How to make record albums

I have read many threads regarding the quality of current production records and, well I was wondering how one goes about making records the "right way". I mean, using the same mics, mastering equipment cutting, etc. they did in the GOLDEN AGE OF STEREO. I am talking about a totally analog process. How does one find the equipment that was used years ago to make the records. How do you get the vinyl that is of the highest quality? How do you attain the classic recordings? How do the Japanese do it and everyone else cannot? Do you need 180 or 200 gram vinyl? The older medium weight vinyl sounds great to me. I think everybody wants this, well how do ya make it happen? I'm in. When there's a will, there's a way. I looked online but could not find much.
I hope you do not mind I would like to add to your question. Why they cannot use the same EQ setting as in the old days. Didn't they write down what those settings were. The new guy's like Steve Hoffman do a good job but I wound like to hear it on the new vinyl mixture with the original settings.
With an equipment investment of at least $100K, and maybe more. That will get you to the final master analogue tapes. From there it is best to out source the cutting and disk mastering. There are always vintage recording studios going out of business, that can sell you the mics and tape machines you will need to recondition, very expensive.
Steve Hoffman does do great work, no doubt about it. What did the Decca engineers of the 50's and 60's do to make such amazing recordings? The mics, the equipment, the hall? What was it? This is just an example of a team of engineers that really made excellent recordings. There are many more but what was so special about what they did that nobody else can do? I would think some modern orchestras would welcome such an undertaking especially with the right marketing. Records recorded like the old Decca's would probably make an orchestra very popular as they would be recorded so well without the digital edge. I can tell from listening on my modest system that there are some good things that have come along with new technology less inner groove distortion is one of them. How does one attain high quality virgin vinyl. If 160 gram virgin vinyl was used instead of 180 gram, which would sound better? Those old Deccas/Londons, Mercury pressings had plenty of bass and I still prefer many of them to the newer 180 gram releases.
The Buddy Holly on MCA is the most "you are there" reissue in my collection, which includes quite a few 180gram efforts and some 45rpm reissues. I suspect that the original tapes were simply recorded live band performances, and the lack of analog processing was another key ingredient. Analog tapes have hiss and EQ problems and the more tracks and mixing the worse they get.
When I was young and worked in a recording studio this was well known and serious recording engineers tried to keep it simple. A big problem was that the "live take" of the group was not as profitable as the individual take of each performer, who began to take for granted that he could show up whenever he liked because it was just a track recording. From then on, quality took a back seat to the production costs of studio time and the convenience of all concerned.
A lot of these great old recordings were done with only two
mikes from what I understand.Some chat on the net about the
old Living Stereo etc.[]
Let's not forget that this is also an art form. Yes, we can have the same paints, same brushes, same canvas, but not anyone can pick these up and produce a Picasso or a Monet.
There is no right way. Miniaml signal path is great and a good room and mostly good musicians willtake you far. recordings though are very often a reflection either of what the budget dictates or what the egos involved do.

Many records that I have made for people were subjectively not perfect but they were good for the situation.
I agree with Lenny here, it is a lost art....
I'll jump in here as a rock producer who started at the end of the analog age, and was lured into digital work stations in the early 90's. I simply didn't understand why I could not get a sound I was happy with. I would take digital tracks and then re play them through tube amps, re mic, and blend the tracks together to try to PUT BACK into the recordings what should have been there in the first place.

Jimmy Page once said that if you record things properly you don't need EQ. I could not agree more.

Digital recording will always be more like filling a glass with marbles rather than water. As long as there is as sampling rate, there will be a point to where the music disappears if you get close enough to it. There are holes and those will be exposed the better your stereo playback set up.

Why do you think all the obsession with the low end powered subs? To try to fill in the holes.

A classical orchestra developed centuries ago based upon the overall sonic soundscape of frequency understanding.. It was intuitive and it worked.

We are now in the age of manipulation, where a band with two guitarists, and a keyboardist all want equal presence in the mix.. so you have to use compression to give that illusion. It's all smoke and mirrors now.

Groups now are more concerned with how they will sound on an ipod than a real system. It really is a horrific situation.

What I am finding (probably no surprise to posters here) is that new vinyl releases are simply CD's pressed on vinyl. There is no advantage to vinyl at that point. What is gone is gone from the get go..

I have been manipulating and faking my way through recordings for years to try to "Get" a more real sound through much difficulty. Some applaud me, others send me to hell in the hundreds of reviews I have received. Most don't get it.

I have no problem compromising some "hiss" for warmth and something that sounds more organic to the ears.. but mass market listeners have ZERO idea what a proper recording should sound like.

If you look at painters.. they all should have become obsolete with the invention of the photo camera, but there is still something in the ability to BLEND the paint.. into something that does NOT more precisely represent reality.
This is really the argument for multitracking. Some like it and some don't. But it does offer the producer a lot more production options. And this is what has led up to the homogenized production values we see today in popular music.

People are not used to listening to natural..

As a lot of you know, a great system is not always a mind blower.. often this can expose the short comings of a recording. But with a great recording, only then can your proper set up really shine. And this takes us back to the golden age of recording.. and playback.

It's not going to happen again. Enjoy your tube amps, vinyl and just thank heaven it happened in the first place.

Humans are lazy if given the chance, and I don't see the old time producers sticking up for the analog age like they should.. maybe their hearing is not what it was.. but I don't see anyone wanting to splice tape anymore, and I don't see musicians really shedding to become excellent when they know that a studio can fix anything in the digital realm. I am speaking more to the young kids here.

Everyone wants something for nothing, and unfortunately I don't see it changing anytime soon...

Now we are at the mercy of economics. Even if you invested in the old gear, you might have a hard time finding people who can work on it. Also it is hard to find talent.. real talent..

In the old days, musicians didn't have 700 cable channels, and the internet.. and all the other distractions.. AND girls are impressed with DJ's more than musicians.. and don't think this isn't a factor.. it is. It's a HUGE factor.

A site like this gives a glimmer of hope.. but it will take more than just Jack White to do it.
Why do you think all the obsession with the low end powered subs? To try to fill in the holes.

Boy, I could not agree with you more. So true and a great way of putting it.
Astralography: Nice post. I am a bit older than you, so have seen the evolution a bit longer. Put simply, recording live performances and making the result as convincing as possible was replaced (for economic reasons) by the recording culture that you describe. The technology (LP records) that allowed the mass production of high quality recordings rapidly evolved into the mass production of a substitute for a live musical event. Popular groups were created in the studio and road show performances were conjured up to replicate the recordings - a complete reversal of the definition of recording. The record BECAME the creative event.The Beatles completed the process, and this order of things seems "normal" today.
I respectfully disagree that digital sampling is at fault. The computer processing of the digital signal is the problem. A simple, unprocessed digital signal sounds as good as a similar analog signal. In fact, few people can hear any difference when an a/d converter is switched in and out of a line, but they can easily hear the difference when it is recorded to a hard drive and the retrieved.
Astralography: very well said. thank you.
If you do give validity to the multitracking culture of the 1960's, you still had bands that felt a responsibility to reproduce those recordings as faithfully as possible. Not all the bands did this of course, but some made very concentrated efforts to do so. The British Progressive or Art Rock bands seemed to take this seriously, probably to their detriment. Some of this music was very complex, and difficult to perform, and there were some serious musicians who prioritized their execution over the spectacle of visceral showmanship. Others combined both of course. However, this led to a rebellion from the counter culture creating the Punk Rock movement, and on the other side of the coin you had the invention of fake bands and experiments in marketing empty talent shells, lip syncing and so forth.

Anyone who was around in the days before digital work stations and even better, drum machines, knows that DRUMS on any kind of rock or fusion record are the most difficult things to record. Not only are many drummers not proficient, but their kits are not tuned or miked properly. Once the cold starkness wore on peoples ears, real drums were then sampled using midi technology, or triggers, and now programs that read the sound file, and replace the peaks with samples of well recorded kick and snare drums. Other programs quantitize the kick and snare hits or even the hats or ride cymbals to the nearest 8th note, or quarter note which really sounds contrived. Can you really buy an honest recording these days?

The point is.. the entire stream of consciousness has moved in this direction, from public listener.. to band... to record company and promoters. Bands now take this onto the stage with loads of technology masking their inabilities to perform.. in fact if you don't do this.. you are not likely to get very far.

At this point, the public ear has been programed to believe that real sounds bad..that excessive compression is a good thing, bass rules, and music is better played through ear pods than tube amps and large properly designed speakers.

No label is going to invest in proper recordings to "a market" that is about as big as this chat forum.

I did work with tape machines early on, just long enough to know how bad things are now. But what are we really going to do?

You could make the greatest record of all time and it could easily go completely unnoticed.

The industry is so dead and stagnating artistically.. I mean there are still singers sounding like Eddie Veder 20 years later thinking that's cool, and getting signed.. look at American Idol... that's the biggest thing in the country, and it is simply a karaoke contest.

Everything is about smoke and mirrors.. and moving further and further from the truth... or a real natural truth.

Not sure what would have to happen to turn the ship around.. but I don't see it happening. I am just thankful I have a mountain of clean vinyls and a nice restored vintage tube amp, and a wall of speakers that make listening to music a proper experience.

I think bands putting stuff out on vinyl these days is simply silly... as they are just pressing their CD onto black plastic... makes no sense other than somehow marketing "cool".

Anyone who invests in a studio, and can press to Vinyl correctly.. do let me know..
I remember George Martin saying in an interview that even when he was producing the first Beatles albums,they were designed really only to sound good through the popular players of the time.That is a 3 in 1 console with speakers only 3 feet apart.He also admitted that he was only learning in public with doing stereo mixes of these records.It probably means you are correct to say that most people have no idea of what is natural or even good for that matter given the influence of the Beatles sound even today and how it is held up in such an iconic way as being the benchmark.Ten years before Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf were making great records that to my ears at least match the Beatles'.
My favourite record is one that was released not long ago, Joe Jackson's Rain album. Recorded as a trio in a Berlin analogue studio, and released on LP. A few clips from an interview:

"When Joe Jackson went into an East Berlin recording studio with the rhythm section that has accompanied him, off and on, for nearly three decades, he had the most strikingly simple line-up in mind: just piano, bass, drums and his unmistakable, eternally yearning voice. As he later pondered a name for this compellingly to-the-point collection of ten new songs, he took a similar approach. “I wanted something elemental because that’s the kind of album I wanted to make,” Jackson explains. “There is no padding on it at all; the album is stripped to the bare essentials, so I hope it has a timeless quality. The title seems to fit.”
There seems to be some confusion with people mixing up classical and pop/rock recording practices. Recording classical music is completely different than recording pop/rock. In general terms classical music is recorded to sound like a performer actually performing in a real acoustic environment. Pop/rock recordings do not adhere to that standard and have a "whatever works" mentality. In other words, classical recordings are trying to capture a great performance and pop/rock recordings are trying to produce a hit record.

As a result the recording techniques for each type of music is very different. Classical techniques is intended to be unobtrusive and virtually inaudible to the listener. The best way to achieve this goal is to have a very simple recording chain. Pick a good sounding hall, a well rehearsed and talented ensemble, 2 to 5 microphones (even for stereo more than 2 mics are needed to balance direct vs. hall sounds), some great mic preamps, a minimalist mixer and record directly to tape or hard drive. No overdubs, no EQ, no compressions, etc. Contrast that to even a stripped down sounding pop/rock recording. Recordings pieced together from individual instrumental tracks recorded in different studios. Drums playing to click tracks. Mixing MIDI performances with real players. Autotune. Adding reverb to intentionally recorded dry performances. And finally compressing the signal to the point of distortion (and beyond) so that it jumps out at the listener when played as part of some random playlist.

Other than economics there is no reason why current classical recordings cannot sound as good, or even better than the best "golden age" recordings. Current mic, preamps and mixers are better than the old equipment. The old equipment is rightfully legendary and revered, but it is 50 years old and worn out. The new recreations of the classic gear are better performer today. There is no magic to the golden age recording techniques. It was simply the dedicated application of a craft by skill artist and engineers. There's no technical reason why that same expertise and craftsmanship cannot be put into use today.
Thanks for the tip on Joe Jackson.. I learn something on here everyday.

I agree about Martin also. The mixing console is whole other story.

And again you can look at tube based vs solid state studio gear. I know this forum is more for "The Listener" but we have to remember that no matter what you have invested in "audiophile gear", we are always limited by the source recording.

There is no such thing as mixing for universal sound across all speakers.

I used to do mixes for my own personal system that would never be released to the public. Why? because it would sound horrible on a car stereo or boom box.

Again I am talking rock records here, where there are too many instruments sharing the same frequency bands.

The old timers knew what they were doing.

A drum kit, upright bass, piano, and a horn or two, and you have a natural separation of frequencies that don't need manipulation in post production.

That's a big reason why that stuff sounds so good.. just common sense.
Onhwy61, what you say is not entirely true. A lot depends on the budget and space that is available for a band to record in.

An example is something called 'the Church' in Duluth, Minnesota. A good number of local Twin Cities bands travel to Duluth to use this studio because of the space- because they can record with only two mics, no EQ/no compression, no overdubs. One band that has done this a lot (and as a result, has turned out some great LPs) is a Duluth band called Low. I'm pretty sure Paul Metzger has recorded there too.

None of this material is on the audiophile's radar, even though it was done all-analog, on 180 gr. vinyl at RTI, yada yada.

When we did our LPs, we had our own space to do the work. Although they are not audiophiles, the other members of my band insisted on no overdubs, that is, the material was all recorded in the same space at the same time. We were still learning the space at the time so I think the first LP did not turn out as well sonically as the new one.

The second time around I rebuilt a set of Western Electric tube mic preamps, and we ran them directly into the recorder, and used them for the drums, which had a set of Neumann U-67s overhead with a few spots on the snare, ride and kickdrum. But we recorded the whole thing in one go for each track on the LP. There were separate tracks for each instrument/microphone, so we could mix it later.

BTW in our case, the LP is the only format released. We did do 24-bit backup digital tracks, but they proved to be no match for the analog master tapes. When we mixed everything, we used the best systems we could get our hands on for reference (tube amps, high end speakers) with no thought of what it might sound like on a car stereo or Ipod. Guess what- sounds fine on those things too. IMO the idea that you have to mix for a car stereo or whatever is stupid, plain and simple.

I do not agree that recording a band is all that different from recording an orchestra; I've done both and I have found that they have more in common **so long as the band is trying to get the best sound possible**.

The trick is: no EQ, no compression, no overdubs. But- you **do** have to know what you are doing with the mics!
Atmashpere, great description of your recording projects.

I think we agree that great recordings start with great musicians, a great recording space, great mics and mic preamps. We differ on the degree that classical recordings are similar to pop/rock recordings. You remark that they are very similar if the rock band is trying to get the best sound possible. I guess it depends on how you define that. Steely Dan, Roxy Music, Micheal Jackson/Quincy Jones, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, etc. all are known to be fanatical about getting the best possible sound for their recordings. They're all big users of multi-track over dubbing with extensive signal processing. They are still able to achieve high quality sounding recordings. In skilled hands with high budgets multi-track over dubbing can work extremely well. For these artists there is not even a single in-studio performance that is being documented. This process differs from classical style recording in that the music arises from a multitude of recordings and is literally created after the fact by the technology. If what you're trying to record is an actual in-studio performance by a band, then classical and pop/rock recordings are very much alike.
Atmasphere, that deal with where to place the mics sounds like that could be a critical thing.

What was so special about for instance, Ken Wilkinson? He knew what to do with the mics. Is it that he had an ear for where to place them? Is there a general formula for this? I see his name everywhere on the Decca classical list. All of the classical recordings he is associated with are very good to fantastic. I am sure that others knew what he did. He did seem to pick the same places to do the recordings.

Wilma Cozart Fine is another one who was instumental in making great recordings. It looks like Mercury used three mics for their recordings. They did not look like they were set up in any real specialized way. Maybe they were and it just does not look like it

I have not heard or seen a good classical album made like these in years. Why Not? Who would one contact to try to get the ball rolling? Stereophile? Absolute Sound? How would one go about doing something great?

Maybe recording a smaller ensemble in a great place acoustically would be a good place to start. I don't know. I certainly do not know what it takes to make a great recording but I would be willing to help in any way if a group of people wanted to try to make it happen.
If you want to replicate the classic Mercury sound, you might try sending the line output down a few miles of telephone wire!
Lesse... for a top-notch recording of Pink Floyd, find a copy of The Screaming Abdabs (this is Pink Floyd when they were off-contract) 'Rhapsody in Pink', a 2-LP set. It is recorded in the BBC studios before a Decca Stereo tree, the same kind that Kenneth Wilkinson used that made his recordings so good. This recording has no overdubs, no EQ, just the raw mic feed on LP. Its the best sound (IMO) that Pink Floyd ever got and is an excellent example of How to Record a Rock Band in HiFi.

(Pardon me if I say that Pink Floyd and host of others mentioned could have done a lot better job, but often don't because its hard.)

If you show up at RMAF or THE Show I will play it for you.

Mercury used a set of 3 omni microphones, the 3rd being dead center. This mic was usually mixed into the other two channels for stereo. The Decca stereo Tree was a set of cardioids mounted on a baffle that had a sound absorbing panel between the mics. Sometimes a 3rd mic was mounted on the middle panel. Wilkinson favored this approach and also used it on most of the RCAs recorded in England. Both techniques have their strengths and weaknesses!

For our drums we used something a lot like the Decca tree, but no baffles. The mics were angled about 110 degrees off from each other. This is a classic way of recording in stereo and works as well for drums as it does for a full orchestra.

This is why I say recording the orchestra or a band is not that far apart. I've dealt with orchestra leaders who wanted me to use more mics and signal processing, don't think for a minute that the classical world is purist-only!!
Here is a great book that may help all of us audiophools appreciate what goes into a great-sounding LP (or 45!):

An interesting and fun read...highly recommended.
OOPS! No linked adverts allowed I suppose!

The title of the book is:

Studio Stories - How The Great New York Records Were Made
"I've dealt with orchestra leaders who wanted me to use more mics and signal processing"

You are so right! Knowledge of live performances, and knowledge of recordings are unrelated. Many musicians do not "hear" the recording, they only reference the memory of the performance, and often they do that from the peculiar prospective of their position in the group. No recording can, or should, sound like the prospective from the stage.
Twenty Four track recorders with two ears,and two speakers.Sounds like it may not add up.
I've dealt with orchestra leaders who wanted me to use more mics and signal processing
In the recording process you want to be as simple as necessary, not as simple as possible. What's necessary varies based upon the goal of the recording, the skill of the players and recordists, the instruments being recorded, the acoustics of the venue and the type of recording equipment used. Making the recording process overly complex has its obvious problems, but over simplifying the process also has its pitfalls. Walking into a session with narrow, preconceived notions of what is appropriate can severely limit the quality of the resulting recording.
If we look back in time, there certainly has been a shift in the ideology of the recording process. In the old days, recording was about just that recording. The final sound developments basically came from the instruments themselves. The concept of simply getting a natural or more "real" reproduction of that recording was the highest ideal.

Once the 60's arrived, musicians started manipulating the sound of the acoustic instruments not only with "The Electric" instrument, but then with the amplifier and finally adding effect pedals and so forth.

The next evolution was to then manipulate the recording even further in the mixing room, all in the name of "for the good of the art". This of course has now become common place for the majority of commercial releases. Finally we arrived at playback units that are manipulating the sound and this is now standard protocol for the digital age, and "digital" is the ultimate manipulation back and forth between digits and analog converters, sampling and bit rates and other (dare I say it, lol) nonsense.

Love it or hate it.

I suppose many feel that all this has gone too far, and now we have things like Apple's "Garage Band" where our youth culture is making music without real instruments, just using samples to be tracked virtually. This is nothing really new and started way back with things like the mellotron synth, and I think there was a predecessor to that also using analog samples.

If you think the studio is a legitimate venue for artistic manipulation and should be justifiably linked to the musical creative process, there is little arguing that the digital age is truly the pipe dream of the 1960's.

I would argue that manipulation comes with a sonic cost. As soon as you start manipulating, you start loosing what is natural. Although adding compression and reverb and so forth has it's glittering audio spectacle, it is leaving the world of reality.

As much as some might love a gorgeously produced rock album like Steely Dan's "Asia", there's a lot of manipulation going on there as well. Certainly a textbook use of compression to get everything smoothly into the sonic teacup. Not an easy task I might add.

This is why many audiophiles are likely to gravitate toward Jazz and Classical music where "honestly" is promoted more than would be found in the rock world or post rock recordings.

Having some kind of benchmark for natural is the easiest way to evaluate your stereo system.. hence "The Stereophile"

How can you really know where "truth" is if you are only listening to heavily produced or over produced recordings.
What can be the true point of reference for "dance remix #35?"

Getting back to the point of this thread, where are the real recordings? and can someone do it again the right way? and if so, is there a substantial enough market out there to support it to rationalize the initial investment? Or does it simply become an act of audiophile philanthropy?
How much longer before it is too late? and knowledge becomes lost on how to manufacture tape machines and so forth?
Its not too late. Take a look at
I don't understand the link
Try this with headphones.[]