What can musicians do now that was not possible in the 1980's?

If you took any example of today’s music, went back in time and told artists/sound engineers they had to faithfully reproduce it with their technology, what could they not do?

Autotune obviously did not exist, so that would probably be out. I’m not sure if they could do the “dubstep” sound (maybe), but what else? I’m sure they could probably do the blow-out bass they have in some of today’s song. It seems to me that the big advances are computerization, but often they are just using that to make the workflow faster, clean it up, etc.

Certainly digital processing has made workflow quicker, but there are quite a few things that it makes possible that would be horrendously difficult any other way - for example: Autotuning is one thing.
Also, it’s possible to decompose a sound clip with Fourier transforms (and machine learning) and ‘paint out’ individual frequencies to isolate noise or separate voice from instruments, etc (brief explanation of how that works here: https://youtu.be/bXepo7x3r6M?t=419 )

Thanks, but if they were reproducing a song from scratch, why would the 80’s people need to do that? They’d have separate tracks for music, vocals, etc. for their own “cover.” I mean, I guess that would be useful to get “an ear” for the instrumentation used in the 2020 song, but I think someone talented enough and with enough time would not need that.

The computerization is not only to engrave scores and mix tracks. The computer can be used to synthesize music itself, and I do not mean merely emulate a Yamaha DX7, you can mess with sound on a low level limited only by your imagination. Mess with tuning in real time, interpolate between instruments, play with tone colors as well as mere chords, whatever you want. Not so easy or accessible or even possible even using $$$$$ 1980s equipment.

ETA compare some Infected Mushroom to 1980s genres, and frankly that’s just scratching the surface of using digital processing to create unique sounds, you can take it far beyond that, also musically

I think you’ve defined a situation in which there can be no answer to your question. Sound waves work the same way now as they did in the 1980s. Physics hasn’t changed.

No, but tech has. I’m guessing, and this is just a guess, that the 80’s guys could reproduce say, many 2020 country songs with extremely high fidelity, many (but not all) pop songs, and probably not a good chunk of electronic music, they could get close, but no cigar. The song would be obviously recognizable, but maybe 90% there.

I’d say that extreme multi-tracking wasn’t available - songs with many hundreds of tracks would have been beyond any tech you could have reasonably built in 1980. Now of course you can record more than one thing onto a track or bounce recordings from track to track but then you start to get diminishing quality. If I wanted to record 1000 tracks of my own voice singing then it can be done now. I think you could have done that in 1980 perhaps by connecting up machines and spending days bouncing things around, but not to anywhere close to the same fidelity - and it would be some sort of extreme tech project at that point. So whilst it would be possible I do not think it would be able to be ‘faithfully reproduced’.

Can you give me an example of a song that uses extreme multi-tracking?

Brian May of Queen has talked about the multi-tracking which they did for the vocals on “Bohemian Rhapsody” (on magnetic tape, because that’s what they had in 1975), and that, by the time they were done with dozens of overdubs, he could see through the tape if he held it up to the light, as so much of the magnetic medium had been worn off.

Would this have been a problem in, say, 1989?

Perhaps “extreme multi-tracking” was not the best use of language, but these days artists seem to use a hundred plus tracks as a matter of course. I know a soft-rock band who were recording an album for a major label (it ended up in the number one spot in the UK when it was released). I visited them in the studio one day and asked how many tracks they were using using on the track they happened to be working on. They were up to 105 - I wouldn’t even have regarded that as a particularly track heavy song or style of music. The band was a five piece - two guitars, a bass. drums and a keyboard - with all of them singing vocals of some sort. If these guys were using 105 tracks imagine how many are used on an electronic song? But agreed, mine was an example that probably doesn’t exist in real life - the only thing I can think of is Mike Patton’s Adult Themes For Voice in which every sound on the record is made using his voice.

Dozens yes, how many more could they have gotten away with? I’m far from an expert on this though, perhaps they could have gone on forever.

Yeah that’s one thing that would have been exceptionally difficult and time consuming, if not outright impossible, but is easy today - endless do-overs, tweaks, changes, swap-outs, additions, etc, completely losslessly

I think that May’s point was that they probably couldn’t have gotten away with much more, as the tape itself was degrading.

Ah yes I see the point you were making. Apologies.

These are mostly one and the same, nowadays.

Right. I was in a cover band and we had a tough time trying to reproduce modern artists like Lady Gaga. We were able to do a version, but not reproduce it. Not without half a dozen more keyboardists and a DJ.

i 'spect a lot of those tracks consist of a single ping or other sound, which could all be on the same track, but aren’t - for convenience when mixing.

24 and 48 track analog tape machines were around back then. If you need more tracks than that then you are getting into the realm where most people aren’t even going to be able to hear what you are doing.

Digital signal processing was around in the 80s, though it was fairly new at the time. Digital recording also existed back then. CDs came out in the early 80s. By the mid 80s recording studios were switching over to all digital recording systems.

While they didn’t use AutoTune (since it didn’t exist yet), the band Kansas had some way of correcting the pitch for vocals in the late 70s.

The “dubstep” sound would be easy to do on a digital synthesizer, which did exist back in the 80s.

Go back to the 70s and a lot of things become much more difficult, if not impossible.

Things like precisely syncing fx to tempos, which is a matter of course these days, was not available, at least at the beginning of the 80s. The implementation of MIDI in the early-mid 80s enabled the sorts of automation and processes we take for granted in music production today.

Since this is about music, let’s move it to Cafe Society.

General Questions Moderator