Musicians Want Their Analog Tools Back
David Sax, author of the forthcoming book The Revenge of Analogue, on why analogue tools are making a comeback for musicians:
“I think the sound quality is one of the smaller reasons why people chose analog,” Chris Mara, who owns a Nashville analog recording studio called Welcome to 1979, said. Mara, an experienced recording engineer, opened the studio eight years ago in a former record-pressing plant, and his business had doubled pretty much every year since.
The bands and musicians who seek him out—as well as a growing cluster of other producers who have sprung up around Nashville—tend to be younger and are looking back in time to get away from the heavily manipulated, overly polished sonic atmosphere of modern pop. These musicians want their albums to sound like those made by Led Zeppelin, Sam Cooke, and Bruce Springsteen—not Justin Bieber. By recording like the legends of the twentieth century, they hope to create something new. Another analog studio engineer in Nashville summed it up in simpler terms: “The old shit’s the best shit.”
Scott McEwen, another analog recording engineer in Nashville, who owns the studio Fry’s Pharmacy, suggested that Pro Tools makes musicians lazy. They settle for a decent take, he said, safe in the knowledge that it can be fixed later. “With tape you just have to man up and do it. It instantly makes you play better. It makes your blood boil in a good way. It makes you nervous.”
This is a point I stressed in A Lesser Photographer. The debates about analog technology in photography tend to get caught up in arguments about "quality." Unfortunately, this quality argument is always about sharpness or low-light performance, while the actual quality resides in the subject and the artist's ability to get in front of that subject at the right time.
In music, this is the equivalent of recording a tone-perfect, crystal clear album full of awful songs.