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Why Retro? Why Now?

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  • Why Retro? Why Now?

    Vinyl has gotten a lot more interest than hi-res audio. The big deal in synths is analog. Modular synths with patch cords are back. For some reason I can't fathom, people buy new guitars that are made to look like old guitars. Guitarists still want tubes...

    There has always been an interest in retro; it may be just me, but it seems to be accelerating. I wonder if it's because the world is just getting to darn confusing and disjointed for people, and retro is the technological equivalent of comfort food...
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  • #2
    Perhaps people have just reached a point where the homogenization of music, the ease of producing it, has become a bit boring. People want to actually go to bit more trouble to create their sound. They want something to set them apart a bit. Vinyl doesn't make a lot of sense really, from a portability standpoint. That in and of itself may be part of the appeal. Plus the very real artistic real estate vinyl album covers offer those that cherish that avenue of expression.

    Analog synths offer keyboardists perhaps the same individualist and nostalgic charm that new distressed guitars do guitarists.
    Also Analog synths and Tube amplifiers offer the opportunities to set oneself apart from the Modeled amps and plugins that have dominated music for the last 20 years.

    That and the fact that real vintage instruments cost a fortune.

    All just conjecture on my part though.


    • #3
      Fear of change -- and a sense among those with a sense of history hugely distorted by simplistic popular media views that the past was better and that modern changes have not improved the quality of life. Of course, a large part of that is driven by the fact that, in the US in particular, vested interests have manipulated trade and tax laws to shift earned wealth away from the mainstream many to the market-manipulating few.

      I think there is a huge distrust of anything that smacks of the sort of 'progress' defined by a continual stream of new products and services that often fail miserably at improving quality of life -- at least as it's defined by those whose values derive largely from the consumer-excess ideals promoted by reality TV and blingtastic pop culture.

      music and social links | recent listening


      • #4
        I compare music to Saturday Night Live.
        A few decades ago it was rolling-on-the-floor hilarious. Now I can watch entire episodes without even cracking a smile (disclaimer: I generally don't).
        Why? Because the real deal is what really works...


        • #5
          To keep my answer short, the value is in the work itself and not in the tools that were used to make it. I guess there is a natural tendency to resist change.

          Bottom line ... Do whatever make you happy. Who cares what I think. Hippocrite that I am, I just switched over to a mainly analog work stream from working inside the box. It is much easier to sell
          Don Boomer


          • #6
            Don, that triggered a thought...I noticed there was a lot of activity around the RADAR booth at the last AES. I heard vague mutterings about "tired of paying for Avid hardware grumble grumble." I wonder if the way forward is wrapping technology in familiar clothes.
            CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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            • #7
              I think for a lot of people it's because they think "retro" stuff sounds better.
              In many cases they may be right, (especially with early digital equipment) but there is a lot of good "fat" and "warm" digital gear now.

              The public has been conditioned now to automatically think anything "retro" must sound better than anything that's digital.


              • #8
                I have always had some sort of nostalgia bug. I guess it could be called "retro". But it's always been the content for me. When I was a kid we visited a great aunt - my mother, sister and I, for maybe 5 or 6 days each summer. Around age 12 or 13 I discovered she had a large stash of Readers Digests from the 30's and 40's. I loved them. And going thru bin after bin at the used record joint at an area flea market around age 18-19. Discovered Thelonious Monk and Dave Brubeck at that joint going thru all those bins.

                It's always been for the content. Not the medium. I'm not highly motivated to acquire a turntable even though I have maybe 300-400 albums. I can most likely find it on YouTube. I don't have a nostalgic yearning for clunky gadgets. Different strokes for folks.
                Last edited by davd_indigo; 03-06-2016, 09:03 PM.

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                • #9
                  New seems to mean the latest printed circuits.
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                  • #10
                    To my mind it is those clinging to digital technology that are resisting change. Yep, that's right... digital processing has now been around long enough that it is "The Old Way" to the generation that grew up in it. Tubes and analog may be retro to some of us, what we've always used to others of us, and the new experimental thing to those young enough to have never used analog.

                    “Music is well said to be the speech of angels... nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine."

                    ~Thomas Carlyle


                    • #11
                      I'm always a little behind in my reading an I'm currently reading the November 2015 issue of Sound on Sound, probably the issue I picked up at the Fall AES show. It's their 30th anniversary, and I headed straight for the feature article in which they scrounged up some vintage project studio gear and recorded a song with it.

                      I laughed. I cried - first mostly about how the way most people work today, and in fact, the only way most people recording music today have ever worked that has become so much more complicated than what they were using in writing this article. Second, how much they struggled with the gear they were using in trying to work on an 8-track hardware-based project in the same way they would work on a DAW project today. That's what made me cry the most.

                      Oh, the pain! Having to actually move faders instead of trimming every bit of every track to the perfect level. They had only two reverb units (to their credit, they only used one in the mix). They only had 8 tracks so they had to erase the acoustic guitar to make room for a second vocal. Didn't they ever hear of bouncing tracks? They had a 4-channel compressor, and "fortunately" their mixer had inserts in the main output path so they could (saving the day) have a "bus compressor."

                      The whole tone of the article wasn't that it was a fun project, it was geez, things were really hard back in those days, So I don't think anyone will be sold on a 1980s retro project studio control room from reading this article.

                      You can read it here. Tell me if you're laughing or crying.
                      To celebrate the magazine’s 30th birthday, the SOS team take a trip back in time, finding out what it was really like to work in a mid-’80s home studio.
                      "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
                      Drop by http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com now and then


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by MikeRivers View Post
                        The whole tone of the article wasn't that it was a fun project, it was geez, things were really hard back in those days, So I don't think anyone will be sold on a 1980s retro project studio control room from reading this article.
                        I think a lot of people tend to think of "retro" as "high quality". I saw that article and it's really hard for me to think of any of that equipment as "retro"

                        First of all I'm old enough to remember when all that stuff came out and second I don't think most people would consider a "Fostex quarter-inch eight-track" to have that "retro" sound if you know what I mean.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Anderton View Post
                          <...snip...> I wonder if it's because the world is just getting to darn confusing and disjointed for people, and retro is the technological equivalent of comfort food...
                          Technological comfort food - I love it!

                          Perhaps nostalgia is just part of human nature. We remember things of our younger years, and it subconsciously makes us feel younger??? (multiple ??? because I really don't know if that's it). Or is it just familiarity??? Or comfort food for the brain???

                          When I hear an old song that I loved years ago, it's like visiting an old friend.

                          When I see an old King Super 20 Silversonic saxophone I want it, even though I know my new custom made sax plays better, has better intonation, and I'd probably never take the Super 20 to a gig.

                          I recorded some old vinyl that I hadn't heard in a long time to put on my iPod, and I have to admit, I liked the physicality of dropping the needle and I liked watching the machine make the music (though I wouldn't buy new vinyl for a number of reasons). I liked the big cardboard cover with the art work and liner notes too.

                          I've got a 1970 Gibson that I never play anymore, I reach for one of my Parkers because they play better and are more versatile. But I have no plans of selling the GIbson - it's an old friend.

                          But I don't miss the days of gigging using the house PA with that 35 watt Bogen amp, ceiling speakers and no monitors. I don't miss the later days of carrying around Voice Of The Theater speakers and helping the B-3 player walk all 400+ pounds of it up a flight of stairs. I don't miss cars with that 6 by 9 inch oval speaker in the middle of the dash that distorted when you turned it up louder than the road noise.

                          Nostalgia only a part of me. Comfort food,

                          I have new synth modules for my wind synthesizer, I play my new custom built Parker and my custom Sax, I learn new songs, Transistors and then ICs have made electronics gear much smaller, and for someone who does one-nighter gigs, that means much lighter loads. I never want to go back to floppy disks on the computer. Flash memory is better than magnetic.

                          I like new technology if it makes my life better and so on,

                          I don't do new for the sake of new, and I don't do old for the sake of old either.

                          But I admit, I also enjoy the comfort food of things I used to be attached to.

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                          Last edited by Notes_Norton; 03-07-2016, 09:07 AM. Reason: typo - why can't I see them all when proofreading? And did I miss another?
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                          • #14
                            I call this the Mojo effect. People have been convinced by sales people there is a Magic Wand out there for every artist which will be a short cut creating great works of art without having to put the hard work needed.

                            If you're inspired to use old gear more then new its easy to misplace the reason you play better using old gear.
                            In reality, it has nothing to do with its age. If the tools are good tools and you're inspired to work long hours mastering them, its the longer hours of hard work that make a better artist, not the tools themselves.

                            I believe people like retro because its an authentic connection to that technology and provides a direct path to the sounds they produced. Its much like anything historical people purchase. It gives them a connection to the past. It goes beyond the sound itself. People like to own "things" and if those things are unique they can master unique ways of expressing themselves.

                            Pushing an older piece of gear to produce the same sounds they did when they were a new technology gives you specific boundaries based on that gears limitations. Its obvious many new pieces of gear can do the same job as old gear did. Often times better and easier. Why would someone buy a dozen different keyboard to get unique tones when they can buy one that does them all?

                            Its the art of mastering those old technologies that makes you appreciate the new. Probably makes you appreciate the new technology once you learn just how far the old technology was pushed to get those sounds too.

                            I do believe many musicians who pursue old technology believe it gives them more Mojo. They hear older musicians use that gear on recordings and appreciate what they could do with it. They think using that technology will be like following in the steps of those musicians and get them the to the same musical skill level.

                            Its all ridiculous of course. Technology allows freedom of musical expression but there is no connection to the actual skill of a player whatsoever. Most manufacturers (especially sales people) are constantly blurring that line between their goods and an actual musicians skill. They'll tell you anything is it gets them more sales.

                            The thing most people who buy vintage gear miss is, the musicians using that gear when it was new "were" using the latest technology in their day. They were seekers pushing the envelope of the technology in new and creative ways. If musicians truly want to match what artists were doing back in the day, it must be in the hear and now, using the latest technology of today, and exploring what that technology can do for them in artistic ways that will be popular tomorrow.

                            There is nothing wrong with exploring Retro of course. You don't become a great artist without studying the art of the past, but you should never be fooled into thinking its a source of art. Art comes from the imagination and skill of the artist. There are physical mechanics in the performing arts of course. Having well designed tools do allow fluent expression of those physical skills, but the tools themselves contain no magic.

                            Its great we have a diverse range of tools an artist can choose the ones he wants to use to express his art but he should always remember he is master over those physical tools, not the other way around.
                            Last edited by WRGKMC; 03-07-2016, 09:54 AM.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Anderton View Post
                              There has always been an interest in retro; it may be just me, but it seems to be accelerating. I wonder if it's because the world is just getting to darn confusing and disjointed for people, and retro is the technological equivalent of comfort food...
                              I think the comfort food aspect is definitely part of it, but it goes further than that. I don't think some of the people who are buying this stuff are old enough to have experienced it the first time around, so it's "new to them" - at least somewhat.

                              "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."
                              - George Carlin

                              "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."
                              - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

                              "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."
                              - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter