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How a recording studio mishap shaped ’80s music

An unapologetic ode to gated reverb drums.

There are a handful of clearly recognizable sounds in music that are always pinned to a genre and decade. The surf guitar pioneered by Dick Dale, the wall of sound of Phil Spector, the bass slap of Larry Graham, the boom bap of the golden age of hip hop. These classic sounds are revered, and some of them miraculously transcended the decade in which they were first developed.

But there’s one sound that will always be timestamped to the 1980s and people just love to hate it. It’s called gated reverb.

Over the past few years, a general nostalgia for the ’80s has infiltrated music, film, and television. In pop music, producers have enthusiastically applied gated reverb to drums to create that punchy percussive sound — used by every artist from Phil Collins to Prince — to pay homage to their favorite artists of the 1980s.

I unapologetically love gated reverb, and so for my second episode of Vox Pop’s Earworm I spoke with two Berklee College of Music professors, Susan Rogers and Prince Charles Alexander, to figure out just how that sound came to be, what makes it so damn punchy, and why it’s back.

The video above tells the story of gated reverb and the playlist below — a curated mix of gated reverb drenched songs from the 1980s and today — is just a little Friday gift from me to you.

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