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Motown Recording Methods

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I've been researching the methods and gear of the classic age of Motown.
One of the (many) things that jumped out at me as being interesting was the mics and methods they used for recording drums. Typically, they would use two U67's on the kit, with one placed in close proximity to the snare and upper rack Tom(s) with the other being place closer to the floor Toms, ride and upper crash cymbals. This in itself wasn't uncommon for that time, it was actually pretty similar to the way that Glyn Johns was miking drums -what made it uncommon was that they used a RIBBON mic on the kick drum ( or what the called the "foot" mic in those days). Research has mentioned an RCA 44 for this purpose. I was taking to Dave Hawk (@dvdhawk) a few days ago, and he was as surprised as I was as to their mic choice for the kick. I find it hard to believe that they wouldn't have used a dynamic, or even a condenser - they had plenty of both to choose from. Beyond the fragility of a ribbon mic, being in such close proximity to the kind of SPL'S that a typical kick drum would give off - and chancing the very real possibility of wiping out the ribbon in the mic, it seems like an "odd" choice tonally.
But... According to the engineers that worked those sessions, it was part of what defined the Motown sound.

Another cool Discovery was that they were using a Neumann tube console for tracking. Berry Gordy had visited a friend of his who worked at a radio/jingle production studio in Texas, (the name of the facility was "PAMS"), and Gordy loved the sounds they're getting, especially for vocals. He returned to Detroit, called Neumann, and told them he wanted the exact same model for his studio.
Interestingly, they didn't do much mixing on the Neumann desk, it was used primarily for tracking. For mixing, they used an Electrodyne desk, located in a building that was about a block away from the studio on Grand Blvd. I know nothing about either desk; in fact I've never even heard of Electrodyne consoles... Hopefully someone else here on RO might be able to provide more info.
@Kurt Foster @Boswell @audiokid @pcrecord @moonbaby @dvdhawk - or anyone else who might know...
I really need to take a day trip to the Hitsville studio museum on Grand Blvd ...I have no excuse not to, Detroit's only about 2 1/2 hours or so (three hours tops) from where I live now on the west side of Cleveland.
;)
D.

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pcrecord Wed, 08/23/2017 - 04:54

DonnyThompson, post: 452232, member: 46114 wrote: I've been researching the methods and gear of the classic age of Motown.
One of the (many) things that jumped out at me as being interesting was the mics and methods they used for recording drums. Typically, they would use two U67's on the kit, with one placed in close proximity to the snare and upper rack Tom(s) with the other being place closer to the floor Toms, ride and upper crash cymbals. This in itself wasn't uncommon for that time, it was actually pretty similar to the way that Glyn Johns was miking drums -what made it uncommon was that they used a RIBBON mic on the kick drum ( or what the called the "foot" mic in those days). Research has mentioned an RCA 44 for this purpose. I was taking to Dave Hawk (@dvdhawk) a few days ago, and he was as surprised as I was as to their mic choice for the kick. I find it hard to believe that they wouldn't have used a dynamic, or even a condenser - they had plenty of both to choose from. Beyond the fragility of a ribbon mic, being in such close proximity to the kind of SPL'S that a typical kick drum would give off - and chancing the very real possibility of wiping out the ribbon in the mic, it seems like an "odd" choice tonally.
But... According to the engineers that worked those sessions, it was part of what defined the Motown sound.

Another cool Discovery was that they were using a Neumann tube console for tracking. Berry Gordy had visited a friend of his who worked at a radio/jingle production studio in Texas, (the name of the facility was "PAMS"), and Gordy loved the sounds they're getting, especially for vocals. He returned to Detroit, called Neumann, and told them he wanted the exact same model for his studio.
Interestingly, they didn't do much mixing on the Neumann desk, it was used primarily for tracking. For mixing, they used an Electrodyne desk, located in a building that was about a block away from the studio on Grand Blvd. I know nothing about either desk; in fact I've never even heard of Electrodyne consoles... Hopefully someone else here on RO might be able to provide more info.
@Kurt Foster @Boswell @audiokid @pcrecord @moonbaby @dvdhawk - or anyone else who might know...
I really need to take a day trip to the Hitsville studio museum on Grand Blvd ...I have no excuse not to, Detroit's only about 2 1/2 hours or so (three hours tops) from where I live now on the west side of Cleveland.
;)
D.

Nice story there. I like that you take time to reseach things like that.

Thing is, the making of drums and heads and even sticks have greatly changed since then. Coupled to the tunning and room acoustic, this is to me a great part the so called motown sound. I would personnally aimed for a modern sound while recording. It's easy to make a song sound old at mixing and mastering.. ;)

There is so many drum recording technics that went on over the years, it only confirms that if you like what you hear anything can go on.
One thing I want to try next is to put an sm 57 or a cheap dynamic above the bass drum's batter head pointing to the drummer. I heard some recordings using this mic heavily compressed and distorted being blended with the rest of the mics to give the kit some character.

I can't wait to hear that album Donny !!

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DonnyThompson Wed, 08/23/2017 - 06:41

pcrecord, post: 452234, member: 46460 wrote: I heard some recordings using this mic heavily compressed and distorted being blended with the rest of the mics to give the kit some character.

Cool that you mentioned this...one of the other techniques they used was a precursor to today's parallel gain reduction. The engineers in Detroit fashioned a Y cable that they used during tracking, so that one mic would hit the console dry and unprocessed, and the other would be sent to another channel where a Fairchild 660 or 670 would be inserted, and on that channel they would set the limiter to pretty heavy levels of gain reduction - and then, on that same channel, they would intentionally boost 5k by 4 to 5 db, in an effort to have the track " cut through" the rest of the mix, but at the same tine still reigned in with transients and peaks by the Fairchilds. They would then tuck the limited track in with the other dry track, and blend the two channels to whatever levels worked for the song.
While this method was most commonly used for vocals, they did it for drums and guitars as well. I don't think that 5k was just an arbitrary frequency, considering that in those days, most consoles topped out at 8k or so with their EQ settings; I'm thinking that 5k was the frequency they chose based on the fidelity limitations of consumer playback devices at that time, with namely AM radio probably figuring into their final mixes. FM was still in its infancy in those days, most commercial pop music was being listened to on AM radio stations, along with cheap Silverton turntables that kids had at home in their bedrooms.
;)

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Kurt Foster Wed, 08/23/2017 - 08:16

@Bob Olhsson is the go to guy for all things Motown.

Records were made for AM radio. no one ever thought that these recordings would still be getting listened to all these years later.

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DonnyThompson Wed, 08/23/2017 - 08:50

Kurt Foster, post: 452243, member: 7836 wrote: Bob Ohlsson is the go to guy for all things Motown.

Records were made for AM radio. no one ever thought that these recordings would still be getting listened to all these years later.

Indeed. His experiences made up a large part of my research. ;)

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Bob Olhsson Wed, 08/23/2017 - 12:12

Lots of confusion. For openers, lots of people used ribbons on bass drums in the '60s. In many cases it was literally the left over mike. I always understood we used just a U67 overhead and what we called a foot mike. I'm not aware of us ever having a Neumann console but we bought a studio that had a console made from Altec solid state amplifiers and Neumann channel equalizers. I've got to run but I'll be back.

audiokid Wed, 08/23/2017 - 17:55

Bob Olhsson, post: 452258, member: 900 wrote: Lots of confusion. For openers, lots of people used ribbons on bass drums in the '60s. In many cases it was literally the left over mike. I always understood we used just a U67 overhead and what we called a foot mike. I'm not aware of us ever having a Neumann console but we bought a studio that had a console made from Altec solid state amplifiers and Neumann channel equalizers. I've got to run but I'll be back.

Awesome Bob, so cool you chimed in. :love:

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Bob Olhsson Wed, 08/23/2017 - 18:03

I didn't think I was that hard to reach.

I'd say 99% of the Motown "sound" was the musicians.

When we went 16 track in 1969 we got three 20 line input Electrodyne consoles. They were the very first to employ VCAs. Two were in our office building downtown and one was in Los Angeles.

Prior to that 8 track had been mixed at the Hitsville studio for a couple years and then a dedicated mix room having an 8 in console made from Spectrasonic amplifier knockoffs.

pcrecord Thu, 08/24/2017 - 05:08

Kurt Foster, post: 452272, member: 7836 wrote:

Looks like an old power station for a nuclear plant ! he he he ;)

I would certainly have fun for a while there or dawm all gods because I can't make it work !

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kmetal Thu, 08/24/2017 - 18:33

My first guess about 5k was that was one of the highest frequencies on the original pultecs. But that comes from 0 research.

Bob Olhsson, post: 452269, member: 900 wrote: I'd say 99% of the Motown "sound" was the musicians.

@Bob Olhsson Thanks for the amazing insight, I have a couple questions if you get the time. Was there a particular orientation or location within the room that was standard or typical, in general or were things moved around very often? What were the main engineering considerations or challenges, regarding locations of the musicians and instruments? i.e bleed/rejection, sight lines, sound quality, musicians monitoring, ect.

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Bob Olhsson Thu, 08/24/2017 - 19:13

Back then it was often about speed because each musician was earning around $20 an hour and we were recording ensembles of ten to twenty at a time. We were expected to record four songs in a three hour session.

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DonnyThompson Thu, 08/24/2017 - 19:51

Bob Olhsson, post: 452282, member: 900 wrote: I should mention that only the drummers, sometimes the piano and the organ in the back isolation room typically used headphones.

Assuming the other musicians were monitoring through Altecs speakers or something similar?
Maybe placed at the null points of the other mics? Or was it not a concern and bleed was used to an advantage?
This is such a cool thread!

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DonnyThompson Fri, 08/25/2017 - 06:09

Bob Olhsson, post: 452269, member: 900 wrote: I'd say 99% of the Motown "sound" was the musicians.

I don't think anyone would (or could) ever argue that.
Some of those songs are pushing 60 years old now, so we've all heard them so many times; regardless, I'm still floored by the musicianship of The Funk Brothers. I'll hear a song with James Jamerson or Bob Babbit on bass guitar, or any of the FB's, even songs I've heard countless times, and I still listen with amazement at their talent and incredible sense of melody and groove.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for any of those sessions.
;)
-d

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DonnyThompson Fri, 08/25/2017 - 12:53

Davedog, post: 452292, member: 4495 wrote: I wonder what mic they used on the bass amp if any?

I can tell you which mic Geoff Enerick used on Paul's bass amp after McCartney told him and George Martin about getting something close to the sound of the bass that he heard on Motown records around 1966... Emerick ended up using an AKG C12 in Figure 8.
But I don't know what Motown typically used. I'd be surprised if Detroit didn't have those mics available...but that's just a guess.
For all I know, Maybe they DI'd the bass.

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