I don't think it's a good idea to make general statements about dead vs ambient recording
environments. They each have their purposes.
For voice-over, especially if you plan to use the voice as a tool in getting the message across, you
want a dry, clean recording. Many musicians also like this for mics on amps -- let the amp do the
talking and add plate reverb if wanted. Dry drums were also a fixture in 70s non-classical
recordings. I don't happen to prefer close-mic'd dry drums, but it was a style and worked very well
in some genres (funk, soul, disco).
In the real world of NYC studios struggling to make ends meet, the late 60s was doomsday for big
rooms. The rock bands wanted to baffle and isolate to eliminate bleed so they could record each
instrument to its own track(s) and then remix and add effects and echo later on. Jazz recording also
took on this style (for instance Pablo and Prestige records made at A&R in the early and mid 70s).
So the big rooms were now liabilities due to the high cost of rent. Big rooms didn't come back into
fashion until the Power Station opened up. That big room, which is literally an old Con Ed power
station generator room, is still in operation as Avatar Studios. 30th Street was doomed as soon as
amplified fusion jazz came along, but it held on for a few more years because it was subsidized by
CBS and then Sony. It also had a lucrative business doing Broadway cast albums up to its last days,
but how many of those could they book in a given year?
Very "live" environments are hard to translate into listenable recordings. Richard's story about the
chorus leader is interesting. In his church, one can find a seat where the chorus words are
semi-intelligable and get further cues from looking at the singers or following words in a printed
program. A listener at home has none of these benefits, he's at the mercy of where mics were placed
in the muddy sonic environment. If he wants detail as opposed to "atmosphere," he's SOL. This is a
good example of how the needs of a recording are different from the needs of a performance.
Net-net, the best studios had the ability to expand and contract the air-space around instruments
being recording. I think it's generally acknowledged that rock and jazz drum sets sound better when
they're recorded in a large-volume space with at least some mics not so close-in. And, as the
engineers at Denon found out, it's not a good idea to put an orchestra in an anacholic chamber and
then try to remix the super-dry tracks into a synthesized acoustic environment (although this is
nearly done regularly with film-score recording and mixing). For broadcast studios, it's probably
appropriate in almost all cases to have a sonically dead and neutral studio.
Going back to the genesis of deadened studios, my bet is that it was a revelation for 1920's sound
engineers to hear what microphones and speakers could do. Remember they were able to listen without
the degrading of a disk cutter and shellac product, they could patch the mic right into their
monitor system. They all of a sudden hear that the boomy rooms they were using for acoustic
recordings couldn't work with these new systems. The logical first step is deaden everything, so the
mic is just picking up what's in front of it. They knew that whatever "bloom" was lost in the dead
air wouldn't be audible on 1920's shellac or AM radio anyway.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Carl Pultz" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, September 19, 2014 8:06 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] recording booths
> "Pillow-factory" - that's a good description of the first 'engineered'
> studio I encountered. I'd started as an announcer in a station housed in a
> hotel suite where the studio had no acoustic treatment at all. Across town
> at the better-funded public station (!), their studio was state of the art
> 1970, or maybe a design that was a throw-back, built as a combo
> recording/broadcasting room. It was such an unnaturally dead space it was
> weird to even be in it. And when you spoke, your words seemed to disappear
> right past your lips. A ca. 2000 broadcast studio I worked in was not nearly
> so damped and didn't feel unnatural, just controlled.
> If I can speculate, I'd think that early on the major concern in
> broadcasting was for clarity. Any extraneous sound, internal ambience or
> external noise, would work against that, as well as risk the waste of
> transmitting power in an AM system. Radio quickly became a much bigger
> business than records and also seems to have led the technology for
> electrical recording. The record business also used radio studios for some
> percentage of its production, so it seems reasonable that the influence
> would carry through and persist. Valid? As time went on, bigger radio
> studios seemed to allow for more ambience. For instance, before the tower,
> Capital used a CBS radio studio to good effect. Stoky prevailed on RCA to
> open up 8H.
> One other aspect is that a 'dead' studio provides a blank acoustical slate,
> on which you can apply whatever effects you have to create whatever sound
> you're looking for (Electric Lady?). That might be the idea, anyway, though
> it's clear in retrospect that it was the studios that had a sound of their
> own that are best remembered and most successful for acoustic music (30th
> Street). Page's tales of recording Bonham in a big room just one example.
> OTOH, the sound of 70s art-pop is intimate; Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, etc,
> etc. Big-ambience ala Tony Bennett sounded old-fashioned.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Tom Fine
> Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2014 3:32 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] recording booths
> Another wrinkle on this involves the legendary Robert Johnson recordings.
> The booklet notes in the newest remastering includes discussion of exactly
> why Johnson wanted to record facing the corner walls of the hotel room.
> Speculation had been that he was "shy" or wanted to "hide" the tricks of his
> technique, but a new avenue of thought is that he understood the acoustics
> of the corner and used it to his advantage, enabling him to highlight
> certain guitar tones and picking techniques in service to his songs. The
> latest remasters include some very audible room acoustics, and there is a
> tonality very different from recordings made in highly damped studios. It's
> also worth noting, as a point of comparison, that the hotel rooms Johnson
> recorded in were probably bigger than the tiny booth-like studios Paramount
> used in Chicago and Wisconsin. Also bigger and definitely less deadened than
> Gennett's studio.
> One person who was very much against the industry norm of highly deadened
> recording spaces was John Hammond. He preferred lively room acoustics and a
> single mic or very few mics. He found a kindered spirit in my father, who
> was chief engineer at Majestic Records' then new studio in the late 40's.
> Hammond was very much responsible for sheparding forward the single-mic
> techniques that were later used on Mercury Living Presence in the mono era.
> When my father moved to Reeves Sound Studios, he took down the heavy
> curtains and installed diffusers in the big orchestra-sized studio, to allow
> for more lively-sounding recordings.
> I wonder if the idea of highly-damped and small-room recording spaces came
> from early radio studios.
> I remember reading in Barnouw's first book about early studios being little
> shacks with heavy padding on the walls and ceilings, similar to the
> description of Paramount's studio in Wisconsin. I don't think Edison or
> Berliner went to great lengths to damp studios, because they needed a good
> amount of sound pressure to collect at the horn mouths.
> -- Tom Fine
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Richard L. Hess" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2014 3:12 PM
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] recording booths
>> On 2014-09-18 1:48 PM, Tom Fine wrote:
>>> One more point about recording booths. I think some of what we like
>>> about the more primatively-recorded blues, hillbilly and other "folk"
>>> musics recorded in the 30s and 40s is a result of the highly damped
>>> small recording spaces often used. I've read accounts of Paramount
>>> artists talking about a small studio so blanketed and damped that they
>>> could barely hear themselves or their instrument.
>> When I was at ABC-TV in the late 1970s, the ABC morning show invited the
> choir of men and boys
>> from St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue to perform a short segment. I had
> been recording the choir
>> for a while and became good friends with the late Dr. Gerre Hancock, the
>> When Gerre returned from the gig (which I had no involvement in) the next
> time he saw me, he asked
>> "Richard, why do you make these studios sound like pillow factories?"
>> He was most displeased with the sound to no one's surprise. I think this
> took place in TV-2 which
>> was half of what used to be a horseback riding arena and went between 66th
> and 67th Streets, but
>> it might have been TV-13 in the then new Seven Lincoln Square building--a
> project I did work on,
>> but not for acoustics--that was 8,000 square feet (let's say 240,000 cubic
> feet and highly padded.
>> Dr. Hancock was used to conducing in a stone church of about 2,200,000
> cubic feet according to my
>> friend David L. Klepper's 1995-07/08 JAES article.
>> Just to point out the other extreme of the continuum of acoustical space
>> Richard L. Hess email: [log in to unmask]
>> Aurora, Ontario, Canada 647 479 2800
>> Quality tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes.