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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tech's Contributions to Rock n' Roll

MSNBC has an interesting post today called "Tech's Awesome Contributions To Rock n' Roll". They got some of it right, but missed out on some things that made me scratch my head. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they're probably trying to be as accessible as possible so they avoided some of the insider stuff, but we don't have to do that here. So here's my version of the most awesome tech contributions to rock n' roll.

Leo Fender's Telecaster - not the first electric guitar but the one that set the stage for everything guitar oriented that we know today.

The Woodstock Sound System - as the MSNBC article points out, when The Beatles last toured in 1966, no one could hear them and they couldn't hear themselves because the sound systems were so inadequate. Just 3 years later, Terry Hanley's sound system at Woodstock allowed at least some of the 300,000 to hear what was going on. From that moment on, sound system design began to rise to the level of sophistication that it is today. Some say we've even regressed a bit since the 80's-90's but that's a discussion for another day.

Stage Monitors - When I first started playing in bands, you heard yourself by pointing the sound system a little towards the stage and hope that you'd hear a little bit. Of course, this would never work on a large stage in a large venue, so the art of stage monitoring was born. Now it's taken for granted that a performer can not only hear himself, but get the perfect mix to compliment the performance. Indeed, monitors were a huge advance in the art of performance.

The Mutlitrack Recorder - Thanks to recently departed Les Paul for this one. Les figured out not only how to pack 8 tracks on to a piece of magnetic tape, but how to monitor off the tape so you overdub and stay in sync with the previously recorded material. It's something that we so take for granted today, but where would our recordings be without it?

The LinnDrum - Finding a great drummer was a real pain once upon a time. It seemed like it was always the drummer that couldn't keep time (what a contradiction) and that meant that you would never get a great recording. Roger Linn fixed that with his stand alone drum machine called the LinnDrum. Now you didn't need a drummer to get some great, solid drum tracks (but you did need a programmer). Drummer's kicked and screamed about how it was putting them out of business, then adapted and found that playing along with it actually improved their skills. Great little drum machines are cheap these days, and as a result, it's improved the time of most drummers by about a thousand percent. In fact, it's pretty hard these days to find a drummer at any level who can't play along with a drum machine or click track any more (which was really hard to find there for a while). Thanks, Roger!

The Fender Bassman Amplifier - although MSNBC declared the Marshall guitar amp as the innovator, Jim Marshall was just trying to copy Leo Fender's original Bassman amplifier. He couldn't get it exactly right because he couldn't source the same parts in England, which turned out to be to everyone's benefit. But the original 1959 Bassman amplifier is still held in great esteem, and many claim it's still the best guitar amp every made.

Soundtools (later called Pro Tools) - when the two channel digital audio workstation by Digidesign called Soundtools came out, it was looked down upon by the hard-core pros of the world. It didn't sound very good and was a bit clunky to use, but a few of us saw the future. And it wasn't that long before the future was here with the multitrack version called Pro Tools. Again, the industry was slow to adopt a DAW as the centerpiece of a studio, but almost overnight Pro Tools made boat anchors out of the $150,000 Sony 3348 digital tape machines (you can't even give them away today). Pro Tools lead the way for the home studio revolution as well, making it possible to have a studio far more powerful than The Beatles ever had for just a few thousand dollars. Of course there are lots of other DAWs, and most of them are fine pieces of digital architecture, but it was Soundtools that turned the tide from an analog studio to a digital one.

These are just some of the examples off the top of my head. Can you think of anything else?


Unknown said...

Between multi-track recording and ProTools was, at the very least, SoundDroid, by Lucasfilm.

Bobby Owsinski said...

It's true, SoundDroid made a huge behind-the-scenes impact on digital recording.


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