Our Motown Heritage (Part 24)
The Motown Historical Museum

by Robert Dennis

In the 1960's an independent record company in Detroit, Michigan began creating and marketing hit records better and in larger volume than any record company in the world. The name of this record company was Motown. The recording techniques that were developed by Motown in the mid 60's were part of the formula for the company's success. Even today, many of the recording techniques used find their roots in this "Motown Sound" of the 60's. The Motown Historical Museum includes the original Hitsville USA building that housed Motown's original recording studio on West Grand Blvd. in Detroit.

I worked for Motown 1963-1968.  I was the "Disc Recording ("Mastering") Supervisor and had other responsibilities in the engineering department and in quality control of the sound quality. The recording student and the recording engineer of today will find a visit to the museum both interesting and informative. Recording EQ would like to give you a glimpse of our "Motown Recording Heritage."

The Original Hitsville USA

The outside of the East museum building looks much like it looked in the 60's with the "Hitsville USA" sign above the large display windows. In front of the building is the official State of Michigan plaque declaring this a historical site.

When I worked for Motown (1963-1968) the basement of this building housed the Engineering Department.  The Control Room was on the first floor and the studio was in an addition in the back.  The attic had an acoustic reverberation chamber in it.  Before I left, Motown had installed a mix room in a close-by building and had another studio miles away.  Read the Motown Heritage article about winter at the spread out 1960's Motown.


The Original Console

The recording console just routed and mixed the signals. Racks of gear to shape the sound had to be "patched" into the console. The Control Room was small, but for some reason you could cram a lot of people into it.  The panels of the console were custom built by Motown's engineering department.  Read the Motown Heritage article about Motown's custom engineering.

The famous reverberation of the 1960's was obtained by acoustic chambers built into the three main Motown building attics and patched into the console during mixing. The patch points for the three chambers were labeled with the address of the building (like "2648")


The Equipment Racks

The back of the control room had racks of equipment that could be patched into the console. In a modern console much of this gear would actually be in the console housing. Read the Motown Heritage article about the racks catching on fire.

The original 3 track tape machine (Left) recorded many hits in its day.  The first Motown 8 track (middle rack) took over a year to build and install. In those days you couldn't buy an 8 track from the music store.  Read the Motown Heritage article about how these machines tended to break tape.


The Studio

The studio was fair-sized and had "good" acoustics.  Mic cables were fed from the ceiling so the cords weren't stepped on. The studio was actually an addition on the back of the building - similar to how you may add a recording studio to your house.

Read the Motown Heritage article that compares the Motown studio to a "home recording" studio.


The Original Complex

The Motown Historical Museum is housed in two adjacent (and connected) buildings at 2648 West Grand Blvd., Detroit, MI.

These are the two original buildings out of the eight West Grand Blvd. buildings that Motown owned on the boulevard the 1960's - before the company moved its headquarters to a ten-story office building on Woodward Ave. in downtown Detroit. The Motown Studio A remained at Hitsville USA.

We hope you enjoyed this photo essay visit to the Motown Historical Museum. An in-person visit is always better. You can contact the museum at (313) 875-2264 or access their website.
Note:  All photos by Nick David for Recording weekly, c. 1998



Copyright 2006 Robert Dennis - All Rights Reserved USE OF THIS ARTICLE SUBJECT TO USER AGREEMENT