The article starts with, “Everyone’s talking about the great speech T Bone Burnett gave as the keynote address to AmericanaFest yesterday”. I read the speech and I read the interview he did with Billboard magazine recently. You can link to the speech with by clicking here and the Billboard article here.
T Bone Burnett is famously against digital recording, binary coding, and state-of-the-art digital processing. He produces his recordings using analog tape and he’s not alone in adhering to yesterday’s technology. He said, “I’ve been A/B-ing equipment for 50 years now, and I’ve gone with the best sounding technology at every juncture. We still use analog tape as our storage medium, because it’s the most durable, reliable and highest quality storage medium we have. Digital is terrible.”
He hasn’t “gone with the best sounding technology at every juncture”. He’s gone with a format that delivers the particular sound that he cherishes — and clearly it works for him. I certainly can’t claim that he hasn’t had tremendous success producing first-rate artists and creating unique soundtracks for film and television project. His production of the soundtrack for “O Brother Where Art Thou?” is absolutely gorgeous — but not because of the fidelity of the recording.
It’s interesting to read the two different articles because on the one hand he blames the failure of the music business on “binary codes” and yet he uses the tools and techniques of digital production for the television scores that he composes. Maybe the sound of television isn’t worthy of the “best sound” like his record projects. Or perhaps he uses a different set of tools as the circumstances demand. That would make sense.
The music industry can produce and release great sounding music on a variety of formats — if they want to. In reality, those who record and produce recordings don’t care very much about the fidelity of their records. They care a whole lot about the sound quality of the drums or guitars.
The new Brew Media studios here in the AIX building are finally finished and operational. The wiring of the patch bays and the final testing of all signal paths were completed just a few short weeks ago. And the room is booked solid for the next three months. A French band has taken up residence in the studio and is building their new album track by track using a variety of analog and digital equipment. They decided to record at 44.1 kHz (“Because going any higher is a waste of space…no one cares!”) in spite of the fact that the owner and chief engineer set up the first session at 88.2 kHz. They are using 24-bits but the signal path from each microphone passes through a preamp, equalizer, and compressor on its way to the analog to digital converters. What Pro Tools is getting — and preserving — is exactly what the producer wants. The recording medium in this case is doing its job.
Just like T Bone, all that matters is the final sound that comes out of the speakers. The group actually sought out an independent engineer to sort out the problems they were having with the drum sound. What was his solution? A little duct tape on the drum heads, some additional tuning — and more dynamics modifications with compressors.
The commercial music business and the people that create the recordings — including respected musician/engineers like T Bone Burnett — simply want a familiar “warm” sound. If analog tape gets the job done for T Bone, then more power two him. But I wonder what he would say if he heard John Gorka, John McEuen, or Albert Lee from one of my AIX albums. My guess? He wouldn’t like the clarity, detail, or lack of distortion — qualities that work for me but don’t work for him.