A Zealous Force known as Soul.
"When there's music in the soul, there's soul in the music." - Criss Jami, Healology
Rhythm, Blues, and the Soul all contribute to the emotive lives of people, musically orientated or not. These terms aren't just defined as musical genres, but are notable human instincts. Some deep, full of sorrow, and emotionally scarred. Some lift you from your slump, make you to dance and scream out love with a monstrous roar. All these messages are portrayed through these musical forms, and we all have them. To find them, we just need to listen to our minds, our bodies and our souls.
For the Screaming Eagle of soul himself, the late, and the legendary, Mr Charles Bradley.
Rhythm and Soul is a music genre that stemmed from Black popular music as it evolved from the 1950s into the socially conscious 1960s, and through to the early 1970s. Another emotive result from the Civil Rights Movement. Some viewed it as a new label for the conquering Rhythm & Blues, though this did miss a vital interpretation of the soul era. Many great artists of the time did a lot to redefine the Rhythm & Blues genre, in a hope to excel Black popular music in a competitive White record buying market. Many succeeded, and many did not. Though, the reinterpretation of the genre would see a huge rise in popularity, forcing Black music culture to exceed any of the public's expectations. Simply put, if Rock n Roll is the White interpretation of Rhythm & Blues, then Soul was the return to the roots for the Black community.
The genre perpetuates stylings from the Blues; vocal honesty, intensity, and call and response. It clearly relays the power of Gospel and Church music. Rhythm was the tie between all stylings, and soul became the forefront for the Black music revolution. These genres broke on through into popularity, sidelining Rock n Roll, and completely dominating the Charts for many years. Atlantic Records was one of the first to 'mature' the genre, producing artists like Aretha Franklin, with her hit 'I Never Loved A Man’ in 1967; the start of one of the greatest series of soul recordings of all time. The legendary Stax Records, based in Memphis, had built on an unshakable quality of straight ahead Soul. Vocalists such as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and the Staple Singers, would perform with such intensity, that they took you straight back to the Blues shouters of the 30s and 40s, and with the southern studios, ready to capture, these recordings still stand as some of the most influential of all time. Other already successful, but somewhat stangnet Artists, approached these studios to regenerate their careers. Etta James would record ‘Tell Mama’ in Muscle Shoals, and Percy Sledge’s ‘When A Man Loves A Woman,’ was recorded nearby in Sheffield, which became the first Southern-Soul song to reach number one on the pop charts, and hasn't really left the charts since.
Soulsville U.S.A. - Stax Records, Memphis, Tennessee.
The Motown sound from Detroit stirred a some divided opinions between the Soul music form. Sharing musical similarities, Soul's lighter, pop orientations, and predetermined efforts to a appeal to a broader audience, caused commentators to argue over the authenticity of the musical forms. The debate can also be made that the Stax and Atlantic Record labels produced artists and material that retained real gospel grit. Alongside the Pop stylings from the likes of the Supremes, earlier Contours material, classic Marvin Gaye , and the superb vocal performances of the Temptations, all goes straight back to the church and the gospel heritage, which in this case, was purely in Soul form. Motown was often deemed as lesser-in-status, simply because it packaged so well. Its polished and well produced music (and somewhat restricted to one group of professional musicians) appealed to the White teenage demographic, as well as the traditional Black customer.
Hitsville U.S.A. - Motown Records, Detroit, Michigan.
Chicago followed on with the Soul influence with its electric blues. It too had its share of successes, hanging dearly on to one of their greatest, Curtis Mayfield, who added his own social consciousness characteristics to the musical movement. Chess Records also followed with a variety of Soulful successes, which included hits from the Dells, Mitty Callier, Theola Kilgore and Fontella Bass, alongside its many Blues and R&B hits. The New Orleans had a different sound altogether, an undeniable blend of feel-good, expressive, funky soul, brewed out of Louisiana. The music didn't stop evolving, with the Philadelphia sound of Gamble and Huff effectively reinventing the genre in the 70s, with help from the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, the Sylistics, the Three Degrees, and the extraordinary Spinners. Soul has become a lasting part of the musical language of American pop-culture, and carries on through to many modern genres today.
Watch here, the rise of a Record Label, the coming together of a multi-colored community, and a brand new music genre come alive:
BBC. (2016). The Story Of Stax Records [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmIzNX0Cr7k
Vocals and backing vocals (male and female)
Piano / Electric Piano
Electric Organ / Keyboards
Horn Section (Trumpet, Saxophones, and Trombone)
Performance and Arrangement:
Large ensembles with a lot of the instrumentation being doubled up.
Emotional vocal delivery. This ranged from forceful and high energy to sad, reflective and passionate.
Driving rhythm with drums and percussion giving a steady backbeat on beats 2 and 4.
Rhythmic, riff-based bass lines.
Rhythmic chordal parts on piano and guitar.
Typically brisk tempo around 120 bpm or faster, dance music, some slower tempo ballads.
Strong use of vocal and instrumental hooks.
Use of call and response.
Short songs with simple structures e.g verse/chorus form, sometimes with a bridge and instrumental sections.
Melodies often using a pentatonic scale with additional blues notes.
Technology and Production:
Early adoption of multi-track tape machines, 4-track then 8-track.
Live recording of a complete band in a single room with acoustic screens to provide separation.
Use of DI guitars and basses.
Close mic recording of drums.
Use of echo chambers.
Plate reverb such as EMT 140.
Use of classic compressors such as Teletronix LA2A, this was mixed fairly gently.
High quality recordings with clear vocals.
Stereo mixes with extreme panning this is unconventional by today’s standards e.g all drums and bass on the left all vocals and other instruments on the right.
Use of electric instruments.
Cited from - The History and Development of Soul Music. (2018). Retrieved from https://musictechstudent.co.uk/lessons/history-development-soul-music/
THE OLD SCHOOL WAY
During the 60s and 70s, a 16 track studio was state-of-the-art studio. Most of these genres were recorded by 'experienced' musicians, often in the same room at the same time. Studios and studio time were very expensive back then, and sessions, from Post to the Pre-Production phases, were banged-out as quickly as possible. There wasn't a lot of experimentation with with song-writing, nor any thought that went into the production techniques. It was a matter of getting a good rhythm section into the studio that were used to working with one another, setting up the mics to properly catch the sound, and then playing the tunes until a the perfect take.
The largest differentiators when it came to production, was in the actual group of musicians in each studio. Chicago Soul musicians, like Curtis Mayfield and Rufus Thomas, were all about the songwriters and rhythm section players. Similar to The Memphis sound, in the likes of Otis Redding and Al Green - the Mitchell brothers had their own sound on all Al Green's hits, as did Booker T & The MG's., with their backing of Sam & Dave. The Detroit sound all depended on a group of guys (and Carol Kaye on bass) known as The Funk Brothers, popular for their rhythm section on all the Motown tracks. And, same goes for the New Orleans Soul, delivered straight out of Sea Saint Studios, New Orleans, Louisiana.
As for any production techniques linked directly to these genres, the guy behind the board was actually the weakest link in the chain. All credit went to the truly-talented, and hardworking songwriters and musicians - two factors sadly lacking in a lot of contemporary music. Studios in this era, were crude and appalling for their acoustic structure and sound reflection, naive to the science of acoustics and how sound travelled in a room, so close micing was always a go to. Stax Recording Studio was an old movie theater. The bands would set up where the screen would once stand, and the sound board would be located at the opposite end of the theater, in front of the lobby. The sloping floors helped acoustically, but this was really a happy-accident. This large space with a large live band sounded more in the likes of a Club more than a recording space, though, engineers did what they had to to get the best possible recordings.
Majority of the band members were sectioned off with partitions, to create some separation. Drums were always close miced; usually a kick mic, a snare mic, and one or two overheads for cymbals and toms. Any Rhodes or Whirly keys had an SM57 on the speaker cabinet. Percussion sections were picked up with a single cardioid condenser mic. For vocals, majority of the time, session vocalists, and backup singers were brought in to build up the sound. It wasn't until the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album was released, with those creamy multi-tracked harmonies; it created some hypes through the recording business, and producers and musicians started going for overdubbing vocals. The key to most of these old recordings was the ability for these musicians to gel, and play together live.
THE MODERN TAKE
Soul music has developed massively over the last 50 years. It has influenced a variety of genres, and still stands tall among some of today's popular artists. Talents such as Charles Bradley, The Menahan Street Band, Leon Bridges, Jungle, Alabama Shakes, and even Australia's own Matt Corby. Soul, like most genres, branched out into a number of sub-genres, influencing a vast number of creators, and more importantly, the listeners. Some of those sub-genres consist of:
Psychedelic Soul. aka 'Black Rock', which was a blend of Psychedelic Rock and Soul music, which paved the way for the development of Funk in the 70s. Made popular by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder.
Stevie Wonder - Living For The City (Live 1974). (2009). [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99gNYaz6YaM
Blue-Eyed Soul. A White interpretation of Soul music. Influenced by Motown and R&B, Blue-Eyed Soul developed quite heavily alongside the Black orientated genre. Artists such as Van Morrison, David Bowie, The Righteous Brothers, Amy Winehouse, and Adele all contributed to the genre.
Van Morrison - Tupelo Honey (Live 1978). (2017). [Video]. Retrieved from
Neo-Soul. This style was developed in the early to mid-1990s. A key element in neo soul is a heavy dose of Rhodes or Wurlitzer electric piano "pads" over a mellow, grooving interplay between the drums (usually with a rimshot snare sound) and a muted, deep funky bass. The electric piano sound gives the music a warm, organic character. Artists of this genre consist of Erykah Badu, Bilal, D'Angelo, and the Roots.
The Roots featuring Bilal: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert (Live 30th of October 2017). (2017). [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eB4oFu4BtQ8
Hyper Soul can be described as a combination of soul and dance music. It maintains the vocal quality, techniques, and style, but includes a movement towards technology, materialism, heightened sexuality, and sensationalism in the rhythm and lyricism. It is also remarkable for possessing a more euro sound influence than the other sub-genres of soul. The sub-genre provides more roles that may be adopted by the song's female subjects and more space to express different facets of gender experience as compared to traditional soul, through the reversal of male-female dynamics and the embrace of dominating and confrontational attitudes. Performers included Timbaland, Aaliyah, Whitney Houston and Destiny's Child. Hyper Soul maybe also be seen as a precursor to modern R&B.
Destiny's Child - Girl. (2009). [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIszesDaK9U
MODERN PRODUCTION TECHNIQUES
In the modern Soul music arena, productions techniques haven't varied too much over the last 50 years. The previous stated sub-genres have variances in their productions. The more modern styles like Neo Soul and Hyper Soul both have heavy electronic instrumentation and beats. Their Hip Hop influences play part in this, with a massive movement into the digital technologies. They show a lot more tightness and polish through their productions compared to the traditional Soul music stylings.
Soul has been one of those genres that many artists pull from. It continues to influence an abundance of music styles, so techniques are never limited. Many artists are blending styles, in the hunt for a new sound. But to pin point a few attributes directly linked to Soul itself, they would be somewhat LoFi, Tape Saturated, and completely performance based sounds. Here's Thomas Brenneck in an interview with Max Herman from EMusician.com talking about how he fulfils his Soul production desire for his act The Menahan Street Band:
“This was a chance for me to keep the same integrity of soul music, 'cause that's a love of mine,” Brenneck says, “but [also to] push the boundaries a little bit and experiment and record something that I wasn't even concerned about doing live, whether it was adding vibraphones or just coming up with some weird sounds that we wouldn't have to worry about duplicating.”
One technique Brenneck implemented for the first time on Make the Road by Walking was doubling instruments, such as coupling a Musser vibraphone with a mini glockenspiel to create psychedelic layers under the music. The trick he's most proud of, though, is how he took a vintage Harmony H74 guitar and learned to strum it unconventionally.
“The bridge is wood, so when you pluck the strings below where you're supposed to strum it, there's maybe four inches of space, and on most electric guitars you wouldn't even hear a sound — it would just sound like out-of-tune nonsense,” Brenneck says. “But because the guitar is completely made out of wood, the sound resonates. I don't know what inspired me, but I was always messing with that. And then I started to tune the guitar so that section of the guitar was actually being tuned and I would use it as an underlying element in the song.”
While the aforementioned technique was used on about a fourth of LP's tracks, one element Brenneck kept consistent was recording in analog. With songs like the dub-leaning “Montego Sunset,” you can hear the raw, lo-fi resonance that he was shooting for by recording straight to an Otari MX-5050 ½-inch 8-track without any compressors.
“I just crunched the shit out of the tape,” Brenneck explains of the process. “That's another reason why I didn't want to record it at Daptone or somewhere [else], to just kind of fuck with the sound and actually record to tape and really crunch it up and see how far I can take it before it sounded terrible, but where it sounded really cool.”
In addition to making Menahan Street Band's debut a true bedroom project full of experiments, Brenneck's goal was to pay respect to the rare groove tunes released under labels like Desco and Soul Fire — ones that carried that “cracked-out” soul sound: “I love that aesthetic of recording where just hitting the tape really hard sounds amazing.”
Herman, M. (2018). Frequencies: Menahan Street Band. [online] EMusician. Retrieved from: https://www.emusician.com/gear/frequencies-menahan-street-band
Check out The Menahan Street Band doing their thing with the Legendary Mr Charles Bradley, Live at KEXP, Seattle.
Charles Bradley and The Menahan Street Band - Full Performance Live on KEXP. (2012). [Video]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ev0yILvCdMM
Another Live production from MSR Studios, New York City. Booker T. Jones' ninth studio album, The Road from Memphis, backed by renowned Hip Hop group, The Roots, performing Everything is Everything.
Booker T. Jones - Everything is Everything. (2011). [Video]. Retrieved from:
Last but not least, this wouldn't be a blog about Soul music if I didn't reference the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin. She was a Soul music giant, and influenced the genre for its entirety. she sadly passed away recently, though left a legacy that has influenced a better world, especially for Woman's Rights, Black Rights, and music as a whole. To conclude, I want to leave you with, in my ears, the greatest Soul song of all time:
Aretha Franklin - Respect 1967. (2013). [Video]. Retrieved from:
The History and Development of Soul Music. (2018). Retrieved from:https://musictechstudent.co.uk/lessons/history-development-soul-music/
KVR Forum: 60's and 70's soul production techniques. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=155751
Nero, M. (2018). Origins and Influence of Soul Music. [online] ThoughtCo. Retrieved from: https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-soul-music-2851218
HistoryOfRecording.com. (2018). Aretha Franklin Recording Sessions. [online] Retrieved from: https://www.historyofrecording.com/arethafranklin.html.
Herman, M. (2018). Frequencies: Menahan Street Band. [online] EMusician. Retrieved from: https://www.emusician.com/gear/frequencies-menahan-street-band
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