Tips & Techniques: A '70s Sound For the '90s

by Al Peterson

It never fails. Only last week that new production library and FX collection arrived at the studio, and the old "disco" collection finally got ash-canned, just in time for your PD to tell you he's planning a Labor Day "70's Weekend" and needs all that stuff to pull it off.

Don't sweat it. With some ingenuity and a touch of technology you probably already have in your studio, you can come to the rescue once again.

True, you can always seamlessly splice together musical montages of hits from Steely Dan, the Doobies, and the Eagles, but for that "70's Sound", fly them through the flanger (or reel-flange on the way to cart) -- just like they did back when.

Liners and bumpers get extra oomph with a touch of vocal doubling: merely overdub your voice part twice a la John Lennon's recording style.

Much of what was accomplished production-wise during the 70's was due to the limitations of technology available, but considering a good number of stations are now better equipped than many recording facilities back then, recreating a typical 70's sound with new toys is a breeze. Just keep a few things in mind:

Violinists got rich playing on disco records, so stock up on a few good string patch diskettes for the sampler. There was hardly any reverberation on rhythm tracks and lots of Latin percussion sound (finally, you get to use that "Agogo" button!), so leave out that Collins snare effect on custom music tracks. Same goes for saxes (witness "Sir Duke" or "The Night Chicago Died"); dry, dry, dry. For my money, Sound Ideas' Sampler Library and the McGill University collection are among the best sampler libraries available.

Some sounds of the seventies are better left to the original devices that created them -- I say this to keep you from going nuts trying to write a new patch at 11 p.m. Thursday night. For instance, that's an EMI-Wurlitzer electric piano on Queen's "You're My Best Friend," an overdriven guitar played with a coin (honest) on everything Queen did, Roto-Toms for "Beach Baby's" round-the-kit fills, and the ever-present Syn-Drums to do those descending percussive stabs in "Baker Street." Some of these babies are tough to find, but your local high school should have a set of Roto-Toms you can load into the sampler, and the Mattel SynSonics toy drum box does a pretty respectable job on "Baker Street."

For that ELO "Mr. Blue Sky" sound, PAIA company makes a vocoder (analog, no less) in kit form for under $100. It's worth a lot more for its sonic capabilities. Get their address from any magazine on electronic music.

If you saved your old analog synth at your Mom's house, send for it. The seventies sound isn't complete without fills from the old Moog or ARP console. Apologies to Yamaha, Roland and Korg, but there is still nothing like analog VCO's, VCA's, and sweepable filters to bring 1975 back to life.

Get ready for a rude surprise. MIDI wasn't around then. If you'll be doing some custom seventies style music for your station, understand you'll be loading discrete tracks into the multi, which calls for a certain degree of musicianship (or maybe your friends can double up on some parts). Doing your own custom music is a gas -- instead of using a laser blast (to cover a bum splice) on your way into your station's ID logo, mix the logo directly into what you're doing. Right at the end, play that little musical signature that's on all your ID's. Mine is F#-G-A-A-D-D octave. How hard is that? Drop in a filtered noise sweep from the Moog, and presto -- leisure suits just came back.

Final tips: thin out your rhythm track a little, as drum parts weren't as prominent in the mix as they are today. Go nuts with compression on vocals for that "top 40 AM sound," and be as sparing as you can with reverberation.

And before you go to tape, don't forget a cheap wah-wah pedal for the "Shaft" sound... wacka-chucka-chucka-chucka.

Have an outasight, groovy mixdown, man, and keep your lapels out of the tape path. _

Al also sends us this patch for the Yamaha SPX-1000:

Sometimes the best sounds are the ones that happen accidentally, and this one's a beauty.

Whenever I high-speed dub reels for our Sunday shows (all reels are bounced over to two large ones), I always send a little audio to the SPX-1000 pitched down an octave so I can hear "human voices" and not gerbil gibberish.

Anyway, after one reel was done, I marveled at the sound Bad Erasure Noise (or "BEN" for short) made pitched down -12 semitones. After a little tweaking, I came up with "Bradbury."

Named by our promotions guy ("that sounds like what a carousel would, in some hellish Ray Bradbury story"), it's a pitch shift program with massive regeneration and long delay times. When collected onto a reel, it's a fantastic background "space" effect.

The SPX is set to the parameters below. Badly bulk erase a cart so it's deliberately filled with shoop-shoop, thump, and as much garbage as is tolerable. Send it through the SPX, while constantly varying the pitch and delay times via MIDI or front panel controls. The result at first will be crap, but imagination takes over shortly from there.

If anybody from Yamaha Corp. reads R.A.P., I sure wish they'd come up with a software update where delay/feedback levels can be addressed by MIDI continuous controllers. I'd be the first in line to buy the chip.

Begin with #39 -- Stereo Pitch

PITCH: +5 - +24 P. FINE: 0
DELAY: 200 - 2300 FB GAIN: +77
BASE KEY: C3 EQ: OFF
BAL: 100 OUT LVL: 100

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