Almost any article on Wilco is going to follow the “Jeff Tweedy: A Dude that’s Got Some Problems” formula to some extent, so I don’t mind that element of Greg Kot’s Wilco piece in the Tribune yesterday so much. He kept it mellow, didn’t make much of a big deal out of any of Tweedy’s issues, didn’t go too Barbara Walters on it. He even got a good quote from Tweedy on how selling actual, physical CDs is environmentally unfriendly, which not many musicians are talking about. But there’s a big “boi-oi-oing” moment a couple of paragraphs in where Kot starts discussing the recording of Wilco’s new album, Sky Blue Sky:
“The band even recorded the music on a 2-inch reel-to-reel tape machine instead of computers, which is practically unheard of in today’s production world. It requires a band to essentially record complete takes of a song rather than overdub and edit parts at will.”
This is not how recording to tape actually works. While live-to-two-track sessions are still a basic part of college audio engineering classes, we’ve had the technology to do overdubs, edits, punch-ins, and a whole lot of other studio tricks since the 1950s. There were 30 or so years when tape-based multitrack recording was the only technology around, and a lot of studio tricks happened in that time. I’m pretty sure the Beatles indulged in it a little bit. And I know Wilco did on their latest recording. (I hang out with a lot of audio professionals, and they all love to gossip.)
And while it’s true that most acts as big or bigger than Wilco have succumbed to the hyper-edited Pro Tools recording process, getting a good take down on tape isn’t that rare of an event. It happens in Chicago every day.