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Chasing Sound

Technology, Culture, and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP

Susan Schmidt Horning

Publication Year: 2013

In Chasing Sound, Susan Schmidt Horning traces the cultural and technological evolution of recording studios in the United States from the first practical devices to the modern multi-track studios of the analog era. Charting the technical development of studio equipment, the professionalization of recording engineers, and the growing collaboration between artists and technicians, she shows how the earliest efforts to capture the sound of live performances eventually resulted in a trend toward studio creations that extended beyond live shows, ultimately reversing the historic relationship between live and recorded sound. A former performer herself, Schmidt Horning draws from a wealth of original oral interviews with major labels and independent recording engineers, producers, arrangers, and musicians, as well as memoirs, technical journals, popular accounts, and sound recordings. Recording engineers and producers, she finds, influenced technological and musical change as they sought to improve the sound of records. By investigating the complex relationship between sound engineering and popular music, she reveals the increasing reliance on technological intervention in the creation as well as in the reception of music. The recording studio, she argues, is at the center of musical culture in the twentieth century.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Studies in Industry and Society


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

My interest in the art of sound engineering was sparked by my early experience in a recording studio when my high school rock band, The Poor Girls, made a demo record at Cleveland Recording. That was in the days when you walked out of the studio with a ten-inch lacquer disc, or “acetate,” in a paper sleeve, with one song on each side. ...

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pp. 1-10

In 1943, accordion player and bandleader Frankie Yankovic booked time in the studios of the Cleveland Recording Company during a two-week furlough before being shipped overseas. In one afternoon, Yankovic and his polka band cut thirty-two sides, about eight times the average number of songs expected in the standard three-hour recording session of that period. ...

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1. Capturing Sound in the Acoustic Era: Recording Professionals and Clever Mechanics

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pp. 11-31

Early phonograph makers and recording companies bore little resemblance to the large entertainment conglomerates they became by the end of the twentieth century. Beginning in small-machine shops and inventors’ laboratories, they could be counted among the many specialty manufacturing firms that composed the largest sector of American production ...

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2. The Studio Electrifies: Radio, Recording, and the Birth of the Small Studio Business

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pp. 32-55

Fueled by the dance craze of the 1910s that introduced new steps such as the turkey trot and the foxtrot, the record industry, by World War I, had entered what some historians referred to as its first “golden age.”1 By the early 1920s, the spectrum of recorded music had broadened to include more jazz, blues, gospel, and hillbilly music, ...

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3. A Passion for Sound: Amateur Recordists, the Audio Engineering Society, and the Evolution of a Profession

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pp. 56-77

Amateurs played a considerable role in the growth and development of recording technology. Just as early twentieth-century wireless experimenters, mostly white, middle- to upper-class men and boys, found a resolution to the contradictions of modern life in mechanical and electrical tinkering, reclaiming a sense of mastery, even masculinity, ...

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4. When High Fidelity Was New: The Studio as Instrument

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pp. 78-103

Record sales rebounded in the years leading up to World War II, and with consumer demand, companies paid renewed attention to the sound of records and to the acoustical properties of the studios in which they were made. While listeners enjoyed natural reverberation in live symphonic or big band performances, ...

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5. Control Men in Technological Transition: Engineering the Performance in the Age of High Fidelity

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pp. 104-139

After World War II, a revolution took place in the recording studio. In the spring of 1948, the first high-quality magnetic tape recorders entered broadcast and recording studios, and Columbia introduced the 33⅓ rpm long-playing microgroove record (LP). ...

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6. The Search for the Sound: Rhythm and Blues, Rock ’n’ Roll, and the Rise of the Independents

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pp. 140-170

During the 1940s and 1950s, control men and staff producers at Columbia, RCA Victor, Decca, Mercury, and Capitol refined their recording techniques and established slick production values for the classical, popular, and swing artists signed to those labels. ...

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7. Channeling Sound: Technology, Control, and Fixing It in the Mix

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pp. 171-207

During the 1950s, recording engineers balanced, or mixed, the relative volumes of instruments during recording based on what they heard coming out of a single control room monitor. With stereo, engineers had to approach their art in a completely new way. ...

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pp. 208-222

In 1970, Billboard proclaimed the recording studio “The Crucible of Creativity.” No longer a facility for merely transferring an artist’s performance to disc, the studio was now “the chief tool of the producer . . . the final catalyst, the crucible wherein the talents of producer, artist, songwriter and musician may be brought together ...


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pp. 223-272

Essay on Sources

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pp. 273-282

Index [Image Plates follow Page 292]

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pp. 283-292

E-ISBN-13: 9781421410234
E-ISBN-10: 1421410230
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421410227
Print-ISBN-10: 1421410222

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 16 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Studies in Industry and Society
Series Editor Byline: Philip B. Scranton, Series Editor, Published with the assistance of the Hagley Museum and Library See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 862958094
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chasing Sound

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Sound recordings -- Production and direction -- History.
  • Popular music -- Production and direction -- History.
  • Sound recording industry -- History.
  • Sound -- Recording and reproducing -- History.
  • Sound studios -- History.
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