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How did they get that Steely Dan sound?
October 26, 2010 8:07 AM   Subscribe

How did producer Gary Katz get those Steely Dan records to sound so much "cleaner" than the other popular music being recorded at the time?
posted by Joe Beese to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
This thread on Gearslutz might be informative:

http://www.gearslutz.com/board/so-much-gear-so-little-time/37435-steely-dan.html
posted by mary8nne at 8:13 AM on October 26, 2010


There's a bunch of interesting information about the making of Aja on 'making of Aja' special. It's on youtube in chunks (here's a chunk about Peg). Google claims the whole thing is available on 'Veoh', but I couldn't get it to work.

I don't recall specifically them discussing the cleanness, but the cleanness is such a part of the Dan's sound I am sure it is at least spoken about peripherally.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:09 AM on October 26, 2010


Check out the "Making Of" vids on youtube: Peg, Aja. Doesn't directly answer your question, but gives a bit of insight.
posted by googly at 9:10 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Was about to paste some of googly's links. Here's one for Home At Last. It's pretty fun to watch Donald Fagen and Walter Becker messing around at the mixing board. I'd have to imagine the sheer perfectionism of those sessions went a long way in creating the "clean" sound you describe.
posted by evisceratordeath at 9:12 AM on October 26, 2010


Yeah, I don't think there's much of a "secret" aside from stellar musicians and obsessive attention to detail.
posted by timeistight at 9:40 AM on October 26, 2010


To echo timeistight, during the Making Of videos, they solo a number of tracks, and its evident that they used very few effects - not much in the way of reverb, delay, filters, distortion, etc. (there's one segment where they are listening to a guitar solo that wound up not being used and Becker comments on the fact that the guitarist is using a barely-perceptible envelope filter). When you use the best musicians and keep recording until every note is perfect, you don't need a lot of bells and whistles to make it sound great.
posted by googly at 9:50 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Joe Beese:

Where do I send a bill for all the time I'm gonna be spending with Citizen:Steely Dan today?
posted by timsteil at 9:55 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


they used very few effects - not much in the way of reverb, delay, filters, distortion, etc.

I thought it might be something like that. Maybe recording direct to the mixing console or something.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:58 AM on October 26, 2010


Here's another data point - a Sound on Sound article on the recording of a more recent album (I thought they had done a "Classic Tracks" feature on a Steely Dan song, but apparently not). Again, no special secret recipe, but there is this:

"Elliot Scheiner has worked with Steely Dan since their fifth album, 1976's The Royal Scam, and is arguably the most highly regarded engineer in the US, with credits ranging from Van Morrison and Toto to Fleetwood Mac and Barbra Streisand. As five-time Grammy winner, and a man renowned for sonic excellence, even Scheiner marvels at the extent to which the Dan duo have an "obsession with sonic detail".

The stories of Fagen and Becker's "obsession" are legion. For instance, when working on their second album, Countdown To Ecstasy (1973), they ran an eight-bar loop of two-inch tape to an idler wheel outside the control room in an attempt to achieve drum machine-like precision in the rhythm section. Steely's web site, www.steelydan.com, proclaims with some pride that because of a faulty tape machine used on the recording of Katy Lied (1975), the band refused to listen to the final album. When working on Gaucho (1980), they pioneered the use of engineer Roger Nichols' freshly developed Wendel sampling drum machine and audio sampler (12.5kHz/12-bit) for drums and percussion. An indication of the amount of overdubbing, splicing, and re-recording that went into their quest for perfection was that Nichols and Scheiner used up 360 rolls of tape recording Gaucho.

For Fagen and Becker only the very best session musicians (meaning, in the '70s, the likes of Jeff Porcaro, David Sanborn, Randy Becker, Larry Carlton and Joe Sample) and engineers (Scheiner, Nichols, Bill Schnee) would do, and even these top guys were pressed hard to perform beyond their best. At every stage the Dan duo were among the first to embrace the latest studio technology, and the musicianship and sonic quality of their albums has always been at the very limit of what is possible. "

posted by googly at 10:27 AM on October 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


For Fagen and Becker only the very best session musicians (meaning, in the '70s, the likes of Jeff Porcaro, David Sanborn, Randy Becker, Larry Carlton and Joe Sample) ... would do.

That reminded me of Robert Christgau's cranky review of Gaucho:

... Donald Fagen progresses toward the intellectual cocktail rock he's sought for almost a decade--followed, of course, by a cadre of top-drawer El Lay studio hacks, the only musicians in the world smart enough to play his shit.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:47 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


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