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Wall of Sound

Professional sound production Record Production The Beatles Pop music

The Wall of Sound (also called the Spector Sound) is a music production formula developed by American record producer Phil Spector at Gold Star Studios, in the 1960s, with assistance from engineer Larry Levine and the conglomerate of session musicians later known as "the Wrecking Crew". The intention was to exploit the possibilities of studio recording to create an unusually dense orchestral aesthetic that came across well through radios and jukeboxes of the era. Spector explained in 1964: "I was looking for a sound, a sound so strong that if the material was not the greatest, the sound would carry the record. It was a case of augmenting, augmenting. It all fit together like a jigsaw."

A popular misconception holds that the Wall of Sound was created simply through a maximum of noise and distortion, but the method was actually more nuanced. To attain the Wall of Sound, Spector's arrangements called for large ensembles (including some instruments not generally used for ensemble playing, such as electric and acoustic guitars), with multiple instruments doubling or tripling many of the parts to create a fuller, richer tone. For example, Spector often duplicated a part played by an acoustic piano with an electric piano and a harpsichord. Mixed well enough, the three instruments would then be indistinguishable to the listener.

Among other features of the sound, Spector incorporated an array of orchestral instruments (strings, woodwind, brass and percussion) not previously associated with youth-oriented pop music. Reverb from an echo chamber was also highlighted for additional texture. He characterized his methods as "a Wagnerian approach to rock & roll: little symphonies for the kids". The combination of large ensembles with reverberation effects also increased the average audio power in a way that resembles compression. By 1979, the use of compression had become common on the radio, marking the trend that led to the loudness war in the 1980s.

The intricacies of the technique were unprecedented in the field of sound production for popular music. According to Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson, who used the formula extensively: "In the '40s and '50s, arrangements were considered 'OK here, listen to that French horn' or 'listen to this string section now.' It was all a definite sound. There weren't combinations of sound and, with the advent of Phil Spector, we find sound combinations, which—scientifically speaking—is a brilliant aspect of sound production."

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