The History of Music and Recording Part 2: 1970-1989

history of music
The History of Music and Recording Part 2: 1970-1989

In the second episode of this series on the history of music and recording, we'll take a look at the transformative era spanning from 1970 to 1989. This period marked a seismic shift in the way music was created, produced, and consumed, with groundbreaking technological advancements paving the way for new genres to emerge and established artists to push boundaries like never before. From the rise of disco and punk rock to the mainstream success of electronic music and hip-hop, the 1970s and 1980s were defined by an explosion of creativity that forever changed the landscape of popular music. Join me as we explore how iconic albums were recorded, legendary bands found their sound, and revolutionary recording techniques revolutionized the industry during this pivotal time in musical history.

Also read: The History of Music and Recording Part 1: 1950-1969


Introduction to the Era 

Transition from the '60s counterculture to the '70s

The era of 1970-1989 marked a significant shift in musical styles, following on from the experimental and rebellious atmosphere of the 1960s counterculture. As society moved away from the political activism and idealism of the previous decade, music began to evolve into new forms that reflected this change. Artists sought to express themselves in a more diverse array of genres, exploring different sounds and themes.

Diversification of musical styles and subgenres

During this period, there was a proliferation of new musical styles and subgenres that emerged as artists pushed boundaries and experimented with different sounds. Rock continued to be dominant but branched off into various directions such as punk rock, glam rock, heavy metal, and folk rock. Similarly, other genres like disco, funk, soul, hip-hop, and electronic music started gaining popularity during this time.

This diversification led to a musical expression that appealed to broader audiences while also allowing for more niche tastes to gain popularity. All these changes laid down the foundation for modern music as we know it today.


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The Rise of Disco and Funk

  • In the 1970s, disco music emerged as a popular genre characterized by its danceable beats and upbeat rhythms.
  • Disco's popularity was fueled by iconic artists like Donna Summer, The Bee Gees, and Gloria Gaynor.
  • Funk music also gained traction during this time, known for its heavy bass lines, syncopated rhythms, and energetic instrumentation.

Disco and funk dominated the airwaves and dance floors throughout the decade, influencing not only music but also fashion and culture. Songs like "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees became anthems of the era, epitomizing the lively spirit of disco. At the same time, funk bands such as Earth Wind & Fire brought a new level of musicality to mainstream audiences with their intricate arrangements and dynamic performances.

Overall, this period marked a significant shift in popular music towards more groove-oriented sounds that emphasized rhythm and movement. Discotheques became hubs of social activity where people could come together to dance and let loose, making disco and funk integral parts of 1970s musical history.


5 ways to get that 1970s drum sound

1. Use Vintage Drum Kits: Or modern drums designed to replicate the sound of classic 1970s drum kits. Look for drums made from maple, mahogany, or other warm-toned woods, as these were commonly used during that era. Vintage drums often have a naturally softer, more resonant tone that contributes to the desired sound.

2. Tuning & Tea Towels: Tune the drums low to achieve a deep, thuddy sound characteristic of 1970s recordings. For an even more muted sound, place tea towels or cloth strips on top of the drums, particularly on the toms and snare. This technique dampens the drumheads, resulting in a shorter sustain and a warmer, more focused sound.

3. Close Mics: Use close miking techniques to capture the intimate, upfront sound typical of 1970s recordings. Place dynamic microphones, such as the Shure SM57, close to the drumheads to capture the direct sound of the drums. Experiment with microphone placement to find the sweet spots that emphasize the desired tones and textures.

Listen to the drums on: "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac, from the album Rumours, 1977.

4. Analog Tape and Signal Processors: Process the drum tracks using analog hardware or analog emulation plugins to add warmth and character. Apply gentle compression to even out the dynamics and add punch, and experiment with analog-style EQ to sculpt the drum tones. Consider using tape saturation or analog tape emulation plugins to impart a subtle tape saturation effect, reminiscent of vintage recording consoles.

5. Mixing Techniques: Embrace the mixing aesthetics of the 1970s by getting a balanced and punchy drum mix. Keep the drums prominent in the mix, but avoid excessive processing or over-compression to maintain a natural, dynamic feel. Experiment with subtle reverb or plate echo effects to add depth and dimension to the drum sound, and blend in some parallel compression or distortion for added character.


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Punk Rock: Rebellion and DIY Ethos

  • Emerging in the mid-1970s, punk rock was a genre that embraced rebellion against mainstream culture and challenged conventional music norms.
  • Characterized by its fast tempo, raw energy, and minimalist approach to instrumentation, punk bands often rejected polished sound production in favor of a more authentic DIY ethos.

Punk artists like The Ramones, Sex Pistols, and The Clash used their music as a platform for social commentary on issues such as political unrest, economic inequality, and youth disillusionment. This anti-establishment attitude resonated with disaffected youth around the world who felt alienated from society's norms. As a result, punk became not just a musical genre but also a cultural movement that inspired individuals to embrace creativity outside of traditional frameworks.

  • With the rise of independent record labels like Dischord Records and SST Records in the 1980s punk musicians were able to release their own music independently without having to compromise their artistic vision for commercial interests.

This newfound autonomy allowed punk artists to maintain control over their creative output while staying true to their rebellious roots. Through grassroots organizing efforts such as creating zines, booking shows at underground venues, and self-releasing records, punks demonstrated that they didn't need major record labels or mainstream media exposure to make an impact.

 Listen to "God Save The Queen" by Sex Pistols


How to Record Punk Rock

1. Preparation and Setup: Before recording, make sure that the band is well-rehearsed and familiar with the songs they'll be recording. Set up the recording space to accommodate the band's live performance style, allowing room for movement and interaction. Position microphones strategically to capture both the sound of each instrument and the overall energy of the band.

2. Selecting the Right Equipment: Choose equipment that complements the aggressive and dynamic nature of punk rock. Opt for microphones known for their durability and ability to handle high SPLs (sound pressure levels), such as dynamic microphones like the Shure SM57 for close-miking guitars and snare drums. Use a dynamic microphone for vocals, like a Shure SM7Bto capture the grit and intensity of punk vocals.

3. Capture the Energy of Live Performance: Punk rock thrives on the energy and spontaneity of live performance. Encourage the band to play together in the same room, if possible, to capture the natural interaction and energy of their performance. Record multiple takes of each song to ensure you capture the best performances, but prioritize capturing the raw emotion and intensity over technical perfection.

4. Focus on Punchy Drum Sound: Achieve a punchy and aggressive drum sound that cuts through the mix. Experiment with microphone placement and compression settings to capture the attack and impact of the drums while controlling excessive bleed from other instruments. Consider using a tight, controlled room mic placement to capture the overall sound of the drum kit while still maintaining separation between individual drums.

5. Mixing for Impact and Clarity: When mixing punk rock, prioritize impact and clarity while retaining the genre's raw and aggressive aesthetic. Use EQ to carve out space for each instrument in the mix, emphasizing the midrange for guitars and vocals to ensure they cut through the mix. Add compression to glue the mix together and enhance the punchiness of the drums. Add saturation and/or parallel compression to add intensity to the overall sound without sacrificing clarity.


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New Wave: Synthesizers and Alternative Sounds

The 1980s saw a significant shift in music with the rise of New Wave, characterized by synthesizers and alternative sounds. Artists like Depeche Mode, The Human League, and Duran Duran embraced electronic instruments to create futuristic soundscapes that captivated audiences worldwide.

Synthesizers played a crucial role in shaping the sound of this era, with their ability to produce unique and otherworldly tones. Bands experimented with new ways of blending electronic elements with traditional instruments, resulting in innovative songs that pushed the boundaries of what was considered mainstream music.

This period marked a departure from the rock-dominated landscape of the 1970s, ushering in a new wave of artists who were unafraid to challenge conventions and explore unconventional sonic territories. The influence of these pioneering acts can still be heard today in modern pop, electronic, and alternative music genres.


5 Ways to get that 1980's drum sound

1. Electronic Drum Machines: The Roland TR-808 or TR-909, which were ubiquitous in 1980s music production. These drum machines offer synthesized analog drum sounds, including booming kick drums, crisp snare hits, and synthetic hi-hats, which are characteristic of many 1980s recordings.

2. Sample-Based Drum Sounds: Use sample-based drum sounds from classic drum machines like the E-Mu SP-1200, or find sample libraries featuring classic 1980s drum samples. Look for samples that emulate the iconic drum sounds of the era, including gated reverb snares, big, reverberant toms, and punchy, compressed kick drums.

3. Gated Reverb Technique: Use the gated reverb technique popularized in the late1980s. This technique involves sending a heavily reverberated signal from the snare drum to a noise gate, which cuts off the reverb tail abruptly, creating a distinctive, explosive snare sound. Experiment with different reverb settings and gate thresholds to achieve the desired effect.

4. Talkback Microphone Compression Trick: Implement the talkback microphone compression trick used in "In the Air Tonight" and other 1980s recordings. This technique involves sending the signal from a talkback microphone in the control room to a compressor inserted on the drum mix, creating a pumping effect that accentuates the drum hits. Experiment with different compressor settings, including a fast attack and release, to achieve the desired rhythmic pumping effect.

5. Digital Reverbs: Use classic digital reverb processors (or plug-in emulations) like the Lexicon 480-L (and 224), the EMT 250, and the AMS RMX16 for explosive and sustained 1980s drums.


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Hard Rock to Heavy Metal: The Evolution of a Genre 

During the 1970s and 1980s, bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest played significant roles in shaping the evolution of hard rock into heavy metal. These iconic bands introduced darker themes, heavier guitar riffs, and more aggressive vocals that set them apart from their predecessors.

Black Sabbath is often credited as one of the pioneers of heavy metal with their debut album in 1970, featuring ominous lyrics and powerful guitar solos. Led Zeppelin blended blues rock with hard rock elements to create a unique sound that influenced countless bands to come. Iron Maiden's complex instrumental arrangements and elaborate stage shows brought a new level of musicianship to the genre, while Judas Priest's high-energy performances helped define the image of heavy metal as we know it today. Over these two decades, these bands laid down the foundation for what would become one of the most enduring genres in music history.


The Influence of Reggae and Ska

  • Reggae music originated in Jamaica in the 1960s, but its influence spread globally during the 1970s. Artists like Bob Marley and The Wailers brought reggae to the forefront of popular music. With its distinctive rhythmic beats and socially conscious lyrics, reggae became a symbol of rebellion and unity.
  • Ska, another Jamaican genre that emerged in the late 1950s, also had a resurgence during this time period. Characterized by upbeat tempos and offbeat rhythms, ska laid the foundation for genres like rocksteady and reggae. Bands like The Specials and Madness helped introduce ska to a new generation in the UK during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
  • Both reggae and ska played a significant role in shaping musical styles throughout the 1970s and beyond. Their influence can be heard in various genres, from punk rock to hip-hop, showcasing their lasting impact on music history during these two decades.


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Hip-Hop: From Bronx Block Parties to Global Phenomenon

  • Hip-hop emerged in the 1970s as a form of expression for marginalized communities in the South Bronx.
  • Originating from block parties and neighborhood DJ battles, it quickly gained popularity for its rhythmic beats and powerful lyrical content.
  • Artists like Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Run-D. M. C. paved the way for hip-hop's rise to mainstream success.

Evolution and Influence

  • Throughout the 1980s, hip-hop evolved with the introduction of new styles such as gangsta rap and conscious hip-hop.
  • The genre's influence spread beyond music into fashion, art, dance, and social movements.
  • By the end of the decade, iconic artists like LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and N. W. A. had solidified hip-hop's place as a global phenomenon.

 Listen to "Don't Believe The Hype" by Public Enemy 


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Mainstream Success of Electronic Music 

  • House music originated in Chicago and quickly gained mainstream popularity due to its infectious beats and energetic vibe.
  •  Electro and Techno, born in Detroit, captivated audiences with its futuristic sounds and innovative use of synthesizers.

The Legendary sounds of the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines and TB-303 Bassline were an essential part of the sound of House, Techno, Electro, Hip Hop, New Wave, Industrial and Pop. Roland also released some classic synthesizers that dominated early electronic music like the Juno 106 and SH-101.

The 1980s saw electronic music break into the mainstream, with artists like Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, and New Order paving the way for a new wave of electronic acts. Clubs across Europe and the US embraced these new sounds, creating a vibrant dance culture that has continued into it's third wave of popularity today.

As technology advanced, so did electronic music production, allowing artists to push boundaries and experiment with new sounds. This era marked a turning point in the history of music, as electronic genres became firmly entrenched in popular culture.

Listen to "No UFO's" by Model 500 - an example of early Detroit Electro.


3 tips for recording drum machines, samplers, and synthesizers:

1. Stereo Recording: Record stereo tracks of your drum machine, sampler, or synthesizer to capture the full width and depth of the sound. Connect the instrument's stereo output to two inputs on your audio interface and record each channel as a separate track (or one stereo track) in your DAW recording software. This allows you to capture the stereo imaging and spatial effects produced by the instrument, providing greater depth and realism in the recording.

2. DI Boxes: Use 1 stereo or 2 mono DI (Direct Injection) boxes to connect the output of your drum machine, sampler, or synthesizer directly to your audio interface. This method ensures a clean and noise-free signal transfer from the instrument to the recording system, bypassing the need for a microphone. DI boxes are particularly useful for recording electronic instruments with line-level outputs, providing impedance matching and ground isolation to prevent signal degradation and interference.

3. Re-Amping: First record the output of your drum machine, sampler, or synthesizer as a dry, clean signal using a DI box or direct connection to your audio interface. Then, play back the recorded signal through a guitar amplifier or outboard effects unit and re-capture it using a microphone placed in front of the amp or effects speaker. This allows you to apply the tonal characteristics and sonic coloration of the amp or effects unit to the recorded signal, adding depth, texture, and character to the sound. Use a re-amp box (essentially a reverse DI box) to step down the level between the DAW and the amp input.


Pop Music: Icons and Crossover Hits

  1. Icons Rise: The 1970s saw the emergence of iconic pop music figures like Michael Jackson, Queen, and Madonna who revolutionized the industry with their unique styles and boundary-pushing creativity.
  2. Crossover Hits: During this era, many artists began to experiment with genres beyond traditional pop, leading to a rise in crossover hits that blended elements of rock, disco, funk, and more to create chart-topping songs that appealed to a wider audience.
  3. Impact on Culture: These icons and crossover hits not only dominated the airwaves but also influenced fashion trends, dance styles, and even social movements as their music connected people from diverse backgrounds in shared experiences of joy and self-expression.



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Key Developments in Music and Recording 

Studio Recording Capabilities Expand

  • Advances in technology allowed for the expansion of studio recording capabilities, with multi-track recording becoming more commonplace.
  • This development enabled artists to experiment with layering different tracks and sounds, leading to more complex and innovative musical arrangements.
  • The ability to easily manipulate recordings also opened up new avenues for creativity in music production.

Rise of Synthesizers and Electronic Music

  • The 1970s saw a proliferation of synthesizers in popular music, revolutionizing the soundscapes that could be created.
  • Instruments like the Roland TR-808 drum machine and TB-303 bass synth became iconic tools used by electronic musicians around the world.
  • These innovations paved the way for electronic dance music genres like techno, house, and hip-hop.

Introduction of Samplers

  • Early samplers were introduced during this time period, allowing producers to sample and loop audio recordings.
  • This revolutionary technology had a profound impact on music production by enabling artists to incorporate pre-recorded sounds into their compositions.
  • Samplers democratized access to creating music, as they made it possible for anyone with a computer or sampler device to become a producer.


Legacy and Impact

Musical and Technological Innovations

The '70s and '80s were a pivotal time for music, with artists pushing the boundaries of sound and technology. Innovations such as synthesizers, drum machines, beatmaking, and digital recording techniques revolutionized the way music was created. Bands like Kraftwerk, with their use of electronic instruments, paved the way for genres like electronica and techno.

Influence of MTV on Music Consumption

MTV launched in 1981 and quickly became a cultural phenomenon that changed how people consumed music. The first video to air was The Buggles - Video Killed The Radio Star. The channel's focus on visuals meant that artists not only had to sound good but also look good. This visual element transformed the industry, making image just as important as talent. Music videos became a vital tool for promotion and creativity.

Enduring Relevance of Artists from the Era

Many iconic artists from the '70s and '80s continue to be relevant today, their albums standing the test of time. Acts like Queen, Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, and U2 still influence current musicians with their innovation and artistry. Albums such as "Thriller," "Purple Rain," "Like A Virgin," and "The Joshua Tree" remain classics that resonate with audiences across generations.

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Also read: 

The History of Music and Recording Part 1: 1950-1969

The Home Studio Blueprint: How To Set Up Your Home Studio

Transforming from a Songwriter to a Music Producer 

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