Tom Moulton sits right at the top of dance music culture as we know it today. Apart from being one of the finest producers in the world, he is responsible for creating the first 12” remix single and consequently what is now known as remixing. This meant that he could remix a track and make it fifteen minutes long if he wanted to (think Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”) signifying the start of record labels like Salsoul and the start of Disco taking off big time, as longer tracks suited a nightclub environment, unlike the radio where 7” singles were and are still favoured as typically they can only capture 3 minutes worth of music, without sound quality deteriorating. Interestingly enough, even digital producers today still use the same time limits, even though there really are no limitations, you could make a record that lasted a year now if you wanted to (not sure any radio stations would play it though).
Tom mentions that even today when he feels jaded about the music industry, the music he turns to is Philadelphia Soul. Tom is pretty vocal about these being amongst the finest records recorded in existence, and one is inclined to wholeheartedly agree. What is abundantly clear about the prodigious production talent of Kenneth Gamble & Leon A. Huff is that no expense was spared in recording for the Philadelphia International Records label, from the piercing and rich orchestration that they make use of in most of their catalogue, to the finest musicians, metronomically producing classic after classic. These are the some of the most expensive sounding records one has ever heard.
The home computer and the internet have incontrovertibly changed the interface for modern music, principally, by making it affordable for anyone with a computer to make their own music, and most importantly, promote and distribute their music with no middleman. Back in the day, if you were a good musician and had ideas for a record and the record company executives did not agree, you never got to record so no-one ever heard about you. The good aspect of this approach was quality control, people generally released the best tracks whereas the wearisome aspect of navigating the modern musical landscape (e.g. House Music) is that there is just too much of it, most of it forgettable. The more one looks into the music industry however, the more one encounters countless horror stories of artists either never getting paid or signing rip-off contracts, sometimes you wonder if any musicians ever made any money? One must note that this advent is not a fault [computer and internet] and ought to be commended. It really has allowed people from all backgrounds to release music rich or poor.
Music production in the eighties boils down to two Japanese inventions (even my Technics SL 1210 turntables are Japanese and they last at least 25 years)
1. The Roland TR-808 that has been used to record pretty much every hit record in the eighties, “Sexual Healing “ by Marvin Gaye being one of the first, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis would use it with artists like Janet Jackson, commercially in terms of sales, they sit at the top of the pile for that decade, and this was their weapon, here in the UK, Loose Ends were one of the first proponents
The Japanese were responsible for reducing the costs of producing music significantly with these two instruments, but to be honest, they were still considerably expensive, and as noted before, only 10 000 Roland 303’s were ever made, so only a finite number of producers could ever access the technology.
Before these two technologies, producing music was prohibitively expensive, because you needed live musicians to play everything, on top of all the recording equipment, instruments, studio engineers, producers and mixers, where nothing at all was digital, so very labour intensive and time consuming to operate.
Philadelphia International Records became very popular very quickly in the early seventies with seminal producers Gamble & Huff producing hit after hit, and is singular in having some of the best recorded and produced records in the history of music.
Gamble & Huff had a family of thirty session musicians called MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother) that played on all the records. Gamble & Huff had a penchant for sublime orchestral arrangements, almost over the top and ridiculously expensive, there is no doubt that no expense has been spared creating these records, it’s no wonder The Jacksons got them to produce their first two albums. If you look at credits in the sleeve notes of a lot of their albums, you see one big family of musicians and artists.
The components that make up most modern digitally produced music are similar across a lot of different styles of music, listening to a pop record in 2015 does make one realise just how far back we have gone. If you think you have put a lot of effort into making music, listen to pretty much anything on Philadelphia International Records, that really is how its done.