What happened to music recording dates?
May 15, 2014 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Being a fan of music, I've noticed most pop and rock from the 1960s and 1970s often carried a recording date of each song in the liner notes. For instance, Elton John's Tiny Dancer shows a recording date of 9 August 1971. However I almost never see music from 1980 onward carrying any recording dates at all (with a few exceptions such as Prince and Tom Petty's material). Is this information actually printed somewhere in the trade publications, or is it simply not tracked anymore by most studios?
posted by crapmatic to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know much about the music industry, but I imagine that part of the reason you wouldn't see that anymore is that many songs nowadays aren't recorded on a single date -- the different parts may be tracked separately over a period of days or weeks.
posted by mekily at 8:34 PM on May 15, 2014 [10 favorites]

My guess is that "Recording date" was often more easily identifiable because a studio would have been booked for a particular day - and it would have been rare for the recording of a particular track to have taken longer than a day to record. That era seems to have drawn to a close in the 1970s - a google search for "recording session date" shows up links that are mostly to prominent artists of that era. If you look at this list of recording dates for all Beatles tracks you can see another problem: in the early 60s we can normally ascribe a single day for a particular track's creation - but by the late 60s we might have recording and editing activities happening over several days: so we have to specify a general time frame instead.

As mekily says, more recent recordings are often done over several days - and may not be done in a studio at all. But even more importantly, the databases for recording information about music don't appear to include a field allowing a recording date to be specified. For example here is the list of tags in the MusicBrainz/Picard system. This talks about "release date" and even "original release date" - but nothing about recording date. So I think there is also an element of musicians no longer being asked to provide this information when they make a release.
posted by rongorongo at 2:12 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

My own semi-informed answer (occasional recording artist and session musician, late eighties-present) is much as above -- by the time that Elton John's Madman Across the Water album was recorded, many recording artists were moving away from music that was completed in a single session. Even the first album my garage band completed when we were all teenagers or early twentysomethings took two consecutive weekends in a studio, and by the mid-nineties, a modest album that I played on was done over the course of a couple of months (albeit because The Rheostatics had block-booked the studio and forced us to wait).

I am with you, though -- it is one of those things that interests me at least a little, but apparently we are in the minority, as very few people note this stuff any more. I also enjoy learning when, specifically, movies or TV shows were filmed, but that sort of thing rarely gets noted unless by chance on a commentary track where a director might mention that such-and-such a scene was halted and delayed a week because of 9/11 or something.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:58 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anecdotes: electronic/ manipulated sound artist Dexter Tortoriello spent two and three years recording two different albums, spending time modifying individual sounds and taking breaks to deal with cluster headaches.

And I've seen a number of albums on Wikipedia that list a span of recording years, not specific recording dates.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:42 AM on May 16, 2014

Thanks all for the insight.

Somewhat related... as a random data point a few days ago I mentioned Logans Run... the famous carousel scene was September 8, 1975 according to one of those shooting schedules that surfaces once in a blue moon. So behind the illusion it's actually a Monday, and newspaper headlines were covering demonstrations in Boston against desegregation, with 62 arrests. Whether it's music or film, it's interesting comparing the art with the times, and wondering what was on the minds of the performers that day.
posted by crapmatic at 11:13 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Whether it's music or film, it's interesting comparing the art with the times, and wondering what was on the minds of the performers that day.

Absolutely, and I've found that thanks to decades of Beatle research/obsessiveness you can get great details about their daily lives and how that interacted with their studio work. Revolution in the Head has an appendix which lists news headlines, pop culture highlights, and music charts for each month of the Beatles existence. The various Mark Lewisohn chronicles also have these sorts of details, such as the band taking a break in the studio to watch a broadcast or John and George attending a concert one night and then working in the studio the next morning.
posted by Paid In Full at 12:21 PM on May 16, 2014

Yup, seconding all of the above answers in that the recording process began to commonly take place over multiple dates, and often in multiple locations, so designating a specific date for a song is not as applicable as it once was.

And if you look at the wikipedia entry for History of Multitrack Recording you can see that 16-track machines started to become more widely used and available starting in the late 60's/early 70's, which is the technology that made it much easier to spread a recording out over time and distance. Eventually there were 24 or 32 track tape machines.

I started my career as a studio recording engineer in the late 80's (although I now do live work exclusively), and I can think of at least 3 recording studios in the Cleveland area around that time that tended to stay pretty current with the latest and greatest recording technology, because it wasn't uncommon that if a major label had an artist that was touring and had a couple of days off in the general vicinity of Cleveland, the label would send them into one of these studios to do some work on their new album or song, recording guitar parts or vocal tracks or whatever. (I didn't do this work, I worked for a couple of smaller places that catered to local/regional clients.)

Whether any of these parts recorded in Cleveland actually ever made it onto the released songs is "who knows?", but you can see how it would become pretty much impossible to say that a song was recorded on a specific date.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:32 PM on May 16, 2014

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