How a recording-studio mishap shaped ’80s music

How a recording-studio mishap shaped ’80s music


This thing keeps happening every single time
I listen to one of my favorite songs of the last 5 or so years. I hear this weird but familiar drum sound
that just cuts right through the track. I love it. Here it is one more time. That punchy, unnatural drum was the sound
of the 80s and it’s back. It’s called gated reverb, and like many of
the greatest inventions, it was discovered by accident. In the 1970s, drums on the radio sounded a
lot like this Host: They’re quite dry aren’t they? They’re just as recorded. To achieve that isolated clean sound, producers
and engineers mic’d the drums all over, including the inside. This was the sound of bands like Pink Floyd,
Earth Wind and Fire, and Genesis. At least up until 1979. That’s when Peter Gabriel was recording
his third solo album. His Genesis bandmate, Phil Collins, was on
the drums playing a simple beat. And here’s where something magical happened. So, according to their engineer Hugh Padgham,
their engineer, they had a brand new recording console with some cool features that included
a mic hanging in the studio to talk to the band. That mic accidentally picked up Phil’s drum
and the result was a thick punchy reverb that disappeared in an instant. The reason? The mic had a heavy compressor on it. Which reduces the volume of loud sounds and
amplifies quiet ones – it sort of crunches a waveform. And the console had a noise gate which only
lets amplitudes above a certain threshold pass through and then it immediately shuts
off. The result was such a crazy sound that Peter
Gabriel wrote his album opener, “Intruder”, around it. Now, if you don’t know “Intruder” you’ll
certainly recognize this – made by Phil Collins and Hugh Padgham a year later. “I can feel it coming in the air tonight,
oh Lord
And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord” Thanks to a happy accident, the sound of the 80s was born. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord” The drums on “In the Air Tonight” were
recorded in Townhouse’s legendary Stone Room – its reverb came from the walls of the
studio. It was meant to sound like a castle. But not everyone who wanted good reverb had
access to that type of space. In the ’80s, once the digital technology came
to the fore not only was the sound of our music changing, but the things that augment
our sounds were changing also. Nothing illustrates this more than the evolution
of reverb. Reverb was achieved in the early days the
most natural way of all, which is to have an echo chamber. You would set up in one corner of the room
a big loudspeaker and in the other corner of the room, you’d set up a microphone. Here’s an echo chamber at Abbey Road Studios. Echo chambers took up real estate and real
estate was expensive so plate reverb was invented. There’d be a big box with an aluminum plate
in it, and the voice would go in one side, travel
along the aluminum plate, and come out the other side with a little bit of reverberation
on it. Plate reverb boxes were 600 pounds or more. Not great for portability. Enter the AMS RMX16, a shoebox sized unit
that created reverb via circuit boards and algorithms. Right there, in a box, we had plate reverbs
and underground garages and big concert halls and small and large echo chambers, and music
clubs. The AMS which debuted in 1982 was the first
reverb unit to be driven by a microprocessor and it had room for 99 presets including a
few that that created that unnatural gated sound with a push of a button. I think a big example was the work that I
did with Prince in the 80s. He loved that gated reverb. Uh, yes, that Prince. Prince used an Linn-LM1 drum machine that
sampled real drum sounds. Susan fed that Linn-LM1 to the AMS reverb
box and used a preset called “nonlinear.” Nonlinear reverb just can’t be replicated
in the real world without technology. Reverb in a natural setting tends to fade
as the audio signal decays. Nonlinear reverb actually gets louder. It makes a drum sound like a whip. Picture it like a tidal wave, a huge wave
suddenly stopping and hitting a brick wall. That’s the sound of gated reverb. That was the classic, quintessential example. That was the big one, that was the fat one. “You don’t have to be beautiful to turn me
on” A year after “In the Air Tonight,” those
huge drums were no longer an accident, the sound was built into reverb technology. Then for a decade, gated reverb was a sound
you just couldn’t escape on the radio. “It’s in the trees! It’s coming! When I was a child running in the night” – drum fill – “Oh, let it rock, let it roll” We really kind of used it to death, and by
the next album, by Sign of the Times, I was pretty sick of it. It seemed everybody else was too. When the 90s rolled around musicians favored
those dry drums again. But here’s the thing. After a about 20 year hiatus, It’s back. “Hey! When I needed!” Here’s Ariel Rechtshaid on Song Exploder
he produced Carly Rae Jepsen’s latest album. That drum fill is something that I always
just had in my head. They were inspired by Jack & Diane by John
Cougar Mellencamp. – Drum fill – “I’m in love and you’ve got me, runaway” Jack Antonoff of Bleachers was born the year
Prince released Purple Rain and here he is in his studio playing that Linn-LM1 drum machine. He produced Lorde’s latest album which has
gated drums. “In your car the radio up. In your car the radio up” And Taylor Swift’s aptly titled 1989. “It’s 2am in your car” The
thing is, producers today don’t need Prince’s drum machine or a physical rack of reverb
units to get that 80s sound. You can go online and download massive Prince
and Phil Collins inspired gated reverb drum sample packs. And that AMS RMX 16? It’s now a computer plug in. Sure, gated reverb drums aren’t a timeless
sound. They bring you back to the 80s, but that doesn’t
mean they don’t sound cool. This episode of Earworm is brought to you
by audible.com If you go to audible.com there are so many
amazing books about music. But there’s one that I defintely want to recommend
and that’s Listen to This by Alex Ross. Alex Ross is a long time music critic at the
New Yorker and he’s written some of my favorite books about music. If you want to understand music more or appreciate
it better, Listen to This definitely has you covered. If you go to audible.com/Vox you can sign
up for a free 30 day trial and download Listen to This for free. And if you choose not to keep the service,
you can still keep the book. On other thing is I made a spotify playlist
for you. The link is in the description. It’s called An Ode to Gated Reverb and it
has some of my favorite songs with gated reverb from the 1980s and today.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Here's a Spotify playlist full of gated reverb heavy songs from the 80s and today! Let me know which songs you think I should include and I'll pick a few to add: https://open.spotify.com/user/estellecaswell/playlist/5zh0IzdP530nxTKRmarv5q

  2. I'm completely immune to any of this, after not listening to other people's music for the last 35 years.

  3. Music from the 60s-80s fill movies and young people love it. They know quality when they hear it. Too bad art and soul cannot be replicated with a machine to create something that will last forever, like music from the 60s-80s.

  4. I thought In the Air Tonight was at the Virgin Records studio (same mansion). I swear I read that in Richard Branson's first autobiography (but it's been at least 15 years since I read it).

  5. Does anyone have a clue what's the name of the track with the punchy double bass line, opening this video (0:00 – 0:05)?

    PS. VOX's video series are awesome

  6. When you are showing the boom box and trying to make it seem like it is playing the music you should at least have the play button pressed and the cassette wheels moving.

  7. Dang millennials . This was done Way pre-80s on analog gear By many engineers, professionals, like myself… It’s ridiculous to attribute it to a time frame or a particular song.
    if it is done correctly it can’t even be identified…
    Says Recording engineer since 1968…Who used and or owned all the gear mentioned…
    Yes digital gear did replace and augment this technique in time, but it was not new and not particular ‘80s, just overused at that time….
    Believe me it was no “accident” !!!!!!!

  8. You forgot to mention mechanical spring coiled delay lines for reverb. They were pretty famous in the 70's and 80's

  9. Nice work. The original In The Air Tonight recording by Phil Collins didn't have big drums on it. The first sessions were finished when he played the song to Ahmet Ertegun, the Atlantic Records chief, who asked that the drums by added.

  10. What a great channel! I'm glad I bumped into you; I'm looking forward to learning more. Thanks for doing this.

  11. Not to be "that guy" or whatever, but its important to document that Phil Collins didn't go straight from Gabriel's recording sessions for 3/Melt to In The Air Tonight. He heard the Public Image Ltd. album The Flowers Of Romance and was impressed enough by the perfected and tweaked use of gated reverb on the drums on that album, that he decided to hire Nick Launay, the engineer responsible for that particular sound, to work on Collins' Face Value. Collins also did include Hugh Padgham, the engineer on the 3/Melt at the production helm for Face Value, but it was Launay's recording methods that were used for the gated reverb.

  12. Inclusion of Kate Bush "Hounds of Love" for the win. Quite possibly the best production on an album of the 80s made better by the fact that Kate herself produced it.

  13. I checked out the Spotify playlist and guess what? Peter Gabriel's Intruder is not in it!! WTH!!!!

  14. I've always believed music has been influenced more by technology than actual changes in composition. We have so many options nowadays and previous methods are still accessible.

  15. Sorry love but imho sound of the eighties (alas) is the overpresent drum machines, so many 80's recordings are unlistenable thanks to them !!

  16. Gated reverb has been used before 1979. David Bowie engineers used gated reverb on his vocals on Heroes in 1977. They set up mics evenly spaced every so many feet and put gates on them. So as he sang with more intensity, the gates would open and pick up more of the room ambience. Engineers have been using that trick all the way back in mid 60's with plate and chamber reverbs. Yes, drums were recorded dry a lot of the time, but not ALL of the time. Almost all of Phil Spector's recordings used plate and/or chamber reverbs on the drums and final mixes of the songs he produced.. just listen to opening drums on Be My Baby by the Ronettes. It might not be gated reverb, but it illustrates that not all drums were recorded dry and they have a big In The Air Tonight feel.

  17. illustration at 2:00 is incorrect – instead of lowering the peaks toward the "dc0" line, they should remain where they are, and the waveform that does not pass the threshold should be silenced. that's the whole gate thing, gate on, gate off.

  18. I'm confused by this channel. How do I subscribe to just the music stuff? Why are some just for members? What's a member in the context of YouTube? This Vox thing is all over the place. Simplify.

  19. They did play it to death. I was happy to listen to Tama drums in Mike Oldfield’s ‘Foreign Affair’. Such round drum sound was beautiful.

  20. Something so glaringly left out is the room the drums were in, It was the Stone Room at the Townhouse Studio B (2) which was a contirbuting factor to the Gated sound. It was all downhill after these Lps were relaesed because then everyone wanted and used that type of f/x patch and totally killed its unique applications.

  21. Nice nice video. Best sample to get idea surely was Phil's In the air tonite. Matter of fact, Im going to hear the full track after submitting the comment.

  22. We recorded some of our record at Buck Owens studio. It had a huge echo chamber across the street. We didn’t use it tho.

  23. That gated reverb is the primary reason I cannot abide to 98% of '80s music. It represents everything I don't like in a song – artificial, tinny, thin-sounding, vacuous, cold electronic drek. But then again, I'm an analog kinda guy so go figure. 🙂 It's not that I don't like synthesized music – it has its place – but that tinny godawful antiseptic '80s drum beat will forever represent the worst in music.

  24. really? listen to the opening drum rift on the lovin spoonful's summer in the city
    that drum sound has been around since the 60s

  25. lol, in the early 90's I got my first windows computer and bought a sound-blaster. It had reverb, they made out to be like something off the Apollo mission. Too funny, oooh it had different room environments like concert halls garage, basement and some others. great documentary!!!!

  26. It really amazes me just how far studio equipment has came just over a few decades. My first studio was a Fostex 8 – Track reel to reel with a basic mixing console along with midiverb effects. I immediately switched over to computers and recording on hard drives when it was introduced but the early computer stuff wasn't really reliable but they did get it right over time. The studio I have now rivals pretty much any of the big professional studios on a fraction of the cost with the exception of investing into quality mics and now those are being produced for a fraction of the cost too. It comes down to the person or engineer's abilities because decent equipment is now in the hands of the consumer musicians and Youtube is full of great and some not so great home studio mixes.

  27. only one problem! You can never get organic output from a vst plugin! And you can never get the feel out of button pressing drums popular among the talentless gen-z of today!

  28. woAh for me reverb is always that one thing in music production that makes everything sounds better, need something to sound better? make sure it's very wet

  29. Until that day i still put too much sustain pedal when playing the piano, because i grew up in the 80s…

  30. Yeah I remember, they stopped using them after rumors that it contained a compound that made people favor neon / black and white color schemes and strange hairdo's. Phil lost most of his after it and it never came back. The stuff you get nowadays is synthetic and hardly has the same kick to it. One must really dive into the undergrounds of Berlin or London to find the real deal.

  31. Those were definitely not the only ways to achieve reverb at the time. At the very least, spring reverb has been in existence since around the 1930's. It was originally developed for use in Hammond organs. And yes, spring reverb is quite different than plate reverb.

  32. Hey, I think I mishead it as Kendang/Ketipung sounds! Its soooo familiar but I cant recall it at first. Haha.

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