MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index
 FAQ & Terms of UseFAQ & Terms Of Use   Wiggler RadioMW Radio   Muff Wiggler TwitterTwitter   Support the site @ PatreonPatreon 
 SearchSearch   RegisterSign up   Log inLog in 
WIGGLING 'LITE' IN GUEST MODE

Making Electronic Music in the 90s?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Production Techniques Goto page 1, 2  Next [all]
Author Making Electronic Music in the 90s?
vanianbulman
Hi all,

Let me start by saying I'm only 30; I grew up in the 90s, but I definitely wasn't present for it as a producer or anything more than just being a kid.

I'm starting this thread to pick the brains of those of you who are older and wiser - I work with hardware exclusively and specifically I'm interested in hearing what studio life was like for working electronic artist in the 90s. of more interest would be techniques from before the PC boom, but if you want to share the horrors of early computer music as well, that's welcome.

Did you have a home studio? What was it like? Did you make records? What did the recording process look like? What formats and equipment did you use? How many channels were you working with? What clever tricks did you have for getting around the technological limitations of the time?

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!

:thread title edited for clarity:
thetwlo
well, it seems the term, "Producer" has changed.
from Wikipedia:
"A record producer or track producer or music producer oversees and manages the sound recording and production of a band or performer's music, which may range from recording one song to recording a lengthy concept album."
felixer
everybody and their demented sister is now a producer. which nowadays seems to mean recordingengineer who also has comments on the performance. if i am recording i don't mess with the artist. even with the projekt i recently did with a singer on my instrumental tracks. as i can't sing it would be preposterous to give her tips. and with bad players it is pretty useless anyway: they are trying and if it isn't working, well, too bad for them. if asked i will play the part, but i'm not volunteering.
as a real producer you are responsible for the whole process. picking the musicians, the songs, making arrangments and overseeing the recording. and watching the budget. as a rule a producer old style is hired by the recordcompagny to make sure they get a product for their investment. but since that mode hardly exists anymore i'm not sure what a producer is these days. i guess i am one as i produce a lot of music every year. but i don't consider myself to be the boss. rather the help. trying to make sure the musicians/band gets what they are after. not what i want. i'll do that with solo-albums. then i do exactly as i want. but i'm not going to push others around.
i gues it's a mentality thing: i never liked power over others. i'd rather let them do as they see fit, always thinking i might learn something in the process. and telling creative people what to do is an insult afaik.

in the 70ies/80ies i worked analog, mainly with tascam and fostex tapemachines. only with big jobs i got to a studio with studers and ssl (which i never liked, soundwise, but that was hip in those days).
in the 90ies i had my own setup with alesis adat machines (2 or 3 depending on how many tracks i needed). this coupled with all sorts of preamps/channel strips (going straight into the adat) and a yamaha 16 channel digital mixer (just mixing, not for recording!) so i could do total recall. and an atari with dr.T software to automate that via midi (much better sounding and easier to handle then ssl!). that worked fine and i did many albums like that. mainly heavy rock stuff. and whatever else came my way (can't be too picky if you have to pay the rent).
then i got an apple G3 with motu audio interface as a recorder/edit machine. that one held for 15 years! back in the days when apple was producing quality stuff for creative people. now i'm using some pc/windows machine. i think it's a dell ... still with that same motu interface! i only had to buy a new card. those guys didn't leave me hanging. unlike apple who changed everything so all my old programs became useless ...
and i had a kurzweil2000 with a lot of ram for sampling. that recently went bust. but i'm not replacing it since i have other synths and i've gotten pretty bored with sampling. still have that waldorf i got back then. plus some new toys ... recording has became easier in certain respects. but you still have to put the right mic in the right place! and have someone who can make good noises. so in a sense nothing has changed.
Futuresound
vanianbulman are you asking about producers in the sense of managing and directing recording bands in a studio, or in the sense of ‘someone who makes ‘dance music’ tracks’?
Ranxerox
I started making my own tracks in the mid-90s. Back then PCs were 16 bit, good for MIDI but unable to run professional-quality audio natively. DAWs like Pro Tools and Soundscape existed, but required a lot of expensive accelerator cards and were only good for a few tracks. VST plug-ins didn't exist until the end of the decade.

So if you were producing electronic music, your main tool was the sampler. A multitimbral sampler with decent polyphony and a few 10s of meg of RAM, combined with a computer MIDI sequencer (Atari ST or Mac, usually) formed the core set-up of many producers. Hardware MIDI sequencers were generally seen as more reliable than computers, but more limited and awkward to work with.

The more powerful multitimbral samplers (Akai S1100 & S3000, Emu E-series etc.) enabled you treat each sample like an audio clip that could be moved around on the arrange window of your MIDI sequencer via a 'surrogate' MIDI object. Of course you were limited in terms of RAM, but this approach allowed you to do a lot without recourse to multitrack audio recording, which involved additional expense and complexity.

DAWs and in particular Ableton, didn't emerge from a vacuum - much of their basic UI principles were based on the way people were already working with samplers during the 90s, and it's no surprise that the leading DAW platforms like Logic, Cubase, started out as MIDI sequencers in the 80s and 90s.

[Edit: It's also no coincidence that the bottom dropped out of the hardware sampler market at about the same time that Logic Audio and Cubase VST came along. In fact, if you open up an Akai S5000 or Z4 sampler from that time, the internals have an uncanny resemblance to a RISC-based PC, complete with IDE hard-drive, USB, SIMM chips and I/O. By basically doing away with the need for dedicated hardware to handle the digital audio side of the workflow, 32-bit OS like OS9 and Windows 95 permitted the MIDI sequencing software of the era to evolve into the full-blown native DAW platforms we know and love today...]

Roland boxes and analog synths were synced up via MIDI and mixed down directly to DAT along with the sampler elements. It was also common to directly sample these sounds into your sampler to make loops, fx, stabs, basses and sampled kits etc. Resampling offered a way to edit and process audio directly in the sampler e.g. time-stretching, but editing was fiddly and usually only a single step of undo, if you were lucky! So external sampler storage and back-up via SCSI tape or hard drive was crucial.

If you had a recording budget in the 90s, you had the choice of renting time in a pro studio to re-record and mix on a proper desk, or instead buying your own (more affordable) gear specifically for the project. This was called the 'project studio', made possible by MIDI in tandem with advances like ADAT and the Mackie range of cheap recording mixers.

If you're interested I would recommend tracking down a few old copies of Future Music and Studio Sound magazines from the 90s. These mags were my bibles back then (pre-dawn-of-the-internet!), and a lot of their old interviews, how-to articles and gear reviews would be very enlightening for you!
vanianbulman
Futuresound wrote:
vanianbulman are you asking about producers in the sense of managing and directing recording bands in a studio, or in the sense of ‘someone who makes ‘dance music’ tracks’?

This thread is more the latter, but it's always interesting to hear about the former too. I edited the title and OP to clarify, thanks for pointing this out.
vanianbulman
Ranxerox wrote:

If you're interested I would recommend tracking down a few old copies of Future Music and Studio Sound magazines from the 90s. These mags were my bibles back then (pre-dawn-of-the-internet!), and a lot of their old interviews, how-to articles and gear reviews would be very enlightening for you!

Very helpful, thank you! Posts like yours are exactly what I was hoping for.
dreamtraveler
Not sure if this is the info you're looking for, but I was making House and Techno in the early to mid 90's. We were on a tight budget, so we had to get really creative with recording tracks. We sequenced everything using a Mac Plus that had pretty terrible timing, so we had to really keep processing power in mind when arranging tracks.

We had a Kawai SX-240, Alesis D-110, an Ensoniq EPS, and an EMU-Proteus all running through an Alesis 1622 with really scratchy pots and we'd record to Super VHS. At the time, this was one of the cheapest ways to record high quality audio. As long as you brought the VHS deck to the mastering Engineer, they'd be able to use it. Later on we were able to afford a DAT deck.
By the late 90's, computers were getting cheaper and many more options for the bedroom producer became available. I built my first PC that could track audio in the late 90's. Now THAT was an exciting time. Everything just got easier then.

I definitely don't miss the constraints of the early 90's, but I do have to say that the electronic music market was wide open back then since most people couldn't afford to get into it. It was much easier to stand out as a musician/producer...but it was hard as hell to put together a decent track that sounded professionally produced.
dreamtraveler
I just remembered another technique we would use to overcome our lack of gear. We'd build our drum pattern using the D-110 sequenced by the Mac (and later the R-8 with 909 card) and then run them through the Alesis 3630 and sample into the EPS. We'd use the EPS almost as a multi-track recorder so we could build more complex tracks.
So much thought went into how we could build a whole track with so little equipment.
I remember one day we had spent something like 4 hours sampling parts into the EPS and then one of us accidentally stepped on the power supply and we lost everything.
umma gumma
oh man!!

very frustrating
felixer
Ranxerox wrote:
mix on a proper desk

what's that? proper like 'professional' (the dirtiest word used in connection with music)?
i remember someone told me my mixing desk isn't professional because it used rotaries instead of faders meh angry
that desk was a replacement for my d&r desk that had faders. and sounded like shit. really bad. it's well known that a lot of people have shit in their brains. apperently also in their ears.
but maybe you mean that behind that desk was a person who could make a good mix. because, in the end, that's what it's about. people. the gear is fairly unimportent. i've heard many really lousy produktions done on ssl desks.
Ranxerox
felixer wrote:
Ranxerox wrote:
mix on a proper desk

what's that? proper like 'professional' (the dirtiest word used in connection with music)?
i remember someone told me my mixing desk isn't professional because it used rotaries instead of faders meh angry
that desk was a replacement for my d&r desk that had faders. and sounded like shit. really bad. it's well known that a lot of people have shit in their brains. apperently also in their ears.
but maybe you mean that behind that desk was a person who could make a good mix. because, in the end, that's what it's about. people. the gear is fairly unimportent. i've heard many really lousy produktions done on ssl desks.



Err.. no, I'm just talking about what people did in the 90s - not making value judgements.

A professional studio is one that people book in advance and pay to use. In such studios, the equipment is generally designed to be maintained in-house, particularly the most essential kit - the mixing desk, amps, tape machines, mics and essential outboard.

Because such studios make (or made!) their revenue from an hourly or day-rate, professional equipment needed to be able to be serviced without losing valuable studio time. Therefore, a professional mixing desk is one that can be serviced e.g. a bad channel, without having to decommission the whole studio - usually through modular design.

It will also have features based on feedback from professional engineers i.e. people paid for their skills in mixing and/or running a studio session - things like automation, channel dynamics, in-line monitoring, assignable groups, separate cue and studio monitor feeds.

None of these were things that bedroom technoheads in their late teens/20s knew or cared about in the 90s, unless they also happened to work in a professional studio...

Of course nowadays we have the internet, so anyone who's interested can find out about all these things easily, and DAWs have long since absorbed and 'democratised' professional techniques like automation, sidechain processing, stem mixing, channel dynamics and so on.
nuromantix
Mackie CR1604 was a gamechanger, the first affordable mixer with decent sound and very useable EQ, even though the mid was a fixed band, it always sounded good.

Another gamechanger was the Boss SE50 multi effects which was amazing value for money, I think I bought it the day it came out. Quadraverb was an amazing reverb for very little money as well. For a while I had one of the cheaper Lexicons but it was always breaking down.

Apart from that, a sampler was the main thing (I had Akai X7000 in 92, then S950, then Kurzweil K2000 by about 95) plus some Roland monosynths (a few SH101s, SH09 etc).

I had a little portable Sony DAT recorder.

I didn't used to research gear the way people do now, you couldn't. Especially it was hard to find out about old gear. So I just bought whatever stuff was cheap and came up secondhand locally. Ended up with a Moog Source and a Korg MS10 as well as the Rolands. Had a 707 and a Boss DR550 but mostly used the sampler for drums. Went through various digital stuff like Ensoniq SQ1 (not ESQ) Korg M3r etc, it was useful for the odd sound but never very thrilling.

There was basically no way to edit or multi-track that I could afford so I just had to do everything with MIDI (Roland MC500 sequencer although everyone else used Atari ST), check the mix carefully and just record live to DAT. I would have pieces of paper telling me when to mute stuff, when to change the filter on a synth or whatever, and just do live mixes. If I made a mistake, just rewind the DAT and do it again. Leave the gear on so you can check it with fresh ears in the morning and do another mix if need be. Once you move the sliders on the synths then the track is gone!
Ranxerox
nuromantix wrote:

There was basically no way to edit or multi-track that I could afford so I just had to do everything with MIDI (Roland MC500 sequencer although everyone else used Atari ST), check the mix carefully and just record live to DAT. I would have pieces of paper telling me when to mute stuff, when to change the filter on a synth or whatever, and just do live mixes. If I made a mistake, just rewind the DAT and do it again. Leave the gear on so you can check it with fresh ears in the morning and do another mix if need be. Once you move the sliders on the synths then the track is gone!


Yup, that's how it was for me and my mates too - sequence everything live over MIDI, mix straight to tape via manual mutes and fades on a basic mini-mixer (Mackie or Tascam, usually).

I had an original Emu Orbit 9090 (can't get more 90s than that! And owned from new...) that I left on for several weeks, until a power-surge basically killed it... learned my lesson after that!
felixer
Ranxerox wrote:
felixer wrote:
Ranxerox wrote:
mix on a proper desk

what's that? proper like 'professional' (the dirtiest word used in connection with music)?
i remember someone told me my mixing desk isn't professional because it used rotaries instead of faders meh angry
that desk was a replacement for my d&r desk that had faders. and sounded like shit. really bad. it's well known that a lot of people have shit in their brains. apperently also in their ears.
but maybe you mean that behind that desk was a person who could make a good mix. because, in the end, that's what it's about. people. the gear is fairly unimportent. i've heard many really lousy produktions done on ssl desks.



Err.. no, I'm just talking about what people did in the 90s - not making value judgements.

A professional studio is one that people book in advance and pay to use. In such studios, the equipment is generally designed to be maintained in-house, particularly the most essential kit - the mixing desk, amps, tape machines, mics and essential outboard.

Because such studios make (or made!) their revenue from an hourly or day-rate, professional equipment needed to be able to be serviced without losing valuable studio time. Therefore, a professional mixing desk is one that can be serviced e.g. a bad channel, without having to decommission the whole studio - usually through modular design.

It will also have features based on feedback from professional engineers i.e. people paid for their skills in mixing and/or running a studio session - things like automation, channel dynamics, in-line monitoring, assignable groups, separate cue and studio monitor feeds.

None of these were things that bedroom technoheads in their late teens/20s knew or cared about in the 90s, unless they also happened to work in a professional studio...

Of course nowadays we have the internet, so anyone who's interested can find out about all these things easily, and DAWs have long since absorbed and 'democratised' professional techniques like automation, sidechain processing, stem mixing, channel dynamics and so on.

afaik, the main plus of a good studio is the acoustics. and the monitoring. so you really know what you hear. i've known people who made a record at home, but (cleverly) regularly rented a few houres of time in a proper studio, just to check the playback/rough mixes. and then they discovered that the drums were very boomy etc. if you know that you can compensate. if not, the mastering engineer will have a lot to do ... and may not be able to salvage your recordings ...
obviously working at home has a lot of advantages. esp if you are not sure what you actually want. experimenting at 'proper studio' rates isn't very relaxed. ofcourse there are really good 'homestudio's' where a lot of work/attention/money was spend on the important bits (and those are not a new synth or plugin) but most are terrible in that regard. for songwriting/experimenting it doesn't matter much, but if you are going to make a record you need some sort of standard. the old way was to make a cassette (remember those?) and go around listening to that on as many systems you have acces to: friends, the local club, etc and even then you might not be sure. nowadays only few people have a decent hifi set (it seems everybody is listening thru those earbud type thingies) so you can't do that anymore.
Ranxerox
felixer wrote:

afaik, the main plus of a good studio is the acoustics. and the monitoring. so you really know what you hear. i've known people who made a record at home, but (cleverly) regularly rented a few houres of time in a proper studio, just to check the playback/rough mixes. and then they discovered that the drums were very boomy etc. if you know that you can compensate. if not, the mastering engineer will have a lot to do ... and may not be able to salvage your recordings ...
obviously working at home has a lot of advantages. esp if you are not sure what you actually want. experimenting at 'proper studio' rates isn't very relaxed. ofcourse there are really good 'homestudio's' where a lot of work/attention/money was spend on the important bits (and those are not a new synth or plugin) but most are terrible in that regard. for songwriting/experimenting it doesn't matter much, but if you are going to make a record you need some sort of standard. the old way was to make a cassette (remember those?) and go around listening to that on as many systems you have acces to: friends, the local club, etc and even then you might not be sure. nowadays only few people have a decent hifi set (it seems everybody is listening thru those earbud type thingies) so you can't do that anymore.


I don't disagree with any of that, but if you were "lucky" enough to land a recording contract in the 90s, the label would often regard anything you'd already recorded as a 'demo' recording, especially if it had vocals or was seen to have chart-crossover potential.

As nuromantix says, affordable multitracking and editing was priced beyond what most bedroom musicians could afford in those days, so the composition process focussed on sampling, MIDI sequencing and live mixdown through a basic analog mixer directly to DAT, minidisk or cassette (or DCC - remember those ?? lol )

A label would usually expect you to spend an advance on your earnings to re-record your tracks through an SSL or similar desk, with a 'hired gun' engineer at the controls, but really this was just to satisfy the label that you had protected their investment.

The Manual by The KLF is a really interesting book on the 90s music business and offers a pertinent look into the mentality of the industry at that time.
nuromantix
In about 95 I got a Tascam TSR8 multitrack but only used it to overdub vocals. A friend had a couple of ADATs but they were EXPENSIVE.

I was doing electronic dance stuff and no label ever asked me to re-record my stuff in a "real" studio, they liked the sound of what I was doing. We just used good mastering places. There's no way you can re-record a live jammed track at a later date and keep the same vibe.....
lisa
In the 90:s you had the first analogue hype. A backlash from the dominance of digital synths in the late 80:s. This meant that everybody thought that anything analogue sounded better than anything digital, full stop. It was dazed times.
Ranxerox
nuromantix wrote:
In about 95 I got a Tascam TSR8 multitrack but only used it to overdub vocals. A friend had a couple of ADATs but they were EXPENSIVE.

I was doing electronic dance stuff and no label ever asked me to re-record my stuff in a "real" studio, they liked the sound of what I was doing. We just used good mastering places. There's no way you can re-record a live jammed track at a later date and keep the same vibe.....


I got an Akai DPS-12 in 1998, for NZ $4200, it took me a full two years to pay it off... Could have got a lot of other gear for that money! They go for about £100 each on eBay nowadays lol

Yes, obviously I'm not saying everyone releasing dance music in the 90s had to re-record in a commercial studio...

My point was that back then the major labels (and their subsidiaries) made a distinction between demo recordings and those genuflected over by the A&R department.

Back then the recording industry was much stronger and, right or wrong, a gap in production values was perceived to exist between material recorded at home and that recorded by 'professionals' using 'professional' facilities.

Conversely if you were releasing a techno 12" through an underground indie label then you weren't going to be encountering that sort of judgementalism or commercial interest.
nuromantix
I'm very pleased to have avoided the music industry over the last 24 yrs whilst having a good time putting out loads of records smile
Ranxerox
nuromantix wrote:
I'm very pleased to have avoided the music industry over the last 24 yrs whilst having a good time putting out loads of records smile


Do tell - any I might be familiar with? hyper
synthetek
I was using Cubase and a lot of samplers, w-30 as the main keyboard / workstation , ESI-32, Akai S900, Alpha Juno. I remember lots of menu diving, floppy & zip disks, SCSI drives. Dead Banana
locust_locust
I was around for the industry change from 16 or 24 track tape to 16 bit 44.1khz digital recording and then to 24 bit digital recording.

I couldn't afford the expensive stuff then- I had a Tascam 4 track, then went to ADAT's, then to DA88's, then to an entry level Pro Tools system, then to PT DAE running with a Logic front end, then to HDX.

The thing about limitations is they don't feel like limitations at the time- it is just the capability of the system.
It is only a limitation when you look backwards.
My current system will do 64 track recording without any issue and I don't own enough microphones to do that so limitations are somewhat a thing of the past.

When I was running Logic with DAE the main issue was the inability for it to deal with interleaved audio files- they had to be split stereo. It was an annoyance but not a dealbreaker and the ability to mix TDM and native plugins was excellent especially with a Logic front end.
ndkent
It's a lot like they say about most decades, the first half was very different than the 2nd half. I made a prediction about half-way into the decade that once PCs were common running at 1GHz that a lot would be changed, so yeah, there were limited/pricey not quite there yet early DAWs in the earlier years and by 1999 there were really usable soft synths, recording on the computer, etc., lots less use of tape.

The internet was there for the general public in the second half. Eurorack was not an industry but there were 3 companies in the 2nd half.

Lots more use of MIDI in the early years, Opcode had their rack interface with 15 ins and outs and by the end of the decade, Gibson had shuttered Opcode
felixer
Ranxerox wrote:
if you were "lucky" enough to land a recording contract in the 90s, the label would often regard anything you'd already recorded as a 'demo' recording, especially if it had vocals or was seen to have chart-crossover potential.

don't know about the chart-market, but in the bandsmarket i noticed the reverse: recordcomp were pleased to take up (well recorded) demo's as it saved 'm money in rerecording. many a band's first album was a collection of different recordings: maybe some radio appearence, of some live stuff.
i usually carried a small set with a small mixer, two mices and a dat recorder. set up the two mices around the mixing desk and mix that with a feed of the stereo mix output. try some mix settings during soundcheck and you might get lucky: a good show with a good sound. and it costs next to nothing ...
and by that time a lot of albums were recorded half/half. i did albums were we would go out to record drums (mainly) with the rest playing along and getting recorded too. so you'd have drums, bass and any rhythm guitars/keyboard. you 'd sometimes even get a 1ste take vocal. usually on some handheld mic. so i learned to use at least a good one for that. and then we'd put on the solo's, acoustics, synths and main vocals at another place, wich qualified as a decent homestudio. and using the band's live-engineer as a studio engineer. because it is pretty simple: once you get a good sound you just sit there and punch-in all day long ....
and then get to a really good studio for the mix. and then do some decent mastering.
so you'd save money on not sitting with a 56channel desk and just using it to record vocals. and have discussions about the lyrics ....
by then there were no advances: the recordcomp paid your bills. and they were mostly very small. with no money to throw around.
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Production Techniques Goto page 1, 2  Next [all]
Page 1 of 2
Powered by phpBB © phpBB Group