How a recording-studio mishap shaped '80s music


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Published: 1 year ago
Warning: This is an unapologetic ode to gated reverb drums

Here's a Spotify playlist of some of the best gated reverb songs: http://spoti.fi/2vH7ZZL

Over the past few years a general nostalgia for the 1980s has infiltrated music, film, and television. I deeply love those gated reverb drums of the '80s - you know that punchy percussive sound popularized by Phil Collins and Prince? So for my second episode of Vox Pop’s Earworm I spoke with two Berklee College of Music professors, Susan Rogers and Prince Charles Alexander, to figure out just how that sound came to be, what makes it so damn punchy, and why it’s back. 

Correction: At 2:01, a previous version of the video mistakenly said the noise gate only lets frequencies above a certain threshold pass through. We should’ve said “amplitudes” instead of “frequencies.” The error has been rectified.

At 3:45 we noted that plate reverb boxes were made using aluminum. In fact, they were usually made of steel.

Further reading: http://www.musicradar.com/news/drums/classic-drum-sounds-in-the-air-tonight-590970

Some songs don't just stick in your head, they change the music world forever. Join Estelle Caswell on a musical journey to discover the stories behind your favorite songs.

Check out the entire Vox Earworm playlist here: http://bit.ly/2QCwhMH

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Here's a Spotify playlist full of gated reverb heavy songs from the 80s and today! Let me know which songs you think I should include and I'll pick a few to add: https://open.spotify.com/user/estellecaswell/playlist/5zh0IzdP530nxTKRmarv5q

1 year ago

Vox you cultural Marxists finally made a good video! I upvoted for once. Hail Trump!

3 weeks ago

Toto, Africa is pretty much the only 80's pop song that I like

1 month ago

How about a list for those not using spotify ? But probably i know most of the songs.

2 months ago

i was just in the beginning of making a playlist for gated reverb omg thxxx

4 months ago

No, no, no, no, no.

Hugh Padgham - that's pronounced pa-jum.

No, the console didn't have a noise gate on it, Hugh padgham used a Drawmer outboard noise gate, as did everyone at the time, because SSL consoles tend not to have the type of noise gate needed for this type of effect - if at all. They have effects sends. Not many consoles have noise Gates built into them, they usually just have patchbays, that allow you to patch in outboard effects modules.

Secondly, although the control room talk back mic gave Hugh the idea for the type of sound that he wanted after he heard it, that's not how the final sound was actually produced.

So Hugh double mic'ed the tight skin head (tuned so that it removed the boxiness) with a Shure SM57 & AKG451 small diaphragm mic to record both the hit, and the snaps, then heavily compressed the sound using a UA 1176 compressor, then added a huge stereo plate reverb using an AMS RMS 16 (which is the reverb unit you mentioned in this video - but it debuted around the time Phil was recording this album in 81, so was able to use it for this production), then used a a rack of Drawmer DS201 twin channel gates with the filters adjusted to let a lot of the lower frequency information pass through on the snare, whilst heavily gating the high frequencies to give it the sharp gated shut off & panned left and right of centre to add width and hugeness to the reverb through a stereo channel on the SSL console. The gates on the Thames were filtered differently to allow different amounts of frequency information to be gated depending on the tune of the Tom heads. They were each panned separately in a different part of the stereo field.

The sounds was further enhanced, by using the mix bus compressor on the final mix so that the drums were all heavily compressed including the toms and kick, which also had the compression and gated reverb, panned in such a way that the kit moved across the stereo field as Phil played fills.

The talk back mic was simply the inspiration, it was not the final solution. It just gave him the idea. Engineering it, was a different thing entirely.

It's important to note, that people had been tuning drum heads for different types of sounds for decades - long before the 80s. Gates had been used since the 60s, and plate reverbs had been used since the 40s along with spring reverbs.

It wasn't really a new idea from Hugh Padgham, he just made it famous, by enhancing the engineering aspect of this style, and making it popular through Phil Collins.

Tom Lord Alge had been using a similar method on his recordings and mixes for some time as well, however, he hadn't used it, or popularized it, to the same extent, or hugeness until then.

So it's not really an invention, it was just a sound nspired by hearing something in his mind, which itself was inspired by the talk back mic on the console.

AMS reverb was used a lot, because it had the type of plate program that was unique in its algorithm, which by the way, is still a closely guarded secret even today. That's why it's taking so long for AMS to introduce the plug-in for Pro Tools and other DAW's.

2 hours ago

Another example: Phil Collins' drumming on Frida's 'I Know There's Something Going On'

3 days ago

I always thought it was just what recording system sounds like back in the days. I guess I wasn’t entirely wrong.

3 days ago

Being a percussion player I was looking for a way to emulate this sound acoustically. Came up with this: a handful of ballbearings in a snaredrum: https://www.facebook.com/percussie/posts/2632982103385202

1 week ago

Fire. 🔥🔥🔥

1 week ago

In the documentary film Marley (2012), Bunny Wailer said Reggae Music style originated from a little accident, but I have not heard the full story, maybe in the future Vox will talk about reggae. :)

1 week ago

An accident? That’s a mountainous insult. Hugh made an observation and had the idea. But of course people who don’t understand that Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins are the Messianic Dante/Vergil Overlords of all cornerstone modernity.

1 week ago

I clicked on this and knew it would have to be the Gabriel Paghdam Collins story, and knew it would be told wrong.

1 week ago

Gated reverb is HORRIBLE. Avoid.

1 week ago

yooooo song exploder is one of my favorite podcasts

1 week ago

what about the reverb amps from fender in the 60s? 
it would be cool if the people talking about old music were there when the music was made. haha

1 week ago

I really like this channel

1 week ago

I personally prefer raw drums, but it really is an iconic 80s sound

2 weeks ago

Sounds pretty similar to When the Levee Breaks to me..

2 weeks ago

Always hated this effect. It's a hallmark of the worst of the 80's music

2 weeks ago

When The Louvre started playing, I started screaming! Melodrama is too underrated

But it made sense cause you started off with the Bleachers' Don't Take The Money then went to The Louvre which is produced by Jack Antanoff, who is basically The Bleachers

2 weeks ago

Hugh Padgham is famous for his particular punchy and rich sound. He's also famous for introducing the "gated reverb" effect to the recording industry. But these days, no one follows in his foot steps. Today it's maxed up limiters and a too heavily compressed mess. It's no wonder there is no more music worth listening to.

3 weeks ago

In The Air Tonight makes me want to, well, puke. Especially when to make something "rhyme" you just keep burping up, "Oh lord." :|

As to plate reverb, it was usually steel because it was FAR cheaper than aluminum. Typically a 4x8 piece. Often times a servo motor driving an Acme thread covered with a huge block of felt was placed at the middle of the plate so that the studio engineer could dampen the 'room time' of the plate. One plate I examined used a Crown DC amplifier (600 watts?) to drive it. What they called 'gated reverb' in the example given that Price employed wasn't so much a gate -- which uses threshold detection of a decreasing amplitude, but rather timing... increase the reverb amplitude (so it swells) for so many milliseconds then simply cut it off.

3 weeks ago

Props to Phil Collins for contributing to the discovery of gated reverb but it has definitely been overused in the 80s.

3 weeks ago

Sadly, that's also a story of how mainstream popular music neglected and eventually lost one of the most important things - actual drummers. Even when that specific effect went out of style in the late 1980s/early 1990s, the practice of generating the beat with all that technology remained. I love electronic gadgets, all the effects and samples, but you shouldn't sample the entire rhythm of your song. That's how I feel, anyway.

3 weeks ago

You left out quite a bit of reverb history that came after the plate reverb and before the creation of the microprocessor controlled boxes such as the AMS. If you include some historical detail, you ought to include all of it.

3 weeks ago

The eighties was the worst decade for music if you don't count the nineties, 2000 and on. The sixties and into the early seventies rocked...

3 weeks ago

YEA YOU SHOULD HEAR MY MUSIC!! <-SO TWEAKED

3 weeks ago

It's a good sound....but natural drums are always the best.

3 weeks ago

Ya forgot spring reverb.

3 weeks ago

80s sucks...

4 weeks ago

Estelle, you make great videos, please don't stop!

4 weeks ago

Worst drum sound ever

4 weeks ago

As a drummer, THIS is every reason I HATE 80's music. It's the musical version of CGI drums.

4 weeks ago