Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you'd like to. Still, one wants to be polite. So let's be coy for a moment, shall we?
I recently had the good fortune to see a band whom I thought ruled the school. I got very excited after I saw them. This is such a great band! I said to: myself, my wife, anyone within earshot, the band themselves after they'd finished playing. I couldn't wait to hear what they sounded like when they (and here I quote the immortal Eric Wood of Man Is the Bastard) "harness[ed] that power on vinyl"! Or on CD at least. So I got an URL from them and when I came home I downloaded the stuff they had up on their site.
Well. The songs are excellent. I would recommend this band to you most heartily if it were all about the songs. But it isn't always all about the songs, is it? Sometimes there are other factors in play. Some o' you guys think I'm gonna get all "these guys are fascists" or something, but that just shows what you know, he said, stickin' out his tongue and makin' with the pthfffffthh noises. No, at issue here is that hoariest of chestnuts, the digital versus analog question.
As it turns out, digital sucks. Big shocker there, right? Everybody who gave two shits about this got all chicken-little about it back in the early-mid nineties, and then everybody else was all "jeez shut up about the digital vs. analog already wouldja 'cause it's getting really old," and also a lot of the analog purists started making really boring records which did not help their cause at all. So digital won the day, for this & several other reasons. (Short version: digital had a rich uncle who thought he had a bright future, and analog had a mean father who'd wanted an excuse to kill him for years and now had one.) But the fact remained: to make a decent-sounding record using digital protocols, you had to be really diligent, and really conversant with your equipment. In short, you had to have the touch; the gift for it; the feel.
Which is why there was no point in shifting away in the first place; digital's big PR point, or one of them, was that it was gonna democratize things. You wouldn't have to buy big expensive consoles, you wouldn't have to know a Neumann from an AKG, you wouldn't have to become tech-nerd-guy if you didn't want to. You'd have More Power. Having More Power is the broader promise of the age, and this, too, is A God Damned Lie Which You'll Regret Believing, but I ain't gonna waste my breath on that one. (No harm in learning lessons the hard way, either, now that I think of it.) But to return to my point. Digital recording technology was going to bring the power of the professional studio into your living room.
Oh, how those guys in their fancy-schmancy studios were gonna tremble when power came to the people in this way! They'd regret having charged so much for their soundproofed rooms, their gorgeous mixing boards, their vintage gear! Who'd be laughing when anybody could record a studio-quality album in the privacy of their own home? As it turns out, this question was moot, because stuff recorded by full bands at home using digital protocols sounds about 20 times worse than the most oversaturated TASCAM atrocity ever loosed upon our richly-deserving world. Exhibit A here turns out to be this band I loved, who I ain't gonna mention by name, but whose wonderful little songs, I learned after downloading, had been cruelly stripped of all life by whatever here-let-me-pan-that-left-for-you and-then-this-other-side-right-for-you digital recorder they'd been using.
My friends might complain: "John, you don't actually know what you're talking about." How right they are! But I know what I hear, and I have a little common sense, and what I get from these is this: the whole digital-makes-everybody-a-producer line was formulated in a boardroom by some guys who wanted you to buy their products. Occam's razor, right? Meanwhile, analog 4-tracks are cheap, relatively easy to learn, and, owing to the severe subjectivity inherent in mechanical controls, far less likely to make your band sound like every other band recording with the same program, which is exactly the problem, as I see it, with digital demos.
My friend Perry, a good-and-getting-better songwriter, probably thinks he's the guy I'm calling out, but he isn't, though he should be, because he, too, wants to argue that affordability trumps all in this case. To that I can only say: how come we ain't drivin' Yugos, then? But to hell with it. One can't even raise this question without sounding like a cranky old man, or getting accused of extremism. My point stands, though, and until somebody produces not just one album but several hundreds of them to contradict it, I'll stand by it: it takes as much skill to make a decent digital recording as it does to make a decent analog one, and the relative ages of the respective technologies makes helpful resources scarcer for the former than for the latter. You don't save any time, or money, or face if the recording you end up producing has no personality. There is more to a recording than the notes, or than the performance. Some other day, I'll make the case against overproduction, but for now I want only to say to good bands everywhere: don't shoot yourselves in the foot. It's bad enough that there are so few of you, and those few so hard to find. Getting your songs out there is only half the battle. The other half is making sure they really sound like you.
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Last Plane to Jakarta: Bits - "It takes as much skill to make a decent digital recording as it does to make a decent analog one... You don't save any time, or money, or face if the recording you end up producing has no personality."... [Read More]