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Tradition: the death of music

If you are into music production, you have probably heard this: the other day, venerable mixing engineer Al Schmitt said on “Pensado’s Place” (David Pensado’s online show), that there’s still no comparison between mixing ITB (“in the box”- on the computer) and doing the same job using purely analog gear; the latter still produces better sounding results. Big news, hey? You have probably heard or read this a million times (especially if you frequent audio related internet forums). It’s usually either these old, pro (or semi-pro, or simply just old) people who make this statement, or their fanboys, fangirls, and pretty much everyone else who buys into this hype.

The truth, however, is different. The truth is, digital audio technology has come a long way. It’s already part of our past, and definitely our present and future. Today you simply cannot tell if a given tune was mixed on a computer or a big fukken analogue console. Not unless you can see the process itself and spot people using either devices – with your eyes. Music is for ears though.

Tchad Blake studioTradition like that is dangerous, at least for people who decided to embrace new things. Because it’s usually those well known and already successful people whose opinion is well regarded and trusted the most. So if they say the good shit can only be done on the old school stuff, it will force people to not be happy with their cheaper digital equipment, and instead of trying to discover its depths and tricks fully, they will be striving to get the praised old style analog gear as soon as possible, and man, that stuff is not cheap. It’s actually these old, well renowned people who keep this whole money pit business alive. And when I say that, I don’t only mean the business of analogue audio gear, but the music business in general, as well. Because if they say that this or that uninspired, unimaginative hit tune sporting the same recycled chords we have heard a million times in the last 200 or so years was mixed on some name analog gear, they instantly make that crap out to be some hip shit, a sonic masterpiece that’s hard or downright impossible to achieve on a lesser, digital equipment. So they make this whole thing into an exclusive club that you’ll just never be able to get into, no matter what you do. Unless you shelve out the big bucks on their kind of gear. There are a few exceptions though, like Mike Shipley or Tchad Blake, who are completely content and happy to mix in the box, without ever worrying about losing an ounce of creativity or sound quality during the process.

Tradition is infectious when it comes to musical instruments as well, even when it comes to a relatively simple thing like a bass guitar; you will find a million fan boys who say that a passive Fender (P or J) bass is all you need for your studio, because all those big hits were cut on one of these old workhorses. Carol Kaye has cut a rather impressive amount of hits using the old “Fender bass” (Precision), but nowadays, she happily plays an Ibanez SRX. So it’s up to you, the clueless audio infected studio dude to go out and buy an overpriced relic of the past that needs to be intonated after a string change, is either noisy or muddy sounding (usually both), and sometimes have a not quite comfortable balance as well; or get something that’s not only nice to look at and sounds great without any of the above “side effects”, but costs less as well.

Tradition has its place, but you should not be snobby to give new things a try whenever you get a chance; who knows, you might get surprised.

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