SH Spotlight How the Warner Bros. Sound Dept. recorded the score for "THE MUSIC MAN" in multi-channel in 1961..

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, May 2, 2023.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    I've been thinking about "The Music Man" movie (WB 1962) recently. Perhaps the most faithful adaptation of a Broadway musical ever done. Even though Jack Warner wanted Cary Grant to do it, better heads convinced him that the only person to play the role was of course Robert Preston.

    Watching this clip I'm remembering back at HOW this was recorded. Not the picture, but the music and singing. Warners had three-channel dubbers in 1961, a row of four of them and when recording The Music Man, most channels were filled.

    For example, "Trouble" was recorded live on the music stage with full orchestra taking up Left/Center/Right mag positions on the first 35mm dubber. Robert Preston off to the side, recording on one channel of a second dubber. Now, this famous song was recorded live in ONE TAKE. That's right, no editing, just one take. How do I know this? I worked on The Music Man score restoration in 1993 and trust me, one take. Amazing.

    But then, even crazier, the vocal chorus "Oh we got trouble..." parts were recorded two weeks later but in such a funky old-school way that I laugh every time:

    The three channel music plus Robert Preston were dubbed to a 78 RPM "Instant" acetate. This record was played back for conductor Ray Heindorf's headphones alone. A three-channel dubber picked up the chorus live while Heindorf conducted them.

    Now, the chorus couldn't hear Robert Preston, couldn't hear the orchestra, couldn't hear ****. But they watched Heindorf's arm as he conducted them like Marcel Marceau, I kid you not. That's how they did it. Later, in "rerecording" (mixing) the music, vocal, sound effects and chorus were combined for playback (on the set) on another 78 RPM record to be played back by a portable record player with a giant horn speaker while being filmed. Preston lip-synced to the record.

    Even later, it was all synced up, mixed correctly and that's what we see in the movie and hear on the soundtrack album.

    I really like that they were still using 78 RPM acetate records for musical playback in the 1960's, probably the exact same machine and technique used in 1942's "Yankee Doodle Dandy" or maybe even "Footlight Parade" (1933)!

  2. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

  3. FramboGND

    FramboGND Hickory®

    Got the UK DVD of this great musical, easily on a par with anything Tommy Steele did :righton:
  4. ronton99

    ronton99 Forum Resident

    I saw that movie recently and noticed that it looked like there were some live musical performances.
    I actually wondered how they did the sound for such a thing.
    Thanks for posting that!
    TonyCzar likes this.
  5. I hope that Hester wins just one more "A".........
  6. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    My favorite song in the thing. Preston and orchestra did that one in one take as well!
  7. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Actually no live performances. Just good acting!

  8. Well, hadn't he been singing it 6 days a week and twice on Sundays for a while?

    But, I understand your point, and I am Happy my 9th grade English teacher used these Broadway shows as part of our curriculum. The Music Man, Guys & Dolls, Paint Your Wagon, plus Oklahoma ended up being my favorites.
    McLover and TonyCzar like this.
  9. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Well, the Warner Bros. Orchestra had the song for about 7 minutes so, you know, pros at work and all of that..
  10. Tullman

    Tullman Senior Member

    Boston MA
    I did this recording my Children's Chorus. What a *****.
    Thanks for the information, very interesting. I saw this at the movie theater as a kid when it came out. Love the movie.
    McLover likes this.
  11. elborak

    elborak Forum Resident

    Great version of a great show.

    I wish those same "better heads" had been around for Damn Yankees. What could have been a wonderfully faithful adaptation marred by recasting and (even worse) the cutting of a crucial song: "The Game". They left out the soul of the show with that omission.
  12. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    I was asked about the history of stereo movies via three-channel 35mm magnetic film dubbers at Warner Bros. from 1954-..

    As I've mentioned, JL Warner hated stereo movies, the expense, the hassle, etc. Nonetheless, he had the sound dept. redesigned in 1953 with the latest and greatest.

    The sound dept. had a row of 4 dubbers, so 12 channels could be recorded at one time. I doubt they ever did that but on The Music Man's "Pick A Little-Talk A Little" they came damn close:

    Three channels of orchestra L/C/R, three channels of stereo chorus (same), one channel of Preston, one channel for chatter (live on set) and three channels for The Buffalo Bills Barbershop Quartet.

    So that's eleven channels used. A lot of Tape hiss, yes, but they had a noise reduction technique for magnetic striped film that was invented by WB engineer Dolph Thomas (who actually was behind the controls on The Music Man).

    Dolph boosted the upper midband/lower treble during recording. By the time the music had been duped over and over, for mix reductions to final print master, the sound would have been reduced to normal "tone" while a treble EQ reduction would have kept the tape hiss in line.

    Think that couldn't possibly work? I wish you could hear the (unreleased) "The Music Man" Original Soundtrack album I did back in the 1990's. Hardly any tape hiss at all from 12 channels, following Dolph Thomas' EQ notes.

    Old-School tech at its best..

    Also, the best kept secret in the industry in the 1930's-40's is how the hell Warner Bros. Pictures had the best sounding music recording? David Selznick tried to find out to steal the sound for Gone With The Wind, couldn't. Louis B. Mayer tried to find out, couldn't.

    The secret was that WB's chief sound engineer George Groves, the inventor of VITAPHONE, pictured in below photos, simply oversaturated the signal into clipping, distortion and just over all tube goodness. No other studio thought of that!

    fanny_brice_my_man.jpg al_jolson_george_groves_mammy.jpg first_stage_mixer_viennese_nights.jpg
    bluemooze, Lownotes, fredblue and 9 others like this.
  13. Kassonica

    Kassonica Forum Resident

    In bold, that is genius for that time... wow, thanks for sharing that
    BeatlesBop likes this.
  14. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    I'll let you all know the playback EQ for any Warner Bros 1950's and 60's music score mag tape, per Dolph Thomas and M. A. Merrick, WB Sound Dept.

    +9 at 50/5, +6 at 71/6, -6 at 4k/6, -3 at 8.1k/6.

    There ya go, the magic reverse EQ. Sontec style, of course..

    So what WB did to the original incoming signal was the opposite:

    Minus 9 at 50 cycles, minus 6 at 71 cycles, plus 6 at 4k (ouch) and plus 3 at 8k.. Basically reduce the bass, add mid and low top. Kind of like an RIAA curve thing.
  15. somnar

    somnar Senior Member

    NYC & Amsterdam
    Amazing - I had no idea.
  16. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

  17. I enjoy these "inside baseball" type posts from the Pros......
  18. Vinylbeast

    Vinylbeast But does it sound good?

    Central Illinois
    Shame it never came out. Did you ever learn why? How many times would you say you mastered a title that never saw light of day?
  19. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Light preorders. Too many cancelled to think about. I did “Gypsy” as well.
    hi_watt and Vinylbeast like this.
  20. Sneaky Pete

    Sneaky Pete Senior Member

    Fascinating to find out all these details. The Music Man is a sentimental favorite of mine because it was my late step father’s favorite musical.

    He was a computer engineer by trade and held many patents but he was also a big music lover. He sang in a barbershop quartet in college, and they won a competition. The prize was that his quartet appeared on Eddy Arnold’s radio show. Later in life he continued to sing in choirs until his health no longer permitted it. He loved the Music Man.

    When CDs came out I searched high and low to get him a copy of the Music Man. When I finally found it, I was able buy him both with film and Broadway cast recordings. I wish he was still around, I would love to share all this with insider information about the recording with him.
  21. rcsrich

    rcsrich Forum Resident

    Just nuts the lengths they went through- amazing stuff!
    Sneaky Pete likes this.
  22. Kassonica

    Kassonica Forum Resident

    just wow, being an engineer myself that just blows my mind, yea +6 at 4k whoa, must of sounded harsh to listen to, and yea sontec EQ's many have said the best EQ's ever made...
    Sneaky Pete likes this.
  23. noirbar

    noirbar Forum Resident

    San Antone
    Maybe the best musical of all time. How can you not love every moment. I'd say swell but don't want certain words to creep into the conversation.

    Wonderful stories Steve. Lots of trouble but WB was on it. Plus 6 at 4! I'll take the odds and thanks for the inside pool.

    Wait, did we mention Shirley Jones??....:love::love:
    Lownotes and kch27 like this.
  24. stereoguy

    stereoguy Its Gotta Be True Stereo!

    Just to get this correct in my mind, To get the all the movie sound on the film, they mixed all the tracks on the dubbers to a mono 78 RPM record, played that back thru a large speaker, and a mic picked that up and fed it to the film recorder where it got recorded on the film as the sound track? is that correct?
  25. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    No. Just used for lip sync playback on set.
    Grootna likes this.

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