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Motown Recording Methods

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.

video

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Profile picture for user Davedog
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Davedog Fri, 08/25/2017 - 14:22

Let's talk about Sir Paul's bass for a moment. Geoff Emerick inherited the engineer chair from Norman Smith when he moved "up" to full-time producer. This is all based on the English way of the 'cottage industry ladder of achievement.' So in 1966 when Geoff took over, the micing techniques did not change at that time. The regular D20 AKG was used on most of the bass tracks recorded in 1966 except two....and these were both recorded experimentally by using the "white elephant" studio monitors as a mic. Like a sub-kik per se. This was Ken Townsends idea. These two tracks were Rain and Paperback Writer. In 1967 Geoff began to create his own style with the micing including the C12 on the bass and now multiple mics on the drum kit. Before there were only two, a D19c overhead and a D20 on the kik. Another huge change in 66 was the use of a single track for the bass. And even when they had to use the bass and drums together, there were enough faders at this time to allow separate processing before printing to tape. So the Altec compressor on the bass and the Fairchild on the drums became the main reason for a greater separation of the two from 66 on. And the bigger. deeper bass sound.

67 also saw the use of a DI built by Ken Townsend. But Emerick didn't like it so even though it was listed in the track sheets it didn't get used on his sessions.

Realize that ANY changes from the norm at EMI/Abbey Road had to be snuck in while no one from management was looking or to have a letter of permission from 'upstairs' . This included everything from which compressor was supposed to be used on which instrument, to the amount of bass content on a recording, to the distance a mic may be placed in front of a source.

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DonnyThompson Fri, 08/25/2017 - 15:03

I know that interviews with Emerick have mentioned that there were times when they waited until the executives had gone home for the day, before placing certain mics in certain positions, because if the execs had found out, the engineers could have gotten into some real hot water, perhaps even being fired.
Using Mics directly on the kick was just one example of this.
The book "Recording The Beatles" provides much insight into what they were doing with certain pieces of gear. Subsequent interviews mention how they confinually had to give the illusion to the CEO's at EMI that all the rules were being followed, when after hours, there was quite a bit of rule breaking - at the very least, rule bending - in order for The Fabs, Sir George, and the various engineers to get the sounds that they wanted for a particular recording ... not the least of which was wrapping a mic in plastic and then submerging it in water to see what it would sound like. That one would have had the EMI big-wigs screaming bloody murder. Lol

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Davedog Fri, 08/25/2017 - 17:27

kmetal, post: 452299, member: 37533 wrote: Was close miking the kik one of these bent rules techniques at the time?

Very much so! And it was Norman Smith who kept breaking that rule...inside 3" from the front head!

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DonnyThompson Sat, 08/26/2017 - 05:31

Another one, talking about Motown's origins, and touching on how Motown influenced - and was influenced by - the socio/culture of the time,

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DonnyThompson Sat, 08/26/2017 - 06:17

kmetal, post: 452280, member: 37533 wrote: My first guess about 5k was that was one of the highest frequencies on the original pultecs. But that comes from 0 research.

I'm not sure about that Kyle...
I've never worked with a Pultec that is that old, but I'm pretty sure the original Pulse Technologies Pultec EQ had settings on the top end that went to at least 12k, maybe even 16k...
Although I do think you are right about 5k being one of those specific HF settings.
The Pultec was probably way ahead of its time in that regard, offering controls for frequencies that couldn't even be reproduced on common consumer type playback systems, or on AM radio.
I suppose it's possible that there were systems that could reproduce frequencies that high... maybe even in 1951 when the Pultec was invented, but those systems that could reproduce that high were likely unobtainable for the average record buyer, or the typical AM stations of the time.

FWIW

Profile picture for user kmetal
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kmetal Sat, 08/26/2017 - 09:08

Man, just watched the first video during breakfast (11am, musicians hours lol) and wow. Really really cool. Just what I needed today. I love that they keep hitsville in vintage condition, and resisted the urge for modernization. It really is amazing that it was a garage, and goes to show what some acoustics attention (treatment) and talent can do! I believe it was mix or sos that ran an article about a garage studio where the Steve Miller Band, cut the joker and a couple other albums. Perhaps not my favorite songs, but those recordings stand the test of time, and demonstrate that garage sounds don't have to all sound like the jack white.

I will say that whoever it was who had the presence of mind to capture some of those magic moments on video and film, is really an unspoken hero! Archivists and documentarians often get little credit, but really give us a magical experience, and a small peak into the world over.

lol it's funny how we get used to things or perceive things, as Ken Sands refers to "the beat up old console" !!!! Not sure that's exactly what I'd call it from my point of view. Lol.

That vid touched a lot of things from this thread, musicians location, headphones, where the bass guitar plugged in... very very cool.

On the topic of where the bass (and others) plugged in, what was that? Was that like a remote pre placed in the tracking room, sorta like the focusrite red (Ethernet) stuff is currently?

Another thing I found neat was the producers in the actual room w then musicians while they were recording! I've enjoyed many of the early demos and even recent ones, on my portastudio where I was in the room with the band. It's much more of an experience from a fan type perspective of the performance, and you definitely feel it in a different way. You may not catch the details of each thing like you would on a clear set of monitors, but it's far better to gauge (or get carried away with) the vibe of the room and the energy of the performance. Realtime remote recording, and even live tracking w each mucisian isolated, doesn't get this type of energy. Neither is having the musician(s) tracking in the control room along to the monitors. Not that one always better than the other, of course.

I know Sylvia Massey had an old vaudeville theater she had setup with no isolation between her (and the Neve) and the band, supposedly that place was haunted. Don't quote as thinking this is completely right, but I believe it's Paul Epworth, or another well established engineer from England who re-modeled a church into a studio, and kept it open floor between engineering position and performance area. I remember being surprised since the producer did some mainstream pop type work.

Really fantastic video, can't wait to watch the other one later. Thanks for the post D, it personally made my morning!!

DonnyThompson, post: 452310, member: 46114 wrote: I'm not sure about that Kyle...
I've never worked with a Pultec that is that old, but I'm pretty sure the original Pulse Technologies Pultec EQ had settings on the top end that went to at least 12k, maybe even 16k...
Although I do think you are right about 5k being one of those specific HF settings.
The Pultec was probably way ahead of its time in that regard, offering controls for frequencies that couldn't even be reproduced on common consumer type playback systems, or on AM radio.
I suppose it's possible that there were systems that could reproduce frequencies that high... maybe even in 1951 when the Pultec was invented, but those systems that could reproduce that high were likely unobtainable for the average record buyer, or the typical AM stations of the time.

FWIW

Ya know that brings up not just the technical question of what the highest frequency was, but perhaps more interestingly, exactly why they had frequencies outside the common bandwidth of most listening equipment.

Perhaps harmonic distortion or emphasis?

I also wonder how it relates to say recording at a very high sample rate, or boosting say 16 or 22k if you've got an eq that does that? Is there some sort of subliminal effect to the end listener? Are you capturing/boosting/cutting/ perhaps just energy waves that lend to the experience?

Lots of good things creeping up in this thread.

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Kurt Foster Sat, 08/26/2017 - 09:12

although AM had a 5k limit, FM is good out to 15k or so and there have been hi fi systems and recordings going up to 20k since the early 50's. am i really this old?

Profile picture for user kmetal
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kmetal Sat, 08/26/2017 - 09:21

Kurt Foster, post: 452314, member: 7836 wrote: although AM had a 5k limit, FM is good out to 15k or so and there have been hi fi systems and recordings going up to 20k since the early 50's. am i really this old?

your years of knowledge never cease to amaze me Kurt. Man the years of recording and music you lived through make my era look so lame, it's not even funny. I'm not sure I'll see a time in my life that comes close to the 1955-1975 age of music. From the talent, to the lifestyle, to the quality and personality of the gear, to the economy, it is something I'm envious of on an artistic level. I'm sure that it's limitations could be frustrating, and it wasn't all peachy, but darn it, very few things are on that level creatively and even technically speaking.

I dunno man the amount of Fire and Passion I hear in music these days is few and far between. Everything seems very tame, and congealed.

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Davedog Sat, 08/26/2017 - 09:36

At around 10:09 of the first video, there starts the overview of the 5 channel 'preamp' built by Mike McLean who was the head engineer from 61 on. Apparently all the guitars and the clavinet plugged into this box which also housed a speaker and a power amp for monitoring for the musicians. Since there wasn't enough room in the Snakepit for individual amps, this was the solution. Also apparent is the individual channels were always the same for every session. Jamerson was always in 5 as was Babbitt. The speaker was an Altec dual cone 604? and the amp a MacIntosh 30 watt mono.

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Kurt Foster Sat, 08/26/2017 - 10:27

kmetal, post: 452315, member: 37533 wrote: your years of knowledge never cease to amaze me Kurt. Man the years of recording and music you lived through make my era look so lame, it's not even funny. I'm not sure I'll see a time in my life that comes close to the 1955-1975 age of music. From the talent, to the lifestyle, to the quality and personality of the gear, to the economy, it is something I'm envious of on an artistic level. I'm sure that it's limitations could be frustrating, and it wasn't all peachy, but darn it, very few things are on that level creatively and even technically speaking.

I dunno man the amount of Fire and Passion I hear in music these days is few and far between. Everything seems very tame, and congealed.

too bad i don't remember a lot of it! lol. it was the water. yeah, that's it! something in the water. i actually didn't feel any limitations. it was more like, " look what i can do."

the one thing i see different is there used to be a lot more money in it. getting paid can really motivate people.

Profile picture for user kmetal
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kmetal Sat, 08/26/2017 - 12:33

Davedog, post: 452316, member: 4495 wrote: At around 10:09 of the first video, there starts the overview of the 5 channel 'preamp' built by Mike McLean who was the head engineer from 61 on. Apparently all the guitars and the clavinet plugged into this box which also housed a speaker and a power amp for monitoring for the musicians. Since there wasn't enough room in the Snakepit for individual amps, this was the solution. Also apparent is the individual channels were always the same for every session. Jamerson was always in 5 as was Babbitt. The speaker was an Altec dual cone 604? and the amp a MacIntosh 30 watt mono.

Awsome info Dave. Do you know of the pre amp section was tube based? From what I gathered from a book on abbey road the Brits (or Beatles at least) felt they were behind USA sonically and equipment wise around the early/mid 60's, so I'm thinking maybe it was possible the ore section was xformer based? I'm guessing the MacIntosh power amp was tube based. Also, any idea on how the mucisians mixed the sound coming out of the amp? Was it based solely on input gain?

Kurt Foster, post: 452317, member: 7836 wrote: i actually didn't feel any limitations. it was more like, " look what i can do."

Yeah man that's what I mean about the Fire! Now it's like "look what this (software/computer) can do". It's just not as cool (to me) from a musical perspective. From a tech engineering perspective it's cool tho so I'm not hating. Just that inspiring electric feeling from music and performance seems less common.

Profile picture for user kmetal
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kmetal Sat, 08/26/2017 - 12:58

I found that second vid excellent, great posts @DonnyThompson !

No idea Dr. King was also a Motown recording artist. Most of my experience growing up in an inner city with 120k people in 21sq miles, isn't with racism, it's with poverty and the resulting crime, and territorial issues.

It's remarkable that music has been able to transcend a lot of forms of ignorance both racial and gender.

Motown is really pretty cool! Can't wait to go see it some day.

Here's a quick write up on the pultec, which just happens to mention Motown. It seems the originals (I'm assuming their speaking of the originals) went up to 16k.

http://www.musictech.net/2014/05/pultec-eqp-1a/

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kmetal Sun, 08/27/2017 - 10:21

Davedog, post: 452327, member: 4495 wrote: Kyle. If you google Mike McLean Motown the answers to many many things will be clear.

Will do Dave, thanks for the lead.

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Bob Olhsson Tue, 09/19/2017 - 18:16

The studio had previously been a photography studio. The floor was soft pine intended for spiking camera tripods and lights. I was disappointed that they finished it because it was a part of the sound. The acoustic design was by RCA Victor and those of us who worked there consider it the best sounding small studio we know of.

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audiokid Tue, 09/19/2017 - 22:55

Bob Olhsson, post: 452839, member: 900 wrote: The studio had previously been a photography studio. The floor was soft pine intended for spiking camera tripods and lights. I was disappointed that they finished it because it was a part of the sound. The acoustic design was by RCA Victor and those of us who worked there consider it the best sounding small studio we know of.

Bob. its so cool you are here sharing all this. Thank you. Do you have any pics of the past? I would cherish seeing anything you have as well.

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