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  1. #1

    The Motown Sound Mixing question: A lot of compression?

    Don't know if this will cause much discussion but there has been something I've noticed for years about the way Motown's stereo albums sounded from roughly '64 to maybe early '66. In particular, when I listen to the stereo albums "Going To A Go-Go," "Four Tops Second Album," "Marvin Gaye- Moods Of," or "The Tempting Temptations" and "Getting Ready" among others, there is a quality I don't hear in the stereo albums from mid '66 on. Basically, it sounds like the stereo mixes used a lot of compression much like the mono mixes. I say that because I know compression has a way of bringing up little things in a mix that you otherwise wouldn't hear.

    When I listen to "Just Another Lonely Night" by the Temptations- in the stereo mix, you can hear a tambourine slightly get louder or lower in the mix, depending on if its during a moment where there is a lot going on musically or a more quite passage. The instruments sound so well-defined to the point that the strumming of a guitar sounds almost live and up-close. On Jimmy Ruffin's "As Long As There Is L-O-V-E Love," with the stereo album mix, you can hear what sounds like someone's watch ticking on the intro- again, that's something you get when you compress a mix.

    The greatest example of the sound I'm trying to describe is the "Going To A Go-Go" album. Listen to "Choosey Beggar" in the stereo mix. The drums and bongos THUNDER with striking force. The crash of the cymbals is enormous in sound. The vibraphones ring out loud and clear. The guitars are high in the mix too, and yet nothing overpowers anything else. Vocals and music are almost on the same even sound plane.

    Albums that came out around mid '66 sound as if they were mixed and mastered a bit differently. The sound isn't as huge- the music is still crisp and sharp, but everything occupies a relative position in the sonic landscape.

    Has anyone else noticed this too with Motown's stereo albums from this period?

  2. #2
    hunter, I know EXACTLY what you mean!!!

    I should start by saying that I don't know much (anything) about mixing or compression at all, so I am probably going to be wrong quite a lot... LOL!

    There is a definite difference in sound when it comes to albums from this period. However, I'm not sure I really like it... it doesn't feel right. I prefer the proper stereo sound you get from albums from '67 onwards.

    Albums like The Temptin' Temptations and Gettin' Ready, seem a bit odd when you listen to them in stereo... something isn't "quite right" if you know what I mean. "Since I Lost My Baby" and "Get Ready" just dont feel like they're in stereo. And I'm not sure if this is related but I'm pretty sure "Say You" isn't in stereo AT ALL!!!

    However, to completely contradict myself, "Who You Gonna Run To" and "You're Not An Ordinary Girl" are in glorious stereo and sound brilliant!

  3. #3
    I'm not sure it's just compression....there seem to be more going on than just compression.

  4. #4
    It's been discussed on here before, but no stereo mix exists for the Tempts' Say You.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by soulwally View Post
    It's been discussed on here before, but no stereo mix exists for the Tempts' Say You.
    Oh! Thank you soulwally

  6. #6
    Actually, you wouldn't know the thread in which it is discussed, would you? I've tried searching for it but "say" and "you" are too generic search terms!!

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by TomatoTom123 View Post
    Albums like The Temptin' Temptations and Gettin' Ready, seem a bit odd when you listen to them in stereo... something isn't "quite right" if you know what I mean. "Since I Lost My Baby" and "Get Ready" just don't feel like they're in stereo. And I'm not sure if this is related but I'm pretty sure "Say You" isn't in stereo AT ALL!!!
    You are right about Since I Lost My Baby. The version on Temptin' Temptations is mono. As a stereo purist, I have to say that the mix is excellent and that it was maybe 10 years before realizing and caring that the mix was mono. Universal later found a stereo version (2003) with a different vocal that sounded like a warm up for the final and included it in The Love Songs of Motown. The PBS box set from 2005 included this stereo instrumental track with the vocals from the album. Modern technology is sumthin' else.

    The crop of albums from Summer of '67 (Reachout, United, Make It Happen, With a Lot of Soul, etc.) had a distinctively different sound that I attributed to having more channels for recording and mixing. So I think. It seems that all instruments were more present or easier to isolate.

    The stereo album cover logo also changed at this time from Stereo encased in infinity signs to one with Stereo punctuated by a spiral centered pattern with these albums.Name:  26 First Stereo Large.jpg
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Size:  18.0 KB Name:  5 Third Tamla Logo.jpg
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by TomatoTom123 View Post
    hunter, I know EXACTLY what you mean!!!

    I should start by saying that I don't know much (anything) about mixing or compression at all, so I am probably going to be wrong quite a lot... LOL!

    There is a definite difference in sound when it comes to albums from this period. However, I'm not sure I really like it... it doesn't feel right. I prefer the proper stereo sound you get from albums from '67 onwards.

    Albums like The Temptin' Temptations and Gettin' Ready, seem a bit odd when you listen to them in stereo... something isn't "quite right" if you know what I mean. "Since I Lost My Baby" and "Get Ready" just dont feel like they're in stereo. And I'm not sure if this is related but I'm pretty sure "Say You" isn't in stereo AT ALL!!!

    However, to completely contradict myself, "Who You Gonna Run To" and "You're Not An Ordinary Girl" are in glorious stereo and sound brilliant!
    Tom, you DO get what I'm talking about, lol! Yes, that "definite difference in sound" on the stereo albums starting around '67.

    The only reason why I chalk this sound up to compression is that I've been recording lots of music and songs for years and I've always copped every trick I could from the way Motown's engineers mixed their records, right down to doing stereo and mono mixes on the songs I've done! Even my stereo mixes feather that coast-to-coast kind of separation of instruments, which now I realize were just sort of last-minute mixes, but I enjoy those.

    Someone told me about an effects pedal guitarists use that adds compression. I use these pedals, running the audio through those and an equalizer and reverb and find you can get get an amazingly full (and stupendously LOUD) sound depending on how much compression you add. I also think that is why music sounds much better on the radio than your home system.

    As far as "Say You" by The Temptations, I believe it's in the Complete Motown Singles that the explanation is given for the mono mix being on both mono and stereo albums. The short explanation is that somehow, between the Tempts and Monitors and I believe, The Four Tops being recorded on the track, somehow the Tempts mono mix version was the only one that survived- the stereo mix was somehow damaged...or something like that. I'll have to look it up, unless someone else explains it better!

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by nabob View Post
    The crop of albums from Summer of '67 (Reachout, United, Make It Happen, With a Lot of Soul, etc.) had a distinctively different sound that I attributed to having more channels for recording and mixing. So I think. It seems that all instruments were more present or easier to isolate.

    The stereo album cover logo also changed at this time from Stereo encased in infinity signs to one with Stereo punctuated by a spiral centered pattern with these albums.Name:  26 First Stereo Large.jpg
Views: 221
Size:  18.0 KB Name:  5 Third Tamla Logo.jpg
Views: 220
Size:  14.7 KB

    Yes, you get the difference too. And you may be right about there being more channels for recording the basic tracks. It reminded me that when I used to record just using 2, two-track machines, bouncing back and forth, there was always that erosion of the preceding layer of sound. To compensate for it, I'd boost the sound with the equalizer. Then I learned that by employing the Dolby button, I could kind of achieve a sort of compression effect that revealed a lot of sound I would lose by constant overdubbing. With Motown going to 8 tracks, they wouldn't loose as much sound quality since there would be more tracks open for adding instruments and vocals.

    I think you just gave me my BINGO answer.

    And I too love Motown's stereo logos. We had a school project where we had to design album covers and I plastered those logos all over my projects.
    Last edited by huntergettingcaptured; 03-19-2017 at 03:27 PM.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by huntergettingcaptured View Post
    With Motown going to 8 tracks, they wouldn't lose as much sound quality since there would be more tracks open for adding instruments and vocals.
    I think Motown went to 8 track recording in 1964 with Baby Love being the first product. Some of the "real" enthusiasts here can correct that possible alternative fact. My name is not Dumpf.

    I'm glad your memory was jogged with the stereo logos and that the post was able to bring more from your memory regarding use of the technology.

    I don't know much about recording technology, despite having taking four courses in the 70s when I lived in LA. The field was far too competitive for the few working slots available. I went by Ike Turner's studio in Inglewood and was offered employment, but the money was way too insufficient. I remained with my STEM job as a geologist and civil engineer and have had an incredible life despite not being able to live that dream.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by huntergettingcaptured View Post
    Tom, you DO get what I'm talking about, lol! Yes, that "definite difference in sound" on the stereo albums starting around '67.
    I'm just glad someone else noticed it, and it wasn't just all in my head........ Lol, thanks hunter!!!

    Quote Originally Posted by huntergettingcaptured View Post
    The only reason why I chalk this sound up to compression is that I've been recording lots of music and songs for years and I've always copped every trick I could from the way Motown's engineers mixed their records, right down to doing stereo and mono mixes on the songs I've done! Even my stereo mixes feather that coast-to-coast kind of separation of instruments, which now I realize were just sort of last-minute mixes, but I enjoy those.

    Someone told me about an effects pedal guitarists use that adds compression. I use these pedals, running the audio through those and an equalizer and reverb and find you can get get an amazingly full (and stupendously LOUD) sound depending on how much compression you add. I also think that is why music sounds much better on the radio than your home system.
    Wow! That's so great.

    (You know, wish I had more musical ability... I'm can listen to songs and think about them but that is about it. Oh well. )

    Quote Originally Posted by huntergettingcaptured View Post
    As far as "Say You" by The Temptations, I believe it's in the Complete Motown Singles that the explanation is given for the mono mix being on both mono and stereo albums. The short explanation is that somehow, between the Tempts and Monitors and I believe, The Four Tops being recorded on the track, somehow the Tempts mono mix version was the only one that survived- the stereo mix was somehow damaged...or something like that. I'll have to look it up, unless someone else explains it better!
    Oh yes, I remember that it was originally assigned to The Four Tops or something along those lines. The Monitors' version is however in glorious stereo, on their Greetings! We're The Monitors album (from 1968!!!!). Thanks for your info hunter
    Last edited by TomatoTom123; 03-19-2017 at 08:36 PM.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by nabob View Post
    I don't know much about recording technology, despite having taking four courses in the 70s when I lived in LA. The field was far too competitive for the few working slots available. I went by Ike Turner's studio in Inglewood and was offered employment, but the money was way too insufficient. I remained with my STEM job as a geologist and civil engineer and have had an incredible life despite not being able to live that dream.
    I think that's pretty cool that you took the courses and you went to Ike Turner's studio! At least you were taking some concrete steps to work toward something you were interested in- but I think its even more impressive that you are a geologist! The music field looks glamorous to so many of us, but scientists, engineers, and mathematicians help make the world go round, and keep it going around.

    Was that something you were interested in as a kid? Actually, being a civil engineer/geologist sounds more substantial than going into the recording field, and I don't say that lightly; I wanted so badly to be a singer and sign with Motown that I recorded a "demo" and mailed it to the label! That whole gory story is something more befitting a sitcom. All I can say is, I'm happy I'm not a singer at Motown today, but a field worker with a utility company, lol!

    Sometimes the dreams that don't come true just clear the path for something a bit more "real" and rewarding. I'm glad your life turned out that way!
    Last edited by huntergettingcaptured; 03-20-2017 at 12:17 AM.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by TomatoTom123 View Post
    (You know, wish I had more musical ability... I'm can listen to songs and think about them but that is about it. Oh well. )
    Hey Tom, my father knew I wanted to play bass but I couldn't read a note of music to save my life. He didn't see that as an issue. He said as long as I could hum the bass part, all I had to do was pluck the strings until I hit the note that matched what I was humming! No lie, I learned to play bass by listening to "The Tears Of A Clown"! I literally put the needle down on the record, listened to the first few notes and basically "hunted and pecked" until I got those notes. I kept doing that until I could play the whole thing. Only problem was, I was playing the mono 45 mix and couldn't for the life of me figure out why I was hearing these odd bass notes that sounded like 2 guys playing at the same time... of course, years later, I found out that's EXACTLY what was going on!
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Quote Originally Posted by TomatoTom123 View Post
    Oh yes, I remember that it was originally assigned to The Four Tops or something along those lines. The Monitors' version is however in glorious stereo, on their Greetings! We're The Monitors album (from 1968!!!!). Thanks for your info hunter
    You're Welcome, Tom! That Monitors album was a marvel to me! That mix of every song on that stereo album was PRISTINE! When I got that album, I just kept thinking how good everything sounded from a technical perspective. Especially "Say You" and "Time Is Passing By." Those just blew me away because they sounded so good. I was 17 and that was the first time I wondered if those albums weren't being mixed by an engineer and not the producers themselves. I just couldn't conceive that the producers would have such a working knowledge of technical aspects of mixing to come up with such a clear and pristine sound! Oh! If I knew then what we've come to know now, I don't think I would have had as much fun discovering everything about Motown!
    Last edited by huntergettingcaptured; 03-20-2017 at 12:34 AM.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by huntergettingcaptured View Post
    Hey Tom, my father knew I wanted to play bass but I couldn't read a note of music to save my life. He didn't see that as an issue. He said as long as I could hum the bass part, all I had to do was pluck the strings until I hit the note that matched what I was humming! No lie, I learned to play bass by listening to "The Tears Of A Clown"! I literally put the needle down on the record, listened to the first few notes and basically "hunted and pecked" until I got those notes. I kept doing that until I could play the whole thing. Only problem was, I was playing the mono 45 mix and couldn't for the life of me figure out why I was hearing these odd bass notes that sounded like 2 guys playing at the same time... of course, years later, I found out that's EXACTLY what was going on!
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    WOW! hunter, that's amazing! I'm not sure I would even have the patience or diligence to do that... I mean, when I listen to songs I never give the bass guitar enough attention or credit!

    Quote Originally Posted by huntergettingcaptured View Post
    You're Welcome, Tom! That Monitors album was a marvel to me! That mix of every song on that stereo album was PRISTINE! When I got that album, I just kept thinking how good everything sounded from a technical perspective. Especially "Say You" and "Time Is Passing By." Those just blew me away because they sounded so good. I was 17 and that was the first time I wondered if those albums weren't being mixed by an engineer and not the producers themselves. I just couldn't conceive that the producers would have such a working knowledge of technical aspects of mixing to come up with such a clear and pristine sound! Oh! If I knew then what we've come to know now, I don't think I would have had as much fun discovering everything about Motown!
    Oh yes!!! That Monitors album is fantastic from a musical and technical point of view! "Time Is Passin' By" has to be one of my favourite Monitors and Motown songs. Oh and "Serve Yourself A Cup Of Happiness".... which is so BRILLIANT and sounds absolutely great!
    Last edited by TomatoTom123; 03-20-2017 at 03:22 AM.

  15. #15
    (Actually, I should have been honest, I do have SOME musical ability... being able to play the first 20 notes of "Over The Rainbow" on piano... if that counts )

  16. #16
    Calling Soulster. Come in Soulster.

    Was one of the changes observed by hunting a change of mixing desk?

    And do you know when Motown went to 16-track?

  17. #17
    Smokey talked about a big change from the time when Motown no longer recorded live.

    Mike McLean built the equipment so I'm not sure I understand about any "hunting".

    To me, it all seems to get a bit muddled because you could have an original 3 track recording that is transferred to a current - say 16 track - but then only a few of those spare tracks are used.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Sotosound View Post
    Calling Soulster. Come in Soulster.

    Was one of the changes observed by hunting a change of mixing desk?

    And do you know when Motown went to 16-track?
    bob_olhsson
    Senior Member


    Join DateAug 2010Posts881


    A lot of that was three track or three track bounced to eight. I agree that a lot of it sounded better than the eight track only productions.

    The dedicated mix room was installed in 1966 and was our first solid state console with a 3M solid state eight track machine. Previously the mixing had been done in the Hitsville control room which was all tube gear.

    Stereo was an after-thought much like 5.1 is today until the stores stopped ordering mono albums around 1968. Most mono pop songs are better mixes because they got the most attention.


    bob_olhsson
    Senior Member


    Join DateAug 2010Posts881

    Three track involved more things being mixed together "off the floor."

    The original two eight track machines also had pretty serious hum on the two outside tracks. Ironically we had just replaced them with new machines when we were abruptly told to go 16 track around 1968. I'll never forget a conversation I had with Norman Whitfield wondering what we were going to do with 16 tracks and our expectation that it would probably be lots harder to mix.





  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by TomatoTom123 View Post
    (Actually, I should have been honest, I do have SOME musical ability... being able to play the first 20 notes of "Over The Rainbow" on piano... if that counts )
    In music, EVERYTHING counts!

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by carole cucumber View Post
    bob_olhsson
    Senior Member


    Join DateAug 2010Posts881


    A lot of that was three track or three track bounced to eight. I agree that a lot of it sounded better than the eight track only productions.

    The dedicated mix room was installed in 1966 and was our first solid state console with a 3M solid state eight track machine. Previously the mixing had been done in the Hitsville control room which was all tube gear.

    Stereo was an after-thought much like 5.1 is today until the stores stopped ordering mono albums around 1968. Most mono pop songs are better mixes because they got the most attention.


    bob_olhsson
    Senior Member


    Join DateAug 2010Posts881
    Three track involved more things being mixed together "off the floor."

    The original two eight track machines also had pretty serious hum on the two outside tracks. Ironically we had just replaced them with new machines when we were abruptly told to go 16 track around 1968. I'll never forget a conversation I had with Norman Whitfield wondering what we were going to do with 16 tracks and our expectation that it would probably be lots harder to mix.
    Thank you very much, Carole!

    That is all pretty interesting reading. There was something about the sound Motown got when they were using just 3 tracks and even when they bounced the 3 tracks to eight, to me, the sound seemed a bit brighter and a bit bigger. The eight track productions were excellent, but I think once it went to 16, something was definitely lost.

    Sometimes, you'll hear a music track that is technically "correct"; all levels perfect and perfectly balanced, but it sounds a bit generic. When Motown was using 3 and 8 tracks, there was a very vibrant and distinctly Detroit sound there. Like someone said when we were talking about this, there was a little dirt in the sound that gave it character.

  21. #21
    Carole. You have an incredible memory and a huge talent for finding old posts.

    There are a lot of posts from Mike McLean somewhere in the archives too but I would never been able to find them.

    Whilst you are in a archive mood...if you see the Deke Richards threads about I Cant Dance and Love Child, they would be interesting for the younger folks.

  22. #22
    Hey, boyfromxtown, you aroused my curiosity and I had to find them myself....

    Ooohhhh.... this is an AMAZING thread! What a story!!

    http://soulfuldetroit.com/archives/3...tml?1042799727

  23. #23

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by huntergettingcaptured View Post
    Thank you very much, Carole!

    That is all pretty interesting reading. There was something about the sound Motown got when they were using just 3 tracks and even when they bounced the 3 tracks to eight, to me, the sound seemed a bit brighter and a bit bigger. The eight track productions were excellent, but I think once it went to 16, something was definitely lost.

    Sometimes, you'll hear a music track that is technically "correct"; all levels perfect and perfectly balanced, but it sounds a bit generic. When Motown was using 3 and 8 tracks, there was a very vibrant and distinctly Detroit sound there. Like someone said when we were talking about this, there was a little dirt in the sound that gave it character.
    http://web.archive.org/web/200803211.../olmo/olmo.php

  25. #25

  26. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by carole cucumber View Post
    Carole

    Moment of silence because I'm floored... This is THE article that unlocked everything!

    Thank you and your Blessed, Magnificent, Beautiful Mind!!

  27. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by huntergettingcaptured View Post
    Carole

    Moment of silence because I'm floored... This is THE article that unlocked everything!

    Thank you and your Blessed, Magnificent, Beautiful Mind!!
    Ditto from me.

  28. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by TomatoTom123 View Post
    Hey, boyfromxtown, you aroused my curiosity and I had to find them myself....

    Ooohhhh.... this is an AMAZING thread! What a story!!

    http://soulfuldetroit.com/archives/3...tml?1042799727
    Those threads were not all in one post....everyone was tuning in hoping for the next instlament. Glad you liked it.

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