Artists tend to utilize creative ways to make sounds, especially when recording. When you listen to some of your favorite bands, have you ever noticed the sounds they produce? Have you ever paid attention to some of the background sounds or picked up on the fact that there is something different about them? Usually, it doesn’t sound like a regular voice or instrument – and it makes you wonder “how did they make that?”
There are unique tactics that are used to get certain sounds recorded that a musician wanted or needed to create that “right” thing that they were looking for. There are musicians and bands from old to new that have taken these creative liberties with finding their true “sound.” If we listen to them, we can appreciate the efforts it took to achieve these goals when recording.
Freddy Mercury was a musician who had a very different outlook on sounds. He defied so many stereotypes and conventions to become one of the most influential and loved musicians in the world, having an incredible talent that allowed him to utilize various sounds when recording his “masterpieces.” His band Queen used some very strange techniques for their sound, in particular, the beloved song “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is unlike any other rock song of its time. The song took 3 weeks to record just to get everything needed since Mercury had been developing the idea for the song long before it reached the studio.
The song involved close to 200 vocal overdubs that were combined with various instruments including piano, electric bass, electric guitars, and drums. It also utilized actual operatic singing and even a Chinese gong. Surely, Freddy’s extensive piano knowledge was a large factor in his musicianship. He was classically trained growing up and used a lot of his own piano playing within recordings as well, proof that “piano lessons make the difference in how musicians find their calling,” quoting Vincent Reina from Music to Your Home.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” was a song that had everything including ballad, opera, and hard rock. The unique sound of the opera portion of the song with the numerous vocal overdubs makes it very unconventional. However, the unusualness only aided it in becoming one of the most famous songs ever produced.
2The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys were another band that used some sounds within their records that had people wondering “what was that?” – Particularly, in their song “Good Vibrations”. There was a high pitched sound at the very end, which most people believed to be a Theremin, an instrument that is used by moving your hands within the air in between two antennae that control the pitch of the sound produced. It was even speculated early on that the sound was an actual animal sound that they used within the record.
The sound is actually neither of these things. The instrument used was created by a man named Paul Tanner he dubbed the “Tannerin” who used to be a trombone player for The Glenn Miller Band. The instrument he used was very similar to a Theremin but more electric in its creation, which allowed for a more precise pitch. It was used more in the Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds, though most people heard it in “Good Vibrations.”
It was a remarkable idea and sound that had people listening, interested and curious; it undoubtedly aided in the popularity of the song. Paul was ahead of his time, having made a sound that couldn’t be mistaken for something unusual but extremely effective.
The helmeted French music duo known as Daft Punk is already viewed unusual by their outward appearances. As a modern band, utilizing strange sounds to create records is more difficult to identify or be impacted by, but this group definitely has the ear for finding those sounds. Their best-selling album Random Access Memories is a testament to their ingenious musicianship. It’s safe to say that the duo must have known the amazing impact the record would have on the world, spending over a million dollars for its creation.
One of the techniques that they used when producing the album was putting things down on tape because they liked the way it sounded. They utilized both analog and digital for the sounds since it gave them the opportunity to decide which sound they liked better – a rare thing for an artist to do. They also let the producers helping them experiment with different sounds, which is also not something that artists usually do either, but it allowed them to find mixes that portrayed the mood and emotion that they felt reflected the song(s) best. The recordings included having a 25-piece orchestra, spot mics on certain instruments including drums, keyboard overdubs, and the one-of-a-kind techno sound that were used in many of the group’s early songs, like the vocoder that makes the “robot” vocals and is a trademark to their image.
Technology played a huge role in the making of the album to create and re-create different sounds that would make a difference in each track. The musicians themselves also spent numerous amounts of time with the live tracks to sift through, build, and edit the tracks and design each song in the way that they wanted. The result for all of their hard work was an incredible album that was the winner of 3 Grammy Awards in 2014, including Album of the Year.
Simple vocals and instruments can create wonderful hit songs and albums, but it is those unique and unusual sounds that are contrived and produced specifically for certain songs that can really help an album stand out. There are multiple musicians who had different outlooks on sound and how to use them to create rare sounds that caught audiences’ attention. Take some time and go through your own music collection to see if you can identify any of the sounds that might sound a little different, and what vocals or instruments may have been used to make it so. You might be surprised at how many talented and innovative musicians have this skill, and kudos if you’re able to correctly identify those instruments or technological tools that were used.