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The Truth About Music Recording

I've said from the point I got into audio as a hobby--almost 50 years ago, yikes--is that recordings are not akin to photographs, they are more akin to paintings, subject to an interpretation of "reality" that the musician, engineers, and producers want to create, and that is valid only on a similar playback system.

I've forgotten what all Ian Anderson remixed of older Jethro Tull material for re-release in the late 80s, maybe early 90s, but I know he was interviewed and quoted as saying he mixed it so the end result sounded good when played back on his wife's Walkman. No kidding.

As we like to say in the Midwest, "Welp...there ya go." Sadly, perhaps, Ian was ahead of his time.
A lot of mixes were made to sound right on car speakers. That is still a common practice.

FWIW though a Walkman with phones was not a bad sounding setup- it was meant to be hifi. Sony made a recorder version of the Walkman that was quite impressive. I used to do on-location recordings and one venue (a museum) didn't allow me to bring in the typical reel to reel stuff (this was the late 1980s well before Zoom recorders). So I set up my Neumanns and ran them into the Sony Walkman recorder. The master tape was surprisingly good.
 
A lot of mixes were made to sound right on car speakers. That is still a common practice.

FWIW though a Walkman with phones was not a bad sounding setup- it was meant to be hifi. Sony made a recorder version of the Walkman that was quite impressive. I used to do on-location recordings and one venue (a museum) didn't allow me to bring in the typical reel to reel stuff (this was the late 1980s well before Zoom recorders). So I set up my Neumanns and ran them into the Sony Walkman recorder. The master tape was surprisingly good.

Yep.



The only Walkman I owned was the WM-10, the tiny champagne gold cassette player. The sound quality from it was really good for the era. Too bad it stopped working years ago and was discarded because I see them going for $350 now. LOL
 
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You've described a very typical modern studio recording for small-band popular music, yes. But there are other recording techniques that don't work that way. It depends on the type of music, recording studio, musician/composers preferences, producer, etc.

The old school method of recording classical with a Decca tree and mixing down to stereo from 3 microphones doesn't use multi-tracking. And there are probably at least tens of thousands of albums recorded that way. There are other variants and recording techniques out there, the example I always use is 2L because there's a great video where Morten Lindberg gives details about his process and how he "mixes" by adjusting the physical placement of the musicians and microphones at the recording venue.

Also, if you look for interviews of recording engineers you'll find a huge variety of opinions on how they record and how much they rely on close mics vs room sound vs isolation booths vs other techniques. It's not a black-and-white topic.

There are also some cases where film recording workflows are used for music, because of the musicians/composers preferences. That is a multi-track process but it's different from the "split up solo performances" as they use 50-100+ microphones to record an orchestra as it plays together. Dozens of them are there only to record reflections at various points in the (large) room.



I don't know where this idea of "artificial" vs "real" comes from in the first place, honestly. Whether or not a recording is a GOOD representation of a psycho-acoustic space is separate from how it was made.

Saying that any mix that is digitally altered or multi-tracked is "artificial" doesn't make any sense, because ANY recording is artificial! The mere process of using physical microphones to record sound alters it. Microphones have their own frequency response, directivity, and their placement and number heavily alters the sound on the recording, just as much as any post-processing EQ could. It's just more physical work.

By far the biggest handicap is the use of stereo itself. It's simply not capable of representing instruments in a space effectively, multi-channel is a requirement.
I can tell you where artificial comes from. Autotune and Quantizing. They are altering live performances so crappy singers and sloppy musicians sound perfectly in time and in tune. Going from 8 track reel to reel in the 80s to hard drive 16 track Fostex in the 2000s and SD drive Tascam 24 now, I almost wish I had started recording more recently because there are so many advantages to doing everything on a computer, with so many aps out there. In fact someone I know was gifted a multitrack machine recently and I almost feel like telling him not to spend time learning it, which will be a lifetime of buying new hardware for outdated methods. Get a focusrite, a daw and learn the modern way.
 
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