In the early days of sound studios, recordings were made directly to disk. The vocalist and instrumentalists would perform gathered around a sound horn that captured the sound waves. These sound waves caused a needle to vibrate that would etch the vibrations into a groove on a wax disk (or cylinder). This process had many pitfalls, the least of which was having to trash the disk after each take that was not perfect. Another problem was that the wax disk, which was used as the master, had a limited production run. Once it wore out, the band had to come back in and record a new master.
The advent of the magnetic tape recorder made great strides in the quality and convenience of recorded music. Once you had a great recording “in the can,” it could be used to create as many master disks as needed, without calling the band back into the studio.
Tape machines quickly evolved over a the next few decades by adding additional tracks. First multitrack recorders had two, then four, eight, sixteen, and even 32 tracks. Originally, this provided the engineer with the ability to mix the recording after the fact. With direct-to-disk recording, mixing (although it was not called that at the time) consisted of moving performers closer or further away from the sound horn to achieve the best balance, but you were stuck with the results that went into the groove. With multitrack recorders, the engineer could place various instruments on different tracks and then mix the amount of each track to produce an overall desired balance of sounds.
Multitrack recorders allowed for a lot innovation that previously was not possilbe. For example, Les Paul became famous, among other things, by allowing Mary Ford to harmonize with herself. Such machines also provided the ability to do double tracking. This was the process of recording a vocal on one track and then re-recording the same vocal on a second track. This is not harmonizing with yourself, it is trying to sing the exact same vocal as the first. The purpose is to produce a vocal which is richer and fuller than a single vocal performance. This process is also known as re-tracking, stacking, layering, or doubling.
George Martin was a big fan of double tracking and insisted on the Beatles doing it on many of their songs. In fact, John Lennon, who liked the effect but hated having to exactly duplicate his vocals, once asked if someone couldn't come up with a way to do it automatically. The engineers at Abbey Road Studios worked on it and came up with a way. Known as ADT, which stands for artificial double tracking or automatic double tracking, it was originally done by connecting a second variable-speed tape recorder which varied the speed slightly so that the two vocals did not sound exactly the same.
Another technique is ins and outs. This is using double tracking, but only doubling certain words or phrases, typically those that need emphasis or embellishment or only during the chorus.
Today ADT is accomplished using digital techniques, such as combining a signal with a duplicate signal that is slightly detuned and/or delayed by 15 to 35 milliseconds. ADT is similar to another effect called chorusing. However, chorusing tends to use longer delay times.
Join me again next month when we will take up some new terms.
• In 1968, Paul McCartney wrote a song to comfort John Lennon's son, Julian, during his parents' divorce. Originally entitled “Hey Julian,” it was later changed to “Hey Jules,” but it eventually became “Hey Jude.” It remained at No. 1 on the US charts for nine weeks, the longest for any Beatles single, and the longest for any single at that time.
• William Ashton, who had hits with “Bad To Me” and “Little Children” used the stage name Billy J. Kramer. He took the name Kramer at random from a telephone directory. John Lennon suggested he add the initial “J” to the name to give it a little more “edge.” John chose “J” in memory of his mother, Julia, and for his son, Julian.
• Diane Renay, who reached No. 6 in the US in 1964 with the hit “Navy Blue,” was born Renne Diane Kushner. She chose the stage name Renay Diane, changing the spelling of Renne to keep it from being mispronounced. Unfortunately, Atco Records printed the name on the label as “Diane Renay,” and she decided to leave it that way.
• The 1966 album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, was printed with the artists' names as the Mama's and Papa's. Later albums were grammatically corrected to the Mamas and Papas, dropping the apostrophes. The original cover showed the group sitting in a bathtub next to a toilet. These were pulled from stores after the toilet was declared indecent, and replaced with a cover having the toilet covered by a box listing song titles.