Look around you and you’ll see that inspiration from past decades is abundant in modern music. We’re pulling inspiration from all sorts of genres, with certain music seeing a rebirth and others changing and adapting to bring a classic vibe to a new sound.
The 1980s in particular seem to have held a special spot in music for many artists and producers. Maybe it was because it was the first time digital music mediums really started to become a reality. Maybe it was because of the musicianship of mainstream artists at the time. Maybe it was a combination of both or something else altogether…
Regardless of why 80s music has carved out such a definitive spot in our minds, it’s clear that its influence is highly in demand today. Rock and metal acts that are able to pull off anything reminiscent of the big, arena rock sounds of the 80s are, well, playing in arenas. They’ve found a way to carry on the torch – sharing the same stadiums with the same massive crowds of fans that their idols play to.
So what is it about 80s rock that’s been brought forward and put on display within modern metal today?
Musicianship Is Always In Its Prime
If there’s one thing I can say for certain, it’s that the musicianship I’ve seen from artists today is at an all-time high. Just like decades of the past, musicians are constantly pushing the envelope of what’s possible to play on instruments like drums and electric guitars. You don’t have to look far to make the comparisons…
Guitar legends like Eddie Van Halen brought the world new techniques like tapping. He may not have been the first to do it, but it became a part of his sound that has been inked in the mind of any new guitarist that’s heard it since.
We’re seeing similar trends toward new techniques today, especially with the introduction of low-tuned and extended range guitars adding more versatility than ever. This new age of metal musicians are laying the groundwork for what is physically possible right now that we’re sure to see blown out of the water by guitarists 20 – 30 years from now.
Hi gain tone isn’t something new – guitarists back in the 80s were constantly pushing their super high wattage, overdriven amps as hard as they could. The major difference has been in the format of how to achieve those tones.
Loud music used to come from pushing lots of power and electricity into an amplifier to crank up your sound. Today, we’ve built a better mousetrap to do the same thing.
Yes, there are still nostalgic musicians out there using amps that were made and used heavily in the 80s as an homage to their heroes, but the vast majority are using modern takes on the classics (even Mr. Van Halen himself has upgraded to a more modern take on his amp).
In the physical world, amps are getting smaller while packing the same amount of punch. Guitarists used to rely on massive amps with tons of headroom, but they’re realizing that the same tone in a smaller format means that the amp can be mic’d up and mixed through the PA. Because of innovation, the massive 100+ watt heads of the past are more of a luxury and less of a necessity than they’ve ever been.
For those on the cusp of modern music production, digital technology has come far enough where many modern musicians are ditching the physical gear altogether. Full amp rigs are being replaced with digital modelers like AxeFX & Kemper or virtual rigs like the Toneforge series.
These modern offerings give guitarists access to all kinds of new and old tones without the hassle of large, heavy equipment to lug around and maintain.
I could spend all day talking about the gear, but for the majority of fans, that’s not what they’re listening for. It’s easy to forget sometimes that non-musicians rarely care about the technical proficiency or equipment a musician is using.
They’re listening for the formula.
What is it about your song that connects with them on an emotional level? Is it the massive, pounding drums? The fast, riff-heavy guitars?
Modern metal musicians know that to make the same impact on listeners today, they need to use the same songwriting and production formula that fans love about 80s rock. Huge walls of sound and wailing guitar solos work. Artists who can adopt that formula, make it their own, and repackage it into something fans want to listen to are nearly guaranteed to have an audience today and for years to come.
Mixing Modern Metal
With modern metal and dozens of other genres, a big piece of the puzzle is getting the balance of your mix right. It’s actually part of the reason many bands failed in the 80s – they could’ve been the most technically proficient musicians in the world at the time, but if the mixes sounded like garbage, the labels never wanted to give them a chance.
Today, you’ve got more power in your computer than many of those studios had and you need to be able to take full advantage of it. Knowing how to get the guitar tones you're after, find balance in your drum mix, and produce vocals like a true professional are all essential skills for an aspiring mixer/producer.
This is why we built JST VIP – as a resource for those that need to learn these things to take their careers to the next level.