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The Real Problem With Digital Recording: Why Analog is *Better*

We all know that analog “sounds” better. That means different things to different people.

We’re not here to argue about whether or not digital “sounds” good or bad – we’re here to talk about what the real problem with digital recording actually is. And it doesn’t have anything to do with how it sounds.

The real problem with digital recording is the mindset that it fosters.

You see, digital recording allows us to say “ah, that’s ok if you didn’t hit the note. We’ll fix it up in post.” It allows us to slack off musically because we know that we can always quantize it later. We don’t even need to place the microphone correctly if we are good with our EQs and compressors!

When this wasn’t the case, singers had to sing it the way it was to be heard. Musicians were either on the beat or not. And mic placement was absolutely critical in getting great recordings. (It still is, but seemingly to a much lesser degree.)

So this is what we propose. If you’re working on a digital system (which you most likely are), the good news is that you don’t have to spend thousands on a fully analog setup to change your recording philosophy.

Instead of allowing yourself to “fix it later,” try recording an entire song without any of the tools that digital presents. And try to make it good.

This doesn’t have to be your next single or even a track on your next release. If anything, it can just be an exercise you do and delete right away.

What it will do is force you to make better decisions in the studio, ultimately resulting in a better recording.

And once you’ve learned how to make better decisions, the advanced editing and digital audio advantages will only make your recordings that much better. So try it out the next time you’re in your home studio and make better recordings faster!

6 thoughts on “The Real Problem With Digital Recording: Why Analog is *Better*”

  1. One of my most favorite posts, gonna share this on the blog. I may use a DAW but I work via old-school philosophy. In my world, during tracking specifically there is no such thing as “fix it during editing” it’s “Play it 20 times until it’s right.” Performance is EVERYTHING, I live by that motto.

  2. I find it to be a fallacy that digital recordings mean that you can edit and be lazy, whereas analog presented what was actually played. This is just completely untrue. The reason being, there was lots and lots of post processing in the analog days, and there still is. Every song that Jim Morrison sang from the second album onward…..was comped…….with thousands of cuts and edits. Before Autotune, there were other rack gear/enhancers/processors that helped with pitch (albeit, nothing like what we have now). And you DEFINITELY did not need to play it with perfect timing. My gosh. Do you know how many edits are on Lars’ drums on the Metallica Black Album? Like every hit. Yes, they needed a razor and manual labor, but they were still able to do it, and did it often. It’s just that now a days, it’s so much easier to do the very same thing.
    I was thinking more along the lines of the real answer about digital: Digital is like an HD movie on Blu-Ray. Analog is like a 35mm film that has burn marks on some frames when watching in the movie theater, there’s dust and scratches….noise….but this noise and basic “crap” is what adds to the film’s vibe. But see, not every “vibe” is meant to look this way. Some vibes are meant to be crystal clear, like the HD movie.

    • Hi Steve,
      I think most people that have been engineering more than a few years are aware of that, and shoot, to my knowledge I wrote the first book on vocal tuning/pocketing and track pocketing, so Lord knows we’re not against it. Like everything on this blog, we just want people to make great, or at least continually better, music. The tools keep making it *easier* (note, it’s always been possible, but was often harder to fix than to simply play it again) to fix, so we’re just encouraging a little less laziness, for both ourselves, and our friends, in 2014. Think of this post like an encouragement for all of us to get back in the gym. 🙂

      • I can respect that! And I do agree with this post. Encouragement is a good thing.
        In hindsight, I think what triggered my reply was the line, “When this wasn’t the case, singers had to sing it the way it was to be heard. Musicians were either on the beat or not.” This is why I explained about Jim Morrison and Metallica; as examples of where this is not the case.
        Over all though, I can appreciate your premise of working a little harder on performance, as opposed to trying to fix it later in post. That is definitely something that I’d think most people can relate to on at least some level.

        • Totally. Like Josh said, we all need that encouragement to aspire to our best performance.
          Reminds me of a story. I was working at Converse’ studio in NYC and showing someone some Melodyne tricks. Later, we opened an old Marvin Gaye multi-track…when they went on a mini-rant about how he was a “real vocalist” who “didn’t need editing and tuning”.
          As it would happen, my friend Leslie Drayton was standing nearby, who spent a couple years as Gaye’s musical director.
          “Are you kidding?!? It took Marvin 60 takes to get that vocal. He and his engineer shared a brain and would punch, and punch, and PUNCH until he got the performance he wanted to release!”
          The conversation ended shortly thereafter. Hard to argue with the great Mr. Drayton. 😉

          • What a cool story. Thanks for sharing. I’ve heard a Marvin Gaye track where it was just his voice and it sparked some very interesting conversations much like you describe. It’s very interesting to find out about how things are really made if we aren’t there to witness it first hand. Many of us just assume that what we are hearing is exactly as it was sang/played/performed…..when as you mentioned, it took many, many takes to sound that great. Makes me also think of Queen. You probably already know what I’m going to say, right? About how the tape was so worn down from so much punching that it was see through? When I see the making of things like Bohemian Rhapsody (on YouTube) and hear the final tracks being soloed and played……..I sort of feel inferior as a musician because it just seems like they got it right, right away. And as we know, this is just not so. But, this would also attest to your point about how important getting a good performance is (as opposed to being lazy as stated). Because those guys did play it until it was right. In Jim Morrison’s case, he was simply too drunk to sing more than a word or two in tune, so Paul Rothschild had to comp Jim’s vocals before Jim heard it, because he said that with Jim’s type-A personality, it would have destroyed him (Jim) if he’d heard what he really sounded like. I read this in a Paul Rothschild interview from like 1980. Good stuff! If you have any more cool stories to share, I’d love to hear them! Stories pertaining to your point about going and going until one gets the performance right. Like Marvin Gaye. Like Queen. Unlike certain others previously mentioned. 🙂

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