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Girl, Uninterrupted: Digital Killed the Rock ‘N’ Roll Star

Classic rock listeners are often drawn to the nostalgic, distinguishable sound of rock from before the digital age. Rock 'n' roll 50 years ago was dirty, passionate and most of all, loud. Now, it seems as though that sound is impossible to recreate due to the changes in production technology.  

Analog production, which was used until the early 2000s, involves recording live instruments and vocals onto physical tape. Those recordings then end up on cassette tapes, eight-track tapes and/or vinyl records. Analog recording is all about things you can touch: physical instruments, amplifiers, microphones, mixing equipment, etc. Songs produced in this fashion often have a warm tone with many layers.

Digital production all happens on a computer. With digital production, artists do not need any physical instruments or mixing equipment to make music. Most of the time, though, songwriters will use some analog features and some digital features. For example, most musicians will record physical instruments into a computer, with the mixing and mastering of the song then taking place digitally. 

Digital recording has made producing music widely accessible to the public. Analog recording meant an artist had to be working in a recording studio and (usually) signed to a record label to produce their music. Digital production allows musicians to use a recording studio wherever they can plug in a computer. Additionally, producers have more options than ever to make unique sound mixes. 

Producing songs digitally has put an emphasis on perfecting recordings. When editing a song recorded in analog, it was common practice to physically cut the audio tape at specific spots and mesh certain pieces back together to create desired recordings. Because it is so easy to mess with recordings on a computer, producers no longer have to worry about losing the best take of a song due to a production mishap. With digital production, editing a song until it sounds unnaturally perfect has become the norm. 

For example, compare Greta Van Fleet's "Black Smoke Rising" with Led Zeppelin's "Night Flight," only focusing on the elements of sound. In "Night Flight," the vocals sound grainy and natural, the instruments are sharp and each individual instrument stands out. "Black Smoke Rising," however, has a very polished sound. The vocals and instruments are smooth and have a shiny type of feeling. Also, the instruments have been put in the background, which is uncharacteristic of rock music. Led Zeppelin's song sounds more like a raw, live performance than an edited studio recording. 

In classic rock, it is common to hear flaws or interrupting noises in final recordings. This is often because the performers felt that the flaw occurred within the best performance of a song and would have been too hard to edit out. In Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love," jingling from what was likely someone's bracelets can be heard throughout the song. A more iconic flaw is John Bonham's squeaky drum pedal, which appeared in songs like "The Ocean" and "Since I've Been Loving You." 

These "flaws" make the music more interesting and more human to the listener. When the music has these natural interruptions, the origin of the sounds is comprehensible and the listener knows the track isn't heavily edited. This makes the audience feel more connected to the songs because the music is raw and honest, which is what rock 'n' roll is all about. 

In digital production, artists often make the decision to remove these flaws because it is now easy to do so. This, as well as editing tools like autotune, gives modern music that polished and unnatural feel. The music feels less artistic and more robotic. 

On top of that, musical talent becomes less impressive when it is driven by a computer. Listen to the first recording of Van Halen's "Eruption" compared to the album version. Minimal changes are made to the recording because the interesting sounds are coming from Eddie Van Halen, not the producer. 

Digital production has closed just as many doors as it has opened. While it has made many aspects of audio production easier, it has also taken the honesty out of music. Rockers in the modern age will have to deviate from digital recording and embrace the traditions of analog if they want to harvest that iconic rock sound. 

Kenzie Shuman is a freshman studying Journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Kenzie know by emailing her at or messaging her on Instagram @zieshuman.

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