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Hanging Out at Sun Studio, Where Rock and Roll Was Born (Video) 102

Posted by timothy
from the five-for-the-money-six-for-the-show dept.
Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and other greats recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN. It's still there (after a spotty history, including resale and re-opening in the late '80s) -- and it's still analog. Mostly analog, at least; a Pro Tools system is there for people who don't want to pay for an all-analog production. Thousands of tourists (I met a family from Norway who'd come to visit Graceland and Sun) descend on the old building each year just to see the place, and others come to record in the legendary space and what has become a boutique recording studio. I got to chat for a while with Sun recording engineer Matt Ross-Spang about working with the studio's lovingly gathered and restored recording gear, some of it nearly three times as old as he is. (An unexpected bonus: hanging out for a few hours in the Sun control room is a good way to bump into Fluke Holland, former drummer for Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, who stopped in just after we stopped shooting.) Be warned: there are some bursts of rock-and-roll to listen through.

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Hanging Out at Sun Studio, Where Rock and Roll Was Born (Video)

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  • Culture-product (Score:1, Interesting)

    by concealment (2447304)

    When I look back over rock 'n' roll, I'm embarrassed by how much of my life I spent liking what our society (read: big media) tells us is "culture." It's not culture, it's culture product. That's all Elvis ever was: a cheap, safe way to make "black" music that white people liked.

    Find a reputable indie band and stick with it. Listen to indie radio, if you can still find it [savektru.org].

    • jup I just got me a magnatune.com lifetime membership the other day for a virtually endless stream of indie music ;)
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Find a reputable indie band and stick with it. Listen to indie radio, if you can still find it [savektru.org].

      Reputable? You mean there are disreputable indie bands? So, like Pearl Jam or some band would rename themselves a pretend to be indie? Or do they all create a co-op of bands - like farmers do with their farms - and sell their music under their co-op and therefore are indie anymore?

      I don't know. Everytime I've went to an indie band show, I was bored, the music sucked mostly, and the people there just looked at me like ... like the way they look at me when I go play tennis at the local country club for big sh

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      yeah so you turned into a pussy "I don't know what I like without checking how unpopular it is first" ahole? just listen to it, you should know if you like it or not from that. fuck the establishment and fuck the counter-establishment hipsters. that's a revolution.

      you know what's really fucking indie? crack intro chiptunes, yo!

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      When I look back over rock 'n' roll, I'm embarrassed by how much of my life I spent liking what our society (read: big media) tells us is "culture." It's not culture, it's culture product.

      Yes, for 90% of it. But just because the evil bastards at the RIAA labels bankrolled it doesn't mean it's worthless. I will agree that almost all "pop" music is crap, and I, too, prefer indie offerings. But before CD burners, cheap electronics, and the internet, nobody could record music well without a huge pile of cash.

      TF

      • by bws111 (1216812)

        It is widely considered that the first rock and roll song was "Delta 88", recorded by Ike Turner at Sun Studios, in 1951.

        • by DeBaas (470886)

          I think it was rocket 88...

        • by intok (2605693)
          It's also considered to be the earliest recorded uses of a distorted electric guitar. Legend goes that Willie Kizart was taking his gear out of the car and set the amp on the car, it fell off and punched a hole in the speaker cone, when they got inside they stuffed it with newspaper and the sound was born.
          • by mcgrew (92797) *

            Interesting story, but I've heard some old blues from the '40s with distorted guitars. Almost all of John Lee Hooker's songs sound like the amp is cranked up all the way.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          I'll have to find the song, but how could it be rock and roll when the term had yet to be coined?

          • by bws111 (1216812)

            Alan Freed did not invent rock and roll, he named it. The songs already existed. It wasn't called a rock and roll song when it was recorded, but you can certainly look back and say 'that is the first song that sounds like what I call rock and roll'.

    • "what's the point in not conforming
      if it changes you"
      - Five Iron Frenzy, "Marty"

      I was listening to that this morning, and I think it is apropos.

      Listen to what you like. Don't listen to what you don't like. Support the folks you listen to.

    • by hondo77 (324058)
      Elvis was indie when he started recording at Sun, dumbass.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Oracle Studio?

  • by abrotman (323016) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:23AM (#39672377)

    I went to Memphis for Blues and the food, and decided to go over to Sun Studios (Stax Records is also in town and pretty interesting as well). They have a fair amount of memorabilia and they tell you a lot of interesting facts, though if you're a huge fan of that music, you probably already know those facts. If you're stuck in Memphis for 24hrs, it's not near Beale St, but it's close enough, and worth the effort.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Agreed. I go to Memphis once or twice a year, dependent on my vacation time, and love Sun Studio. I've recorded a bit there (demo stuff, mostly to say that I did), and the folks that work there are pretty awesome. Last time I went there was a REALLY cute girl giving the tour, but she refuses to give out her phone number.

  • Luxury (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Analog is a luxury. Like most luxuries, it's not expensive because of quality. It's expensive because it's more laborious and cumbersome. It's like "hand-made", which is marketing-speak for "defects are to be expected and don't justify a warranty claim, despite the high price".

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      Exactly right.

      I find it amusing how there's a double standard for quality when it comes to A/V... In a home theater system, marketing a device as "all-digital" implies that it offers uncompromising quality. On the recording side, saying something's digital is seen to imply that it's losing some extra part of the sound that can apparently only be captured in an analog system. This is a debate that's been raging on for all of digital audio's life [maximumpc.com], and it doesn't look like the madness will stop anytime soon.

      I

      • by Anonymous Coward

        it all boils down to emulation versus actually happening. There are a lot of similarities between photography's own analog vs digital issues. such as taking pictures at night. the best digital technology still has problems. anything created by man with an instrument is can either be recorded and processed using vibrations, as it was created with, or you can sample it, 24 thousand times, or 44 thousand times, but it's still only a sampling, and what makes a track awesome could just be lost because in thos

        • by Anonymous Coward

          or you can sample it, 24 thousand times, or 44 thousand times, but it's still only a sampling, and what makes a track awesome could just be lost because in those samples it didn't capture the part of the vibration that makes that sound so cool.

          Nyquist theorem. Check it out.

      • by bws111 (1216812)

        What is wrong with that? The goal of the playback system is to accurately play the music, as it was recorded. Everything that happens up until the final product is produced is part of the sound of that product. There are very few cases where perfect reproduction of the sound of the instruments is desirable. If you are recording a symphony, are you going to do it in an anechoic chamber, or in a great concert hall? The hall is adding it's own sound to the recording, and the recording is better for it

      • Re:Luxury (Score:5, Insightful)

        by edremy (36408) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:23AM (#39673057) Journal
        Analog is "better" quality in this case. In the case of recording music using amplified instruments, you don't want perfect sound reproduction. You want the distortion from the amps, you want the reverb from the space, you want the oddities of the tape. Those things are critical to create the proper sound.

        If you want to discuss sound reproduction later, yes, analog is a stupid idea compared to (good enough) digital, but there's a reason why guitarists still use tube amps.

        • There's a good reason why guitars need tube amps, but what's the point of staying analog after picking it up with the mic? If you need the tape compression sound you can always feed that track through a deck later.

          • by BlueStrat (756137)

            There's a good reason why guitars need tube amps, but what's the point of staying analog after picking it up with the mic? If you need the tape compression sound you can always feed that track through a deck later.

            Because during the A/D and then D/A processes, the harmonics generated in tube amp distortion and other natural analog effects and acoustic artifacts including the dynamic range are lost/altered. Once lost, there's no "putting it back in", as you suggest with your "feed that track through a deck later" portion of your comment.

            Strat

            • Tube distortion isn't lost in a later A/D/A. The harmonics are quite well and alive. Bad A/D is its own problem, but studio quality A/D at high frequencies and bit depths will preserve it much better than tape will. Do you think that the Marshall sound suddenly reverts back to clean when people play it back from a CD?

              The "feed it through a deck later" isn't about tube distortion. That's about the "tape compression" sound that drummers and some guitarists love. Why do you think you can't get it by feedi

              • by BlueStrat (756137)

                Tube distortion isn't lost in a later A/D/A. The harmonics are quite well and alive. Bad A/D is its own problem, but studio quality A/D at high frequencies and bit depths will preserve it much better than tape will. Do you think that the Marshall sound suddenly reverts back to clean when people play it back from a CD?

                The "feed it through a deck later" isn't about tube distortion. That's about the "tape compression" sound that drummers and some guitarists love. Why do you think you can't get it by feeding a good digital recording into a deck and then playing it back?

                ANY kind of distortion can always be applied later if you have a clean recording, and 24/96 or 24/192 is a much cleaner recording than you'll ever get in the analog world.

                But they don't *sound* the same for all their digital accuracy. That's the problem with these discussions. It's all subjective and dependent on how individuals hear things.

                I used to think much as you did. "What does it matter if the tape compression (or distortion) is added afterwards?"...but for some reason, it *does* matter and *does* make a difference. I've learned this through decades of experience and from some of the very best professional recording and production engineers in the business.

                I'm not try

          • by Jay L (74152)

            If nothing else, because the sounds you (the musician) hear on overdubs will affect the sounds you sing and play. Late binding and lazy evaluation is not always a feature in music production.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          You're absolutely correct, except for "you want the oddities of the tape". No, you do NOT want the oddities of the tape. You want it to sound as much like a live performance as possible, including the tube amp's clipping distortion and the hall's acoustics.

          The anechoic chamber is for listening in, not recording in.

      • by BlueStrat (756137)

        I can appreciate that an old audiophile wants things to sound exactly how he expects them, which means keeping his old analog system with all its defects, noise, and nostalgia, but let's not force this analog nonsense on future generations under the guise of "better quality".

        What I find hilarious about people who look down their noses at "old analog systems" and only own digitally-recorded music and digital/solid-state playback equipment is that the majority of what is being recorded is analog to start with.

        Take electric guitar amplifiers. The most-desired (and most-recorded) guitar amplifiers (and the flagship models of the largest current makers) are all analog vacuum-tube technology. Musical equipment makers have been trying to push solid-state equipment since the '70s and d

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Note: I'm an electronics technician and electric guitarist with ~40 years in both fields.

          Then you understand and should have added that the reason guitarists want tube amps is because of the clipping distortion. If you look at an overdriven tube amp's output on an oscilloscope, the sine wave is distorted into a square wave with rounded corners, while an overdriven solid state amp's clipping distortion clips the signal sharply, giving it a completely different sound.

          A lot of guitarists (again, as you know b

      • by Jawnn (445279)

        Exactly right.

        I find it amusing how there's a double standard for quality when it comes to A/V... In a home theater system, marketing a device as "all-digital" implies that it offers uncompromising quality. On the recording side, saying something's digital is seen to imply that it's losing some extra part of the sound that can apparently only be captured in an analog system. This is a debate that's been raging on for all of digital audio's life [maximumpc.com], and it doesn't look like the madness will stop anytime soon.

        I can appreciate that an old audiophile wants things to sound exactly how he expects them, which means keeping his old analog system with all its defects, noise, and nostalgia, but let's not force this analog nonsense on future generations under the guise of "better quality".

        Yeah. Mp3 is far superior to any "old" analog technology. Right? [/sarcasm] The fact of the matter is that quality recordings can be made, and distributed, in digital format, but they are aren't (a very few exceptions noted). So yeah. That's why I own vinyl and a turntable.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        I find it amusing how there's a double standard for quality when it comes to A/V... In a home theater system, marketing a device as "all-digital" implies that it offers uncompromising quality.

        Key words here I highlighted. "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." Marketing is aimed at the half of the population with two digit IQs. The fact is, analog and digital both have their strengths and weaknesses. Analog is higher fidelity than digital (especially when you're talking about high speed tape recorders/players, b

    • by doti (966971)

      Nope.

      16bits is ok, but 44kHz is just not enough.
      For even a 2kHz sound, you get only 22 "pixels" to "draw" the sound wave.
      Result: high frequency sounds (treble) are poorly reproduced.
      Some people notice it more than others.

      Analog is superior in quality. At least compared to CD quality.
      When there is enough resolution, digital will be better.

      Just like with photography.
      Just now the (state of the art) digital photography is getting enough resolution to surpass the digital film.

  • >> Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and other greats...

    When did Slashdot become the AARP newsletter?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Let me guess, you also don't want to read about any these other crusty old farts: Aristotle, Newton, Galileo, Watson, Crick, Shockley, Marconi, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart...

      Get your head out of your ass, the world didn't start the day you were born.

      • OK, I'll bite.

        No, I don't want to read about the status quo, get a basic history lesson or take a non-tech trip down memory lane when I'm reading Slashdot. The reason I starting reading this site was keep abreast of emerging tech and science trends, hear some new (and often kooky theories) or look back on dead branches of tech and learn why they're dead.

        I understand that Pro Tools' PR team worked hard to get this story on SlashDot, but if your hook is "Elvis Presley," you've hit the wrong demographic, my f

      • Plato? Aristotle? Socrates?

        Morons!

    • People are hoping to inherit some cool from the music. It doesn't work that way. Buying music from large record labels is like shopping at Wal-mart or buying a Ford Escalade.

      • by bws111 (1216812)

        The only people trying to be 'cool' are the idiots who decide what to listen to based on such important criteria as what label a band is (or is not) signed to, or how they obtained the music. Everyone else just listens to stuff they enjoy. Honestly, you indie-only people are every bit as pretentious as wine snobs, food snobs, and audiophiles.

        • False humility is what seems pretentious to me.

          I just like quality music. Learning how to play an instrument really opened my eyes.

          I don't disagree with you about the fact that some people are indie-pretentious. I don't know how to identify it, but as the saying goes, "I know it when I see it." I guess to me, if the band they like isn't much different from the stuff on FM radio, I'm going to think they're just being pretentious.

          I hope to never be one of those people.

          As far as music goes however, I think I'm

  • ...but Muddy Waters invented 'lectricity.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      You're confusing Muddy Waters with the guy who invented his electric guitar, Les Paul.

  • If you are ever out in the sticks of west Texas. Drive over to Clovis, NM and you can see the Norm Petty studio where Buddy Holly recorded.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Petty [wikipedia.org]

  • It would have been nice to actually see some of the kit, other than the A80 (which is nice, but not particularly rare or unusual). Even after looking at their website I haven't yet been able to find a comprehensive equipment list, which is odd for a working studio.

    I'm going to take a wild guess that the Scully 280 is probably their multitrack, likely a late 1960s model in either 1" 8 track or 2" 16 track format, though I think there were also 1/2" 4-track versions, depending on how retro you want to go.

  • Transcript (Score:4, Informative)

    by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Friday April 13, 2012 @10:03AM (#39673651)

    Title: Sub Studio: Where Rock and Roll Was Born
    Description: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and other greats recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN. It's still there and still analog. Timothy lord talked with sun recording engineer Matt Ross-Spang...

    00:00 - <TITLE>
    The SlashdotTV logo bar with "Sun Studio in Memphis, TN... where Rock and Roll was born" appears over a shot of a red "SUN STUDIO" neon sign in a window.

    00:02 - <TITLE>
    A shot of Timothy Lord with the Sun Studio building behind him appears.

    00:02 - Timothy>
    Studio engineer Matt Ross-Spang wasn't even born when most of Sun's most famous records were cut.
    Nonetheless, he's thought a lot about what makes them sound the way they do.
    He's gonna talk us through some of the tech.

    00:11 - <TITLE>
    Various shots of audio equipment appear; a Scully 280 reel to reel tape machine and a mixing panel.
    (1), is played in the background.

    00:18 - <TITLE>
    The interviewee, Matt Ross-Spang, is shown sitting in Sun Studio control room, with the SlashdotTV logo bar reading "Studio Engineer Matt Ross-Spang"

    00:18 - Matt>
    Around 30's, 40's, is prolly, you know, when they start making decent recording stuff that you can still use besides, like, a wax recorder or something.
    So I've got that.. a bunch of microphones are from the 40's and 50's.. 60's - I've got pretty much every decade down.
    Of course Ampexes are from the 50's, those mono tape machines that I use, and the Scully is from the 50's and 60's.
    The newest tape machine would be the Studer a80 ... -

    00:43 - <TITLE>
    The view zooms in on the tape machine discussed before zooming back out.

    00:43 - Matt> ... - which is kind of like the Cadillac of tape machines - they made the best ones and they were the last makers of the best tape machines.

    00:50 - <TITLE>
    "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis is played in the background.

    00:50 - Matt>
    Really high quality tape machines.
    You'll find them in all the major studios running tape.
    Some people like 'm, some people don't - they're not.. as far as tape machine goes, they don't have that crazy tape characteristic as much as the Scully, because a Scully is a bunch of lead, and this one is like, you know, trying to make it as clean as possible.
    But they sound, really cool.
    So that's probably the most modern tape machine I have for sure.

    01:20 - Matt>
    And then you got the outboard gear.
    That's the same thing, 50's ... -

    01:23 - <TITLE>
    The camera pans up slightly to show the gear being discussed before panning back down.

    01:23 - Matt> ... - there's some stuff from, you know, few years ago, up there.
    It's stuff that I like, really unique stuff.

    01:28 - Timothy>
    Does anything stick out from the older, from the 50's and 60's, that is, you know, outboard gear that you're really happy to use?

    01;34 - Matt>
    Well, I think, if you're talking about effects or outboard.. 50's, I mean, in the 50's they used - besides a real room - for reverb they used a plate in the 60's.
    Plate reverb is something digital will never be able to emulate, ... -

    01:49 - <TITLE>
    "Blue Suede Shoes" by Carl Perkins is played in the background.

    01:49 - Matt> ... - and tape echo.
    They've got plenty of plugins that do tape echo, but you gotta hear the tape echo, you've gotta smell the tape to get tape echo, and it's.. especially for Sun, if I don't use tape echo then I need to f... get a new job. *laughs*

    02:06 - Timothy>
    Is your job pretty safe?
    As an analog specializing engineer?

    02:11 - Matt>
    Yeah - I mean, you know, I do freelancing stuff.. other places, and I, you know, I'm not saying Pro Tools sucks.
    I'm not saying I have to cut the tape and I can only use 50's gear.
    I've gone to studios

    • SuN! SuN studio! aaaaaa! I curse thee, lameness filter!

    • by timothy (36799) * Works for Slashdot

      A bit detail oriented? Holy Moley! You even went to the trouble to identify songs. This is ridiculous, in the best possible way.

      timothy

      • It still bothers me that I can't identify the first one (not the very beginning intro bit - I've never heard that before)... but that other piece.. "one two, one two, one two".. brass sections.. I know it, but can I name it? Nope. Google search for the aforementioned just yields a bunch of rap and R&B, while audio identification services failed; too short of a sample, I guess.

        I'll figure it out yet

  • Slashdot is slipping.
  • The studio was the setting for the Broadway play "Million dollar quartet" which offered a nice re-imagining of what it was like there, as well as some classic music.

  • Who knows what the box in the upper left half of the screen during the last half of the video labeled "SKUNK APE" is? Is there some mike manufacturer who named a mike that? Is is a small amp head? Any ideas? It's a great name for some piece of audio kit, and I'd just like to know what it was.

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