Schools Training

Replicating Spector’s Wall of Sound

15 APR 2013
Career Path : Arts and Entertainment

You’ve heard the songs even if you don’t know you have. Legendary record producer Phil Spector was behind many of the best songs from the sixties and beyond including the final Beatles album, The Righteous Brothers and The Ronettes. Brian Wilson praised the latter’s “Be My Baby” as “the most perfect pop record of all time” and strived to replicate the distinctive production techniques on the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album. Long before he was a convicted murderer, Spector was renowned for his “wall of sound” music production, a densely lush layering of instruments that soulfully sliced through AM radio or jukeboxes.

The Classic Technique

Spector was a perfectionist in the studio, taking as long as necessary to find the precise sound he was looking for. Sometimes it would work quickly but other sessions could drag on for over sixteen hours until the band couldn’t play any longer. Most of the time was spent getting sounds, balances, and microphone placements just right to blend together on one track. These were the days of mono recordings and big bands in the studio. He brought together an enormous ensemble of musicians for a given song, often consisting of three drummers, bassists, keyboard players, numerous guitars, a string orchestra and a brass section. The music was then fed down to the studio’s echo chambers in the basement before being recorded to tape. The rich, booming sound stood out over the crackle and hiss of AM radio. He called this “a Wagnerian approach to rock and roll: little symphonies for the kids”.

Present Day Application

In his golden age, Spector would mix mono records with only a 3-track machine – one track for the band blend, one for vocals and one for the string section. Today’s digital producers can make stereo or surround mixes from an unlimited number of tracks. Aspiring producers seeking this style should be prepared to do an abundance of overdubs for every instrument, keeping the parts similar, if not the same. Spector would use horns to provide punch for the rhythmic hits of the song and use two bass guitars, one a fifth higher than the lower.

Bedroom producers in DJ school can mimic orchestras by stacking on many tracks of MIDI virtual instruments with a variety of differently recorded acoustic sounds. Mixing an excess of tracks just makes your job more complicated so know when you’ve reached the limit. Try to leave space in the arrangement to let the sound breathe so you don’t bury the listener in mush. For the true effect, mic the speakers that the recorded sound is coming from. With good speakers and some large diaphragm microphones, you can add some nice natural reverb to be blended back in with the “dry” input.

Students taking audio courses would do well to take some lessons from past masters in using the studio as an instrument in its own right.


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