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Old 04-27-2011, 04:17 PM
mr. jp mr. jp is offline
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80s music - what makes it sound 80s?

All 80s pop music has a sort of similar sound to it, that makes it more easily identifiable to me than music from any other decade. Possibly something about the production. Does anyone know what causes this?
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Old 04-27-2011, 04:18 PM
joebuck20 joebuck20 is offline
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For me drum machines and heavy use of synthesizers will instantly date a song.
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Old 04-27-2011, 06:42 PM
Anticounterrevolutionary Anticounterrevolutionary is offline
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The use of the Roland TR-808 and the Linn LM-1 played a huge part in the 80's sound.
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Old 04-27-2011, 07:00 PM
TBG TBG is offline
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For me drum machines and heavy use of synthesizers will instantly date a song.
Yep. I bet a few decades from now the same will be said of today's music and heavy use of autotune.
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Old 04-27-2011, 07:20 PM
WordMan WordMan is online now
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The synth was likely a Yamaha DX-7 or Oberheim OBX(?) to go with the 808 and Linn Drum. And the guitar was a single coil with a thin, clean heavily chorused tone.
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Old 04-27-2011, 07:21 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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FM Synthesis, and gated reverb on drums.

Last edited by Kim o the Concrete Jungle; 04-27-2011 at 07:23 PM.
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Old 04-27-2011, 08:55 PM
Shakester Shakester is offline
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Originally Posted by Kim o the Concrete Jungle View Post
FM Synthesis, and gated reverb on drums.
Exactly what I was going to say, particularly the gated reverb part.
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Old 04-27-2011, 09:45 PM
Shagnasty Shagnasty is offline
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Most people didn't know it at the time but featherd hair coated liberally in aquanet reflects sound back into the microphone with a very distinctive reverb. Modern electronics have never been able to duplicate the effect perfectly and no one knows why.
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Old 04-28-2011, 12:33 AM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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The synth was likely a Yamaha DX-7 or Oberheim OBX(?) to go with the 808 and Linn Drum. And the guitar was a single coil with a thin, clean heavily chorused tone.
Or the Fairlight CMI.
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Old 04-28-2011, 12:38 AM
Tangent Tangent is online now
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Seems like there is also a lot more brass (saxaphone, trumpet, etc.) in 80's pop music.
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Old 04-28-2011, 01:41 AM
Horatio Hellpop Horatio Hellpop is offline
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Much of it is purged of Black American blues influences, and seems to glom onto Euro synth-pop instead. It's more rooted in Kraftwerk than Chuck Berry.

When I first heard the Smiths, I said to a friend "You can't draw a line from Elvis to this!" He replied "Yeah, but you can draw a line from Gene Pitney to it!"
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Old 04-28-2011, 02:39 AM
Pitchmeister Pitchmeister is offline
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People also played around with reverb more heavily, because the first digital reverb machines were coming out and opened possibilities never before seen. Very similar to synthesizers, when overdone they created a very distinctive sound.
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Old 04-28-2011, 05:45 AM
Don Draper Don Draper is offline
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Seems like there is also a lot more brass (saxaphone, trumpet, etc.) in 80's pop music.
It's funny you mention that, because as I was just having dinner with some friends yesterday, somehow we got on the topic of the over-abundance of saxaphone solos in 80s pop music.

Not too long ago, there was a thread about an 80s music cliche - "orchestral hits."

I don't know the name of them, but I do remember that there was a particular type of drums that looked like flat, rubberized mattes, and had a very muted percussion sound when they were struck. Phil Collins used them a whole lot. I remember them being enormously popular, especially in the latter half of the decade. I couldn't stand the sound of them.
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Old 04-28-2011, 06:36 AM
FoieGrasIsEvil FoieGrasIsEvil is offline
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To me, in the case of pretty much all hair metal bands that were popular in those days, recordings were very thin sounding. Guitars very treble-y, lots of chorus and reverb, nasally vocals, compressed sounding drums...
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Old 04-28-2011, 06:41 AM
Eonwe Eonwe is offline
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Don't forget the mighty Roland Jupiter 8, arguably the ultimate pre-digital synth in pop music.
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Old 04-28-2011, 06:51 AM
WordMan WordMan is online now
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Originally Posted by Don Draper View Post
It's funny you mention that, because as I was just having dinner with some friends yesterday, somehow we got on the topic of the over-abundance of saxaphone solos in 80s pop music.

Not too long ago, there was a thread about an 80s music cliche - "orchestral hits."

I don't know the name of them, but I do remember that there was a particular type of drums that looked like flat, rubberized mattes, and had a very muted percussion sound when they were struck. Phil Collins used them a whole lot. I remember them being enormously popular, especially in the latter half of the decade. I couldn't stand the sound of them.
There were so many awful uses of orchestral hits - I didn't see that thread, but bet I could add to it.

In terms of the drums, that may be what the other posters have referred to as "gated drums." The big drum flourish in In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins is a classic example - heck, all the drums. You set up a noise gate on the mic for the drum - so when the sound of the drum gets below a certain loudness, the signal is shut down (noise gates were originally set up to eliminate the hum you would here if you had a piece of electronic equipement on, but weren't playing it. You set the gate to shut when the volume was only as loud as the hum). In Collins' case, he set the gate much higher, so it cut off the end of the drumskin's reverberation - leaving a sharp, choppy sound to the beat. And yeah, a cliche of the 80's along with the Linn drum sound, exemplified by the drums in Prince's 1999....
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Old 04-28-2011, 06:55 AM
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I don't think it's simply the presence of the synths, but rather how they were used. There were tons of synths used in 70s prog rock and fusion, but there generally as a melody instrument. In the 80s they were used for riffs and even bass lines.
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Old 04-28-2011, 07:23 AM
Eonwe Eonwe is offline
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I don't think it's simply the presence of the synths, but rather how they were used. There were tons of synths used in 70s prog rock and fusion, but there generally as a melody instrument. In the 80s they were used for riffs and even bass lines.
Quite true . . . a major factor there is that synths with greater polyphony (ie, # of notes that can be played at once) were developed and released at the end of the 70s and early 80s. The Prophet 5, Obherheim OBX/Xa/8, Roland Jupiter 8, and a few others, were the true "arrival" of polyphonic synthesis, and didn't hit the scene until around '78.

Prior to this synths were melodic because they were only capable of producing one or two voices at a time.
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Old 04-28-2011, 07:33 AM
lost4life lost4life is offline
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Don't forget the mighty Roland Jupiter 8, arguably the ultimate pre-digital synth in pop music.
I still have one! Very rare machine these days.
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Old 04-28-2011, 07:33 AM
Sparky812 Sparky812 is offline
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The use of the Roland TR-808 and the Linn LM-1 played a huge part in the 80's sound.
I came in to say this.

Also, for guitar, there was Edward Van Halen and the proliferation of "stomp box" effects, MIDI, and digitized rackmount units which opened up the doors to a whole new world of experimentation.
My personal fondness for 80's music is in their efforts to incorporate different influences, styles, and sounds using new technology.
Which is why I find it amusing when people pigeon-hole all 80s music as a genre. It was arguably the most diversified decade in music history.
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Old 04-28-2011, 07:40 AM
Eonwe Eonwe is offline
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I still have one! Very rare machine these days.
And now every time I see your username, I'll think, "there's that bastard with a JP-8!"

  #22  
Old 04-28-2011, 08:10 AM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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I still have one! Very rare machine these days.
Nothing's very rare any more in this age of plugins:

http://www.zzounds.com/item--ARAJUPITER8V
  #23  
Old 04-28-2011, 08:29 AM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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In terms of the drums, that may be what the other posters have referred to as "gated drums." The big drum flourish in In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins is a classic example - heck, all the drums. You set up a noise gate on the mic for the drum - so when the sound of the drum gets below a certain loudness, the signal is shut down (noise gates were originally set up to eliminate the hum you would here if you had a piece of electronic equipement on, but weren't playing it. You set the gate to shut when the volume was only as loud as the hum).
It's the Phil Collins effect I had in mind.

I don't think you get that sound by applying the noise gate directly to the drums though (that's is a pretty common practice in any decade, and it's mostly about stopping the rest of the kit bleeding into, say, a kick-drum mic). What you do is you put a big, cheesy digital reverb on the drums, and then apply the noise-gate to chop off the reverb tails.

So your signal chain would be: FX send bus -> Reverb -> noise-gate (set with a high threshold and a fast attack).

... Just in case anyone out there was wanting to recreate the 80s.
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Old 04-28-2011, 09:23 AM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Also, for guitar, there was Edward Van Halen and the proliferation of "stomp box" effects, MIDI, and digitized rackmount units which opened up the doors to a whole new world of experimentation.
Provided that you wanted to sound like several million very angry buzzing bees.

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...Which is why I find it amusing when people pigeon-hole all 80s music as a genre. It was arguably the most diversified decade in music history.
True enough. I was listening to this kind of stuff in the 80s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyiYBajrefY
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Old 04-28-2011, 11:36 AM
Sparky812 Sparky812 is offline
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Provided that you wanted to sound like several million very angry buzzing bees.
Yep, or the use of Chorus and/or Flanger effects to sound like you were at the ocean.
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Old 04-28-2011, 12:43 PM
Mister Rik Mister Rik is offline
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I've sort of noticed that there was a dramatic change in the kinds of sounds synths made once the '90s rolled around. In the '70s and '80s, the whole point of synths was to create new sounds. Those sounds were monophonic in the '70s and polyphonic in the '80s, but they were new sounds.

The '90s rolled around and brought sampling with them, and suddenly the main use of synths seemed to be to simply reproduce familiar sounds and instruments. For example, putting an orchestra on a song without actually hiring an orchestra.

That created a fairly clear line between the "'80s sound" and later sounds.

Also, what somebody said about "trebly" sounds. The bass guitar was usually deemphasized in the mix, unless the band's sound was formed around a particularly talented bass player. For example, Iron Maiden. As hip-hop became more cross-genre influential in the '90s, bass started to be emphasized more.

ETA: Also, '80s pop had a lot of those "yelpy" British Duran Duran-style vocals that eventually went out of style. I was amused when looking at some '80s Japanese pop and hearing the singers using that "yelpy" style.

Last edited by Mister Rik; 04-28-2011 at 12:47 PM.
  #27  
Old 04-28-2011, 07:11 PM
Snowboarder Bo Snowboarder Bo is offline
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True enough. I was listening to this kind of stuff in the 80s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyiYBajrefY
Aye, great band.

Here's some of what I listened to in the 1980s.

ETA: Yeah, the typical 80s pop stuff and lots of pop/rock had tons of reverb and loads of crappy compression with gates for everything; it was new and people loved using new shit. Eventually we all decided it sounded like shite, and pop decided to co-opt rap & hip-hop because metal and hardcore were way scarier than music made by black people.

Last edited by Snowboarder Bo; 04-28-2011 at 07:14 PM.
  #28  
Old 04-28-2011, 07:59 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Also, what somebody said about "trebly" sounds. The bass guitar was usually deemphasized in the mix, unless the band's sound was formed around a particularly talented bass player. For example, Iron Maiden. As hip-hop became more cross-genre influential in the '90s, bass started to be emphasized more.
A couple of points about the "trebly" sound of eighties music...

First, it was the age of the Aural Exciter, which was supposed to increase the "presence" of the track -- or in other words, put more treble in it.

Secondly, this was also the time when the record labels were re-releasing their stuff on CDs. Mostly, they were taking the original masters on tape and converting them to digital. And the trouble with this is that when you mix on tape you'll bump up the treble, hoping that some of it will survive the manufacturing process of making a vinyl record. When CDs came along, the over-hyped treble got faithfully converted, and those early analog to digital converters were really bad at doing treble, introducing lots of distortion and crap in the process. So if you've got CDs from the eighties, they'll sound kind of horrible and trebly.

The way to do a really good sounding digital mix is to go easy on the treble and emphasize the bass (because deep, articulate bass is what digital recording does really well). They didn't really understand that in the eighties, though, and to this day there are sound engineers who hate digital because the techniques they learned in the analog world don't translate to the new medium (e.g. I keep turning the treble up and it just sounds bad, ergo, digital sucks.)

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Those sounds were monophonic in the '70s and polyphonic in the '80s, but they were new sounds.
I think it had to change. Those digital synth sounds were so cheesy and dated that it couldn't have gone on. A couple of years ago I bought an old Echo and the Bunnymen album, and I was disappointed with it, because the 80s style synths made it unlistenable to me. It was one of those "what on earth were people thinking" moments. And yet, I hear stuff from that same band that's more guitars than synths, and it doesn't sound nearly as dated.

I'm not dissing the 80s, though. Every era has its Achilles heel. In the 50s it was wretched novelty songs. In the 2000s it was the loudness wars.
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Old 04-28-2011, 08:11 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Hehe. I'll see you're Circle Jerks and raise you some Electro Hippies.

(Play Fast or Die is probably my favorite hardcore EP of the eighties. There's a Peel Sessions that's pretty good as well. But their album was crap.)
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Old 04-28-2011, 10:45 PM
Mister Rik Mister Rik is offline
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They didn't really understand that in the eighties, though, and to this day there are sound engineers who hate digital because the techniques they learned in the analog world don't translate to the new medium (e.g. I keep turning the treble up and it just sounds bad, ergo, digital sucks.)
Heh. Same way "old school" recording engineers even now hope the bass player shows up with a Fender P or J bass, or maybe a Rickenbacker: they know how those "should" sound and what setting they should use on the mixing board. Bass player shows up with some fancy, "boutique" custom bass, and the engineer just isn't sure what to do.
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Old 04-29-2011, 12:15 AM
Arrendajo Arrendajo is offline
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To me, in the case of pretty much all hair metal bands that were popular in those days, recordings were very thin sounding. Guitars very treble-y, lots of chorus and reverb, nasally vocals, compressed sounding drums...
Yes, it's the thin sound that makes 80's music so identifiable to me. In spite of the many diverse styles and incorporation of ethnic and world influences, the overall production of music in that era was brittle. It's like each instrument was allowed only a certain tiny range of the frequency spectrum, and the whole song was pushed into the treble end of the spectrum. Bass was definitely de-emphasized. The first thing that strikes me when I hear an 80's song (compared to modern music) is no bottom. The synth sounds are grating too, and horribly clichéd to modern ears. Also vocals were generally pushed more to the front. I hear some of that music today and cannot believe that I once liked it. But then I am always interested in what's new and don't have much appetite for oldies of any era.
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Old 04-29-2011, 01:24 AM
Anticounterrevolutionary Anticounterrevolutionary is offline
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Snowboarder and Kim, that's cheating. OP was talking about 80's pop.

S.O.D. (M.O.D.), Slayer, Circle Jerks, and Fear certainly didn't typify the 80's sound. If anything they were the antithesis, their sonic guns aimed at the 7 minute plus disco instrumental masturbation of the 70's disco demonstrations of keyboard, synth, and drum machine programming prowess. They were retro-progressive in their day and returned to the 50's methodology of unprocessed, 3-minute-or-less attacks against the synth-driven music of the 70's.

Even the Ramones, blessed be, albums of the 80's were over produced tripe compared to Ramones and Rocket to Russia ...

Punk and hardcore from the 80's can't really be included in a discussion about the 80's sound. They were purposefully outside of it.
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Old 04-29-2011, 03:11 AM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Punk and hardcore from the 80's can't really be included in a discussion about the 80's sound. They were purposefully outside of it.
Fair enough.

And yet, for me, the eighties was all about the underground stuff -- especially for a teenager in urban Australia, such as I was. I had plenty of Sonic Youth and Dead Kennedys records, but Milli Vanilli wasn't on my radar at all.
  #34  
Old 04-29-2011, 03:27 AM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Originally Posted by Mister Rik View Post
Heh. Same way "old school" recording engineers even now hope the bass player shows up with a Fender P or J bass, or maybe a Rickenbacker: they know how those "should" sound and what setting they should use on the mixing board. Bass player shows up with some fancy, "boutique" custom bass, and the engineer just isn't sure what to do.
I've still got my first bass guitar that I bought in 1989. (Not one of the name brands, because American imports were and still are ridiculously overpriced in Australia.) It actually puts out that kind of bitey, mid-rangey eighties bass tone. I keep it specifically for when I want that sound.

Here's an example of it: http://boxstr.net/files/6653964_ewaai/T012_128Kbs.mp3

Actually, I was going for an eighties pop kind of vibe for that song...
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Old 04-29-2011, 03:56 AM
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Take the song China by Red Rockers ... no keyboards to speak of (if any at all), yet distinctively 80s.

Can someone identify the specific elements that provide that 80s sound?

Last edited by Bearflag70; 04-29-2011 at 03:57 AM.
  #36  
Old 04-29-2011, 06:13 AM
Eonwe Eonwe is offline
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Take the song China by Red Rockers ... no keyboards to speak of (if any at all), yet distinctively 80s.

Can someone identify the specific elements that provide that 80s sound?
Reverb a mile wide, on the snare and vocals.

And, it strikes me that that style of song uses pretty sparse rhythm guitar, both harmonically and rhythmically (ie, two or three note chords, and only strumming every other beat or so). That feels pretty typical of other songs of the era.
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Old 04-29-2011, 06:30 AM
WordMan WordMan is online now
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Originally Posted by Kim o the Concrete Jungle View Post
I've still got my first bass guitar that I bought in 1989. (Not one of the name brands, because American imports were and still are ridiculously overpriced in Australia.) It actually puts out that kind of bitey, mid-rangey eighties bass tone. I keep it specifically for when I want that sound.

Here's an example of it: http://boxstr.net/files/6653964_ewaai/T012_128Kbs.mp3

Actually, I was going for an eighties pop kind of vibe for that song...
I tried to click on it and I couldn't get the link to work.
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Old 04-29-2011, 01:25 PM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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My personal fondness for 80's music is in their efforts to incorporate different influences, styles, and sounds using new technology.
Which is why I find it amusing when people pigeon-hole all 80s music as a genre. It was arguably the most diversified decade in music history.
This is true. People hear "80s music" and they generally just think "new wave." The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr., the Jesus and Mary Chain - all of these bands were around in the '80s.
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Old 05-06-2011, 09:10 PM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is offline
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I was listening to a new song about being into someone (young love and all that), and it occured to me that '80s music seemed more political or socially-attuned than today's music. The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum (Fun Boy Three) took jabs at Reagan and Thatcher, for example. Or Shiny Shiny (Haysi Fantayzee) was a happy little dance number that had an Authority Figure threatening to 'use [his] Colt'. Suicidal Tendencies' Institutionalized highlights the conflict between a teen, and parents who assume the worst because they can't communicate. I got a much more anti-Establishment vibe from '80s music than I get from new music. (Maybe you f*ckers should invite me to your parties so I can hear newer stuff!)
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Old 05-06-2011, 11:04 PM
Bearflag70 Bearflag70 is offline
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How do you get a guitar to have a "thin" sound?
  #41  
Old 05-07-2011, 01:07 AM
Arrendajo Arrendajo is offline
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How do you get a guitar to have a "thin" sound?
Take the bottom out, for one thing. If you want it to sound like it's being played through a little radio speaker, you take the bottom and top out, leaving only the midrange. Also do away with sustain, so the sound falls off quickly, typical of small bodied and short neck instruments like ukulele or plucked violin.
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Old 05-07-2011, 05:48 AM
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I tried to click on it and I couldn't get the link to work.
It's a direct link to an MP3. You may have better luck right clicking and choosing save as.

This is why I used box.net for this stuff. It will give you a page to go to, and that page will even include a Flash player that will play the file so I don't have to worry about you having an MP3 plugin, or having problems like you did.

Do also note that the site is running rather slow right now, so that may be the real problem. It could be timing out. I'd suggest Kim to host it somewhere else. Or, if they want, I can host it for them. (Just hit me with a PM).
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Old 05-07-2011, 06:01 AM
WordMan WordMan is online now
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How do you get a guitar to have a "thin" sound?
Often a Strat with the pickup selector in position 2 or 4 - bridge + middle or middle + neck pickup. Leads to a thin "quacky" sound - also used for thee riff on Sweet Home Alabama - add a little chorus effect and you're there.

Oh and play through a clean solid state (not tube) amp.

Last edited by WordMan; 05-07-2011 at 06:05 AM.
  #44  
Old 05-08-2011, 07:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Don Draper View Post
I don't know the name of them, but I do remember that there was a particular type of drums that looked like flat, rubberized mattes, and had a very muted percussion sound when they were struck. Phil Collins used them a whole lot. I remember them being enormously popular, especially in the latter half of the decade. I couldn't stand the sound of them.
You're thinking of roto toms. You can hear them prominently in The Power Station's Some Like It Hot. And, yeah, I definitely associate them with '80s pop. I don't know how much Phil Collins used them - I think his "flat" sound was more likely coming from the gated reverb mentioned above.

Collins was still using that effect into the late 80s. I'm not usually one to recognize drummers or producers, but the first time I heard Eric Clapton's Bad Love I knew that Phil Collins had produced it and was playing drums on that track.
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Old 05-08-2011, 08:42 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Originally Posted by Bearflag70 View Post
How do you get a guitar to have a "thin" sound?
You run it through one of those solid-state multi-effects units from the eighties. Like this one (although it's a later model):

http://www.ehow.com/info_8247523_zoom-9030-effects.html
  #46  
Old 05-08-2011, 08:51 PM
classyladyhp classyladyhp is offline
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I looooove 80's music. I believe it's the synthesizer....the highly electronic sound of the music.
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Old 05-08-2011, 08:53 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BigT View Post
Do also note that the site is running rather slow right now, so that may be the real problem. It could be timing out. I'd suggest Kim to host it somewhere else. Or, if they want, I can host it for them. (Just hit me with a PM).
Yeah, it's a direct linking site. So it should prompt you to save it, if you don't have an mp3 player plugin for your browser. I checked the permissions and they're set right. So I guess it's just a matter of catching Boxstr.net while it's not having downtime (which is, admittedly, not very often).

I'm not sure the song's worth this much effort though. I posted it because I used that 80s style midrangey bass, and an 80s style ARP synth.
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Old 05-08-2011, 09:25 PM
River Hippie River Hippie is offline
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I have a cassette of Johnny Winter from that era. He's a guy known for a pretty traditional style of music, blues, but the album (blanking on the name) has a sound that definitely makes me think EIGHTIES every time I hear it. One thing is a synthesized (I think) handclap percussion effect that was used liberally.
  #49  
Old 05-08-2011, 11:40 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is online now
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Y'know, that dance wasn't as safe as they said it was.
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