer" on a set drums sitting in a room. needless to say, altho' i recognized the pattern, that was NOT the Funky Drummer i sampled with my first Gemini sampler. then, as an engineer myself, it dawned on me that he will never be able to perform that song, except in context with the band. maybe i should say, he can never perform that break. that break is equally the product of compression, reverb, eq and limiting and the particular inexactness of analog machinery that imparts a particular character to whats being run thru it. altho it's technically called "distortion", it is a distortion that happens in the harmonics of the music. as a result, it actually makes it more spacious. so it's a desired distortion, unlike the mathematical certitude of digital audio. that certainty is digital audio's strength. and it's weakness.

it's this same exactness that makes today's rock music so bland. John Bonham would not have been as revered a drummer with today's tools. cause today's tools would make his set just sound like drums, instead of the sonic experience that is the opening of "When The Levy Breaks" or the atmosphere created in songs like "Cashmir". without the extreme compression, Billy Squire's "Big Beat" would just be a drum loop and not the powerful 20 or 30 seconds of historical relevance that it is. The Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache" would not have even come close to being the classic that it is without the heavy tin pan reverb unit that made it so powerful. one of the reasons (aside from the complete lack of imagination) that characterizes the #FAIL of modern rock groups, is that they all sound like they are part of the same band. thats because the equipment nowadays is SO good. but make no mistake, the legendary rock bands, although they had bangin songs, are revered by music lovers, DJs and samplers alike for the sonic character of those songs. and that is ALL thanks to the engineer, the mixing and the mastering ones alike.

if you saw the movie "Ray", there's a part when the announcer is bringin on Ray's song and sayin, the record with "that sound". that sound was the bottom end, expertly moved to a more prominent position in the mix by the great Tommy Dowd. the low end was later refined and made to really carry by one Osbourne Ruddock, known as the genius and creator of dub reggae, King Tubby. it is his invention of 'version' (what we would now call a remix or instrumental) and his ability to mix in large amounts of bass (a very tricky, technical feat due to the nature of vinyl records) are both main principles in the sound and style of hip hop music. it becomes even more important when we realize that this is the childhood music of Clive Campbell, aka the godfather of hip hop, DJ Kool Herc, who brought with him that influence to America. it was his version of the sound set that characterized the parties at Sedgewick Ave. in the Bronx that became the jump start point of the culture. a powerful influence carried to America because of the work of an ENGINEER from Jamaica.

it's always those behind the scenes that never get their just due. but how can we say the engineer is behind the scenes when his work is center stage alongside the performer? in most cases, it is the engineer that MAKES said performer sound good. (think anyone you can think of that sound great on a record but sounds like shit on stage). and give him his credit. see, he is the reason no one likes your demos. thats cause he aint touched it yet....


Sh*t Cult, this is a ScUD missile homie. I remember when I had to mix for the team, they knew I needed whatever I wanted to bring that sound out, or the song wasn't gonna be whatever we wanted it to be, banging. Show that engineer love, without them you ain't the one artist.

I remember back in my studio days, our producer engineer Dev would sit there. All. Day. Long. Doing the monotonous, tedious work.

Niggas dropped verses, & was either smoking, drinking, or playing video games. This cat was pushing buttons, twisting knobs, & listening to the same track. Sometimes for hours.

Respect to the engineer.

Brilliant article, great read :)

thanks neil. i really appreciate that. keep comin thru!

Wow great ode to the masters of sound...Thanx Man

no problem Anon... actually it's a joy to share my passion for sound with others. i think a lot of people dont really understand the engineer's role or how much he actually contributes to all of your favorite music. it's more than likely his/her contribution is why you love that song so much.

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