What makes a track sound old?

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What makes a track sound old?

Post by Drew Stephenson »

I have a colleague who is about half my age but we have a large cross-over in music tastes. Since discovering this we've been swapping recommendations and suggestions. Today I recommended they listen to the Together Alone album by Crowded House.
Intriguingly they replied saying that they liked the songs but that it sounded 'old'.
And we got into a bit of a discussion about what makes a record sound old and what makes another 'timeless'.
I don't think it's as simple as comparative loudness, or even an extended low frequency response (though these are probably factors), but I can't articulate what it might be.
For comparison, an album we both like but think sounds 'current' would be Sleep Well Beast by The National.
Is it the complexity of the orchestration? The use of more non-traditional instruments?
Answers or suggestions on a postcard please...

(One thing I will ask them tomorrow is for a couple of suggestions of old tracks that don't sound it.)
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Ian Shaw »

By old, do you mean dated?

Some records seem to stand the test of time & some don't.

From what I recall. Together Alone was recorded with producer, Youth, who had a more 'catch the moment' kind of style, then fix it in the mix, unlike Mitchell Froom who produced their earlier albums which are much more pristine in their sound.

Don't know if that helps the discussion any...

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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Drew Stephenson »

It does, and I'm not sure if I mean 'dated' or just 'old'. My colleague listened to the album and immediately went to check on the age of it.
I'll try Woodface on them and see what they say. :thumbup:
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by BJG145 »

OK, don't know any of these, listening now.

Together Alone...opening track, Kare Kare. Nice, trying to imagine myself at a festival hearing this from a new band, no problems. Nice and mellow. I like it.

***

...hit stop at 1.13, switching to Sleep Well Beast...opening track Nobody Else Will Be There. Cool, I could just as easily imagine hearing this at a gig by a new band I never heard of.

So...if there's a difference in how old they sound, I missed it too. Thanks for introducing me to a couple of new tracks though.

Together Alone dates from 1993, Sleep Well Beast from 2018. That's quite a difference. It may simply come down to prior knowledge of what contemporaneous tracks sounded like. Which I suppose is the point. Easy guessing game if they're familiar with those particular bands though.

Here's an experiment for you...three tracks you might not know. Hit Play without looking and guess the date.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jxj2D2jEqok
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wycjnCCgUes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t2ZufBbnD8
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Eddy Deegan »

This is an interesting subject Drew, I'm glad you raised it because I've been working recently with an ex-bandmate on getting the (stereo only, no multis) album we produced back in the '90s into good enough shape for them to re-re-release. I'm also expecting a DVD in the post later this week of a short film I did the soundtrack for roundabout the same time, which I thought had been long lost. Listening to these projects, I'm really happy with the work (in fact I think it's right up there with the best I've ever done) but I'd engineer them differently today and possibly for all the wrong reasons.

Production values probably have a lot to do with 'the old sound', where the term refers to a time before the commencement of the loudness wars. Guitars (especially electric) have been a thing since long before that of course but the use of synthesizers in non-synth-specific projects has changed much over the years.

Together Alone album features keyboards in the shape of Hammonds (or something much alike), and possibly some other electronic keyboards but has less of the 'nice synths because we can' stuff going on than it might have these days. I wasn't familiar with the album and auditioned some of it on Youtube just now - I really like it by the way, and will be buying a CD shortly.

To me the dynamic range seems greater than a lot of more modern stuff. I see it came out in '93 and my perception is that it's not trying to grab the attention of the listener, it's doing it's own thing on a bit of a 'take it or leave it' basis (I know that feeling - hence the name of the album I produced a year later in '94). The listener is rather invited to judge it for themselves, whereas a lot of more recent productions in the industry take more of a "we're gonna make you like this whether you want to or not" approach.

When it was produced there were far fewer alternative sources of music and these days the room seems far more crowded (heh!) with bodies shrieking for attention and I think a lot of contemporary productions reflect that shriek in both the composition and production.

In short, it's of its time. Despite being a commercial band it sounds to me as if they had the luxury of being able to write the music they wanted to write and that, combined with the lesser competition from the online sources we all know and love/hate in equal measure resulted in a sound that has integrity, is good enough to have warranted them getting over the parapet in the first place and stands on its own two feet.

I could be spouting proverbial sphericals but that's my take on it. Now if you'll excuse me I have a CD to go and buy ;-)
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by RichardT »

Tracks recorded in analogue seem to me to have a family sound - a slight rounding off of the corners, a slightly un-natural warmth. I can understand why people like it, but it’s not real.

In the digital era, I think the quality of good recordings has got better and better, but my sense (probably wrong!) is that things have plateaued in the past 10 years. There are plenty of bad recordings and I find them harder to date.

Modern pop styles sound quite un-natural, which I guess is down to the availability of unlimited processing. Even some jazz, such as Snarky Puppy, falls victim to this. I listened to a recent Take That album once - it was hard to listen to! I think (hope) that this material will date quite quickly.

Of course, changes in style date music more!
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by resistorman »

Well, everything has had a hip-hop beat for years now, so music without it sounds old :D
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Arpangel »

resistorman wrote: Thu Jul 08, 2021 5:12 am Well, everything has had a hip-hop beat for years now, so music without it sounds old :D

Nail hit on head, also just look at the presets in drum boxes today, that should tell you all you need to know.
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by decibelboy »

instrumentation surely is the key for this? Go listen to a pop rock album from 1993, then go listen to a pop rock album from now. Or anything produced by Dave Stewart or Midge Ure, such a period sound. We just have considered it old, rather than yet retro (the 80's) or timeless (50s-70's not disco)

but what do I know huh
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Drew Stephenson »

Useful stuff, thanks folks.
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by zenguitar »

The Sackbut solo is usually a reliable indicator of a track sounding old.

Andy :beamup:
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Drew Stephenson »

Note to self: cancel ramshorn recording session.
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by James Perrett »

Someone who listens to lots of music can probably date just about any record to within a couple of years or so - I know that I could as a teenager. This may have been something to do with the era where recording techniques were evolving very rapidly but I wouldn't be surprised to find that there are similar clues on more modern records.

However, one of the few records that foxed me was "Come Together" by The Beatles. When I first heard it I didn't know who the artist was so I assumed that it was a mid 70's production - it had that typical dry, electric piano driven sound - so it was a bit of a revelation that The Beatles were making those sorts of records 5 years ahead of their time.
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by ManFromGlass »

This morning’s Unexpected Chuckle Award goes to Andy!
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by resistorman »

BJG145 wrote: Wed Jul 07, 2021 6:46 pm OK, don't know any of these, listening now.

Together Alone...opening track, Kare Kare. Nice, trying to imagine myself at a festival hearing this from a new band, no problems. Nice and mellow. I like it.

***

...hit stop at 1.13, switching to Sleep Well Beast...opening track Nobody Else Will Be There. Cool, I could just as easily imagine hearing this at a gig by a new band I never heard of.

So...if there's a difference in how old they sound, I missed it too. Thanks for introducing me to a couple of new tracks though.

Together Alone dates from 1993, Sleep Well Beast from 2018. That's quite a difference. It may simply come down to prior knowledge of what contemporaneous tracks sounded like. Which I suppose is the point. Easy guessing game if they're familiar with those particular bands though.

Here's an experiment for you...three tracks you might not know. Hit Play without looking and guess the date.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jxj2D2jEqok
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wycjnCCgUes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t2ZufBbnD8

Wow, Tame Impala nails the sound. I like it. Thanks.
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Drew Stephenson »

BJG145 wrote: Wed Jul 07, 2021 6:46 pm Here's an experiment for you...three tracks you might not know. Hit Play without looking and guess the date.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jxj2D2jEqok
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wycjnCCgUes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t2ZufBbnD8

Well I wasn't remotely close with the dates but I was able to put them in the right order chronologically. The last one sounded 'old' whereas the Tame Impalas one sounded modern but 'retro'. The Espers one sounded older than it was other than the lyrics which seemed much more modern than the production.

I think one thing that I'm picking up in more recent productions is that even if they're based around a live drum kit, there's a lot more rhythm enhancement from electronic devices (either drum machines or soft sequencers (is that a thing? You know what I mean though). And I think I'm hearing a lot more sample-replacement (or at least enhancement) on the real kits as well.
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Music Wolf »

The Espers sounded a lot older than it was. I think that it's a cover of an old Blue Oyster Cult number but done very differently, however it sounds as though they've deliberately gone for a late 60's early 70's feel.

The Tame Impala track sounds very up to date but I also realised that I've heard it before as my teenage son listens to it in my car.
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by OneWorld »

"What makes a track sound old?"

A pair of ears that are <27 years old?

I just had a listen, they're all old, but first track goes back to the beginning of time, with the Led Zep'esque chord progression and hippy lyrics, second sound newer because of the production - sounded 'fatter' and the third one sounded like as if he were off that pop show that X-Factor took it's cues from, it preceded X-Factor by some 10 years or more

That said, some stuff from the Rave Era would predate a couple of these tunes, but sound more contemporary, because of the instrumentation, production and arrangement. Each of the songs seem to hark back to the 60/70's
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Airfix »

Old i'm thinking may not be the right word here - stale perhaps - some things have a short shelf life - ephemeral music - pop like fashion - dallas shoulder pads
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Funkyflash5 »

While there are always some songs recorded to intentionally match the "Sound" of a particular bygone era, and a few that are ahead of their time (the Amboy Dukes sounding like the mid 70's in '68 comes to mind), there's usually a subjective sound profile to any period that has to do with what is popular, what was popular just before and is now out, and what gear is most in use (and how that influences the process of writing and recording). I think anything now sounds current if it doesn't fit any particular previous era's sound. To oversimplify, the early 2000s were primarily about a cleaner non-grunge sound that was compressed to death, the 90's were a backing away from 80's synths and gated snares, the 80's were shorter songs than the 70's with as many new sounds as the new gear could get, the 70's was bigger arrangements with 16 and 24 track tape and lots of money for studio time and players, the 60's was starting to use studio tools and tricks to record something more than a live performance in a room (over dubbing and bouncing, tape echo and flange, more close micing, ect).
All of those things have what are essentially side effects in the tonality of a recording that give a sense of era, imo. The repeated bounce downs in the late 60's and early 70's reinforced the lowend head bump, high end roll off, and hiss that make that time period sound the way it does. If I hear a disco beat on something thats not disco, its almost always from the last 20 years. Anything that became the hot new thing will get overused for a few years, and then hardly used at all for a few, before becoming just another tool to be used in a different context.
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Music Wolf »

I just came across this new release from John Mayer;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66Ne5dVDfLM&t=175s

He's absolutely nailed that 80's sound but actually, when played back to back with some real 80's recordings in a similar style, you can appreciate the benefits of modern recording tech. The sound is far more 'focused' for want of a better term.

The 80's vibe extends to the video. They must have had great fun doing it.
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Drew Stephenson »

Interesting find MW, clearly a combination of production and composition/instrumentation hitting that particular nail on the head.
My colleague (who's the cause of this discussion) did come up with a couple of older examples that don't sound dated to their young ears, David Gray's White Ladder album (now 23 years old), and Natalie Merchant's Ophelia from the same year.
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Dynamic Mike »

Music Wolf wrote: Sat Jul 17, 2021 10:52 am I just came across this new release from John Mayer;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66Ne5dVDfLM&t=175s

He's absolutely nailed that 80's sound but actually, when played back to back with some real 80's recordings in a similar style, you can appreciate the benefits of modern recording tech. The sound is far more 'focused' for want of a better term.

The 80's vibe extends to the video. They must have had great fun doing it.

The entire Sob Rock album is worth a listen. All 70's/80's productions with perhaps a little extra clarity. Great album for playing spot the influence. Genesis, Foreigner, Paul Simon, REO Speedwagon, Chicago, John Melloncamp...

Discussed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55Ox5TDwPmk which first got me interested.

Don Henley's Cass County is possibly the country equivalent of new stuff done old style.
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Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by Glenn D »

Music Wolf wrote: Sat Jul 17, 2021 10:52 am I just came across this new release from John Mayer;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66Ne5dVDfLM&t=175s

Checking it out I found this ...
An awesome 80s/retro 'cover' made two months before the actual track came out!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A71rBlN8pag

Cheers, Mac
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How to make it Timeless Re: What makes a track sound old?

Post by tea for two »

We can look at it from

How to make a Song Timeless.

Here's my take

*Lyrics : universal themes that applies to "anytime anywhere" (thus No political, cultural, technology, clothing, styling, name dropping).
Inverted commas because Nothing applies to anytime anywhere.

*Instrumentation : sticking to those that anyone at anytime now future past used, will use.
This means mostly Acoustic only : guitar, piano, flute, mouth organ, strings.
Nothing electronic except electric Guitar.

*Composition : we all write compose according to a genre(s).
We can leave out specific aspects that were prevalent in each decade.
And just focus on what was timeless across every decade.

*Production : Not the in thing in production whatever it maybe such as auto tune.
Not the use of this fx and that fx.
Just KiSs.

*Drums. Some genres Drums are a must.
Every decades drums records had the sound of that decade (generally).
It's not the groove. It's the way they were recorded, produced (generally).
Two notable exceptions are the Drums from James Brown, and the Winston's Amen Brother song known as the AmenBreak :
estimated used total 10k times on music across several genres even upto now.
As for Electronic drums : listening to 80s,90s 2k songs we can date them according to the programmed grooves and sounds from drum machines of the era.
Although lots still like using vintage drum machines.
Thus Acoustic and Electronic Drums trying to find those timeless grooves, timeless production.
If the genre of music doesn't require drums, then leaving drums out.

::::

As for Instrumental music.
If sticking to acoustic instruments or samples of acoustic instruments, samples of nature should be straightforward.

::::

Electronic music.
It's pretty easy to tell apart decades in Electronic music because of Synthesizer development, development in Styles.

I would say we are on very safe ground composing Experimental Electronica.
1940s, 50s, 60s Experimental Electronica sounds same as current Experimental Electronica and vise versa.

I would say we are on relative safe ground composing Ambient.
1970s Ambient can sound as 2020 Ambient and vise versa because of the basic structure and basic instrumentation of Ambient.
It's the one genre in Electronic music that's the easiest to do.

I would say much of 1970s Instrumental Electronica sounds timeless :
so using just Analogue Synths, similar Styles as those 1970s Instrumental Electronica.
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