Recording studio

4 David Bowie recording studio tips and tricks

A creative pioneer in many ways, Bowie not only pushed the boundaries when it came to songwriting, but also broke new ground and innovated when it came to his style of production. Here, we take a look at four influential approaches Bowie took in the studio.

Guest post by Carla Malrowe of Flypaper by Soundfly

It goes without saying that David Bowie was a courageous artist and pioneer of many firsts.

He was both influential and inspiring in his approach to his art. When we dive into some of the sonic explorations that have accompanied the making of two of Bowie’s most beloved albums, Moo and Hero (both from 1977), we are starting to see a pattern emerge. Bowie’s music was produced and recorded in a way that boasted courage in new sounds and the means to give meaning, and spontaneity, a central principle of its songwriting style.

With unique producers Tony Visconti and Brian Eno By his side, Bowie himself had a one in a million production team in the studio, which perhaps allowed him even more to take risks that other pop artists wouldn’t. New technologies have been adopted and other techniques developed, which to date have an influence on many a producer.

Matthew Fink.

My mission to find out more about the Bowie’s recording Moo and Hero called for a conversation with a distinguished producer and huge Bowie fan, captivating him Matthew Fink.

Together, Fink and I identified what we think were among the four most influential things Bowie and his ingenious gang did in the studio as they recorded and produced some of the greatest pop music of the 20th century – pushing the boundaries of listeners and performers in the process.

Embrace radical electronics

Bowie was keen to experiment with electronic effects when creating Moo, being curious about strange and radical sonic development.

In 1974, the Eventide H910 harmonizer was released as the first commercially available digital audio effects device. As Visconti was one of the first producers to get their hands on one (the second person in all of Europe), allowed them to achieve a mysterious new sound in the studio – a sound that no other producer could quite match. fact pinpointed at the time. .

Fink tells me how Bowie and Eno were on a conference call with Visconti one evening. Visconti has expressed his enthusiasm for acquiring the Eventide H910 Harmonizer. When Bowie asked what the device worked for, Visconti replied, “This messes with the fabric of time.”

The combined harmonizer out of order pitch change with delay and feedback. It could be controlled by a keyboard remote control to instantly change the pitch in half steps. It featured a two-octave range and up to 112.5 milliseconds behind.

Blast from the Past: Eventide Clock Works H910 |  MusicRadar

The use of the harmonizer in the studio was revolutionary, being particularly effective on drums and vocal takes. Visconti notes that the specific sound, “The Moo Sound ”, has been used on hundreds of albums since.

Record vocals with gates

Hero was registered at Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin – a unique setting that has been adopted and wonderfully exploited for its acoustic. It is also known to be essential to the sound of Hero.

To capture Bowie’s multifaceted vocal sound, three microphones were used: one close-up, one 15 feet away, and one 20 feet away.

Fink explains to me that the first microphone was relatively compressed, while the second and third microphones were configured with doors who would open once a certain volume threshold is reached. The closest to Bowie would pick up the soft, vulnerable timbre of Bowie’s voice while the farther away would pick up his daring belted baritone, echoing around the room and creating a surging reverberation.

This technique was so successful because it embraced said reverberation created by the environment without any discreet detail escaping capture, which encouraged Bowie’s unique vocal performance.

+ Learn more about Flypaper: “5 Creative Ways To Use Delay In Your Mix.” “

Tape Flange on the bass

The bass on Hero, played by George Murray, served as the fundamental rhythmic tracks for Bowie’s songs. A technique known as tape edging was used on these bass tracks; a revolutionary sound effect.

The technique involves two tapes that are played at the same time on a tape recorder, one being slightly out of sync with the first, explains Fink. The slight delay of one band (less than 20 milliseconds) creates a rustling sound that sweeps forward and backward out of time, as well as up and down the frequency spectrum.

This effect says sweeping swoosh, was characteristic of the entire album, and has inspired the origins of many effects pedals since.

+ Learn audio production, songwriting, songwriting, theory, arrangement and more, anytime, anywhere. Click here for unlimited access!

Ebonie Smith, mixing engineer

Record Effects Directly to Tape

The most common technique at the time was to record dry and add effects afterwards. Defying the norm, Bowie and his team decided to record effects directly to tape.

It was a way to get an “honest” sound and capture an “honest” sense of passion. As the sonic triumphs unfold, whether they have distortion, delay, or echo, they will be captured exactly as they are happening, right there in the moment. It was a technique that required courage and confidence because, once captured, they would be stuck with it.

At the end of the day, however, the result was worth it.

Fink explained how he learned this technique from Bowie and Visconti decades ago and how he follows it to this day:

“I compress on tape, I limit on tape, whatever I do, I do it directly on tape because that’s how I hear it in the room during the day and that’s how I want it to be. ‘hear back. Engineers always tell me you can’t limit yourself to the band… which I always say… “F * ^ # ing watch me.”

Choose the alternative

Musicians brave enough to explore alternative ways to create and capture sound are always the ones who end up having something valuable to teach the rest of us. And from Mr. Bowie, we have tons to learn. His courageous zeal for artistic expression and experimentation really paid off in his music and still influences decisions made in recording studios today.

Keep looking for new sounds, spin the tape, and keep looking for the most interesting way to say what you want to say. This is how you stay relevant for over 50 years.

Carla Malrowe is a passionate alternative songwriter and singer from South Africa. Its electro-industrial project, Psycoco, has just released his new single “Stay Awake”. Malrowe’s music is a haunting juxtaposition of electronic and analog sounds with lyrics that explore a post-apocalyptic conflict between love and loss. His solo album is in progress.


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