Recreating the classic sounds
Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of older country artists like Jackson Browne, James Taylor and Crosby Stills and Nash. I find myself gravitating towards these guys because not only is the songwriting of a different class, I find the production on their records allow the songs to speak for themselves. There’s never anything too clever or overcomplicated to cloud over lyrics or melody. And I think this is something that has been forgotten recently in modern music, especially with acoustic artists. Maybe this is because there’s a lot of technology and software now available to us, there’s often a need that we must use it.
I’ve been trying to re-create that classic sound, using only real instruments available to me (apart from drums). Listening to some of my favourite stuff, I’ve noticed a few things so here are a couple observations.
Panning was very important for certain instruments - acoustic guitars were often doubled and panned hard left and right. The small imperfections in playing made for a natural, live sound and I’ve been doing this in some of my recent recordings, especially since just getting a new pickup installed into my acoustic guitar.
Another thing I’ve found is that vocals are often very dry without much reverb or delay, allowing for the lyrics and melody to stand out. If there are any harmonies, they’re usually quite high in the mix and sit just behind the lead vocal. This thickens the sound in these older recordings where things like modern synths and pads might fill out the space in todays music. I’ve been experimenting with this and like to double track any harmonies and pan them left and right.
Interestingly, in Harry Styles’ new music, I hear a throwback to 60’s and 70’s rock music with the inclusion of sampled drums - creating an interesting fusion of new meets old.