Live Disaster

We got through 4 songs yesterday. We put down about 40 tracks of background vocals per song or roughly 160 tracks of recording in about 7 hours. Needless to say, the vocalists did a superb job in the studio.

The vocal arrangements were very tight and reminded me very much of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY). My oldest son had never heard of the group. So we took a run out to Best Buy last night and I picked up the only CSNY CD that they had on the shelf: 4 Way Street.

4 Way Street was released in March of 1971. It peaked at number one on the charts and it stayed on the charts for 42 weeks. It was certified gold.

And it is one of the worst recordings that I have ever heard in my life.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had about as much business recording live concerts as did the Monkees. Perhaps not as monumental a disaster as CSNY’s six cuts on the two Woodstock albums, but not too far behind.

To a certain extent, this recording served as a very sharp reminder as to how perfect everything is these days. And, before the critics talk to me about authentic performances, this recording also served as a very sharp reminder as to how bad some of the talent was in live concerts back in the seventies. Not just so-so performances. I mean nails-scratching-on-the-chalkboard awful performances.

My son got to hear what their vocal arrangements were like. And his view was that he liked what the vocalists did in the studio much better. Which, by the way, was done pretty much live off the floor. Although the vocals were layered, and although I will edit the takes to ensure a high standard, the talent in the studio yesterday was vastly superior to what was arguably one of the most popular vocal groups of the seventies.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

5 replies
  1. richard cleaver
    richard cleaver says:

    Some of the songs will have in excess of 100 tracks. That makes for a big mixing job.

    For this session I prepped a separate Pro Tools document for vocals only. I made a stem of the instrumental tracks, basically a rough mix without vocals, and set up all of the BG tracks ahead of time. I had to set up all the input, output and cues for each track, as well as memory locations, to allow for rapid tracking of the various vocal parts. By stacking the harmonies 4 times, we get a rich, layered vocal sound. But the last thing you want to do is make the talent wait while you set up the technical environment for another “stack” of bg vocals.

    This technique for background vocals is widely used. The only disadvantage is that it takes a lot of editing unless you are working with experienced studio vocalists. For example, the studio vocalist will put esses and tees on the first stack only and, if singing parts, usually in time. For all of the BG tracks, I will have to align and fade to create a strong sense of unison. And I will have to cut and paste esses and tees so that the happen together. Painstaking work it is.

  2. kbartha
    kbartha says:

    How on earth did Lighthouse, or any other 70’s band for that matter, record 13 instuments and vox and still be able to introduce an orchestra to the same soundtrack? I don’t think they had 100 digi or ana tracks…

  3. richard cleaver
    richard cleaver says:

    And for that matter, how on earth did we survive in the 70’s without cell phones, Blackberries, email addresses and the Internet? 😉

    Technology makes some things easier. Back in the old days, assuming now that we are talking about the 70’s, we would join two 24-track machines to gain 48 tracks and/or we would submix. A submix would basically take many tracks and bounce them to one or two tracks.

    Orchestral recording for popular music was generally accomplished through discrete microphones (usually several dozen) and submixed to mono or stereo and recorded as only two tracks.

    These days, technology makes it much easier to accomplish layered sounds without the limitations of the older technology.

  4. kbartha
    kbartha says:

    Cool, thanks Richard. You probably already know, but I linked this posting to my blog earlier today. Andy shared your dream for the studio. I’m praying for you in it. How would you conclude an email in the 70’s?

    “Woah, peace out man!” Or is that a little too much 1980 surfer dude?


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