From the pages of RECORDING, here you’ll find thoughts, tips, and classic tribulations from many of our industry’s top Recording Artists, Engineers, Producers, Legends, and more.
“We were doing a song, ‘Dead Rat,’ on Yoko Ono’s Approximately Infinite Universe. I had no idea what it was going to be. The music was like, ‘da da da da da da da da da da,’ and then there’d be five seconds of silence. Then the music would start again, and there’d be another five seconds of silence. Finally, I found out what this silence was. It was the dead rat solo. Yoko brings a shoe box into the studio, and inside the shoe box is this freshly killed rat, size large. She says, ‘Okay, you know where the band stops playing? That’s where the rat takes it.’…I put the rat on a stool, and I had my assistant put a [Neumann] 87 over the rat. I ran the tracks, the music stops, the rat takes it. Nothing happens. I turn around and say to my assistant, ‘You asshole, get out there and put the mic in the right place. About four inches up and a little to the left.’ So he goes out and moves the mic over the rat a little bit. We start the music and it gets to the rat solo. I turn around and say, ‘What do you think, Yoko?’ She says, ‘It’s much better like that.’ And she’s dead serious.” —Jack Douglas, January 1991
“Imagine, in your mix, you have six effects coming back into your console. They are coming back in by regular channels, whereby you can regenerate back to the effects. So you take the first effect, send it to the second effect. You take the second effect, send it to the third. From the third to the fourth and from the fourth back to the first. Then maybe a little bit of the first back to the fourth….because effects are always pitch changing and there are delays involved, you get this very organic result….you actually sit on the controls and turn them up to the point where they start almost getting out of hand—where they almost start to sound like a distant thunderstorm.” —Daniel Lanois, January 1990.
“Be truthful–again it’s the question of personal integrity. You have to be a little bit obsessive, and a little bit aware of things as a left hemisphere person. You have to know what you’re doing. But after that’s all done, you put the driver in charge as being your soul, your emotion, your gut, your intuition.” —Wendy Carlos, November 1992.
“Let’s make this mindset a reality: People that create musical tools, whether constructed of wood, metal, plastic, or binary data, should be compensated for their efforts. Stealing–whether it’s music, photos, movies, articles, guitars, or music software–is not an option. It’s tempting to take a copy of digital media and easy to convince yourself that you’re not hurting anyone when you do… but don’t be that guy. This community is nobler than that.”
“Many engineers today seem to have a highly technical approach to what they do. They seem to feel that hit records are made by the buttons and the knobs, and they’re not. Memorable recordings start with purely emotional values, not technical values. I’ve never heard anyone leave the record store humming the console! And on the other side of the coin, of course it would be good for a lot of musical people to learn as much technical information as they can. That will bring a certain ease of reality, a realization to their musical promise. If you don’t have the technical chops to put together a viable listening medium, all the good ideas in the world won’t get on tape. You know, there’s a happy medium.” —Bruce Swedien, October 1995.
“[On the Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, one of the first songs to incorporate synthesizers into rock] Keith Moon was not the steadiest drummer in the world. He was all over the place. Now he was being asked to play to these sequenced tracks, so he’s got these headphones on and he’s going out of his mind. How is he going to play his usual wild stuff to these tracks? And we could never get the synthesizer loud enough in his headphones that he could hear them over his tom-toms. There was just a ton of two-track editing.” —Jack Douglas, January 1991.
Jeff Baxter on ‘outdated’ technology, December 1992:
“We live in a world that is almost obsessed with planned obsolescence, bigger and better, and a relentless desire to get to the next plateau in the never-ending quest for perfection. Those of you who have home recording studios and must put at least some money away for food should tear your eyes away from the latest ads for new gear and stop drooling all over your new catalogs for a minute and think about this: just because a piece of gear is out of fashion doesn’t mean it’s lost its raison d’être. State of the art can be a crutch as well as a creative tool. Not having all the cool stuff can force you to push your creative boundaries past your limits. An old sound or effect used in a new way might make you write the next #1 record….the point is to use everything you have in as many different ways as you can and that there are no rules for the really creative.”
“It’s interesting how ten years ago, the mentality was “We gotta go to the greatest studio to cut the great record.” And you know, it’s just not like that any more. Obviously, you want to go to a great studio to mix the stuff (if you’ve got the budget, which we do). But on my last album, I did all my vocals in my bathroom. You’re in a home studio, and sonically it just blows you away. And you find out it was recorded in a bathroom! All my vocals on this album were done in the dining room of my new house….everybody’s going, ‘This is the most incredible-sounding room in Nashville!’ You get all these people spending thousands of dollars, and I’ve got a dining room!” —Michael W. Smith, June 1993.
“So often you become attached to an effect and you think, ‘Well, we’re just tracking. Once we get into the mix, we’ll really get it,’ but you know, it’s never the same—especially with delays. If I like the effect, I’ll print it on a separate track. I’m very careful that way. The old cliche ‘we’ll get it in the mix’ is bullshit. I don’t leave it for the mix. I say get what you want and get it on tape if you have the tracks, because if you leave the studio and come back later, no one has been in or out or touched the console and yet things sound different. There’s an intangible element involved that’s completely untechnical. It’s the feeling in the room at the time. Getting that on tape is very important.” —Jane Child, August 1991.
“You don’t have to go to a studio to get a great sound, to get a performance, to get emotion. It’s exciting to think that we as home recordists can come up with material that ends up on the radio, right next to Sting’s album and all these excellent productions. In fact, some things about recording at home are better than in a studio. You have the freedom to go in and experiment and make lots of mistakes and explore…Experimentation is so important for unleashing creativity. Otherwise, you’ll play it safe all the time. And the clock’s ticking in the studio and you’re thinking about the time, whereas at home you can get up at 4:00 AM, have a glass of milk, and come up with the greatest things before the sun comes up.” —Craig Chaquico, July 1995.
Dave Martin on professionalism, December 1995:
“As a studio operator, your job is to have the studio set up, ready for the session to start when the musicians arrive. As a musician, it’s your job to be there on time and ready to play. If you act with a little professional courtesy, not only will working be more of a pleasure, but the music that you record will be better. You don’t have to work in a professional studio to work in a professional manner, nor does working in a commercial studio make you a professional. Ultimately, it’s your actions that determine this.”
“I can remember Sonny Boy Williamson recording this song in the studio that required the drummer to come in at one point and make this big crashing sound. The drummer was behind this baffling, y’know, that keeps the sound of one instrument from bleeding into the sound of another, and just as he got to this break, the whole thing fell down. Wham! It made a real big crashing sound and believe it or not, we kept that on the record. It came in right on time. The drummer fell down, but he was able to keep on playing somehow. A lot of guys on the session still talk about that one occasionally.” —Willie Dixon, July 1989.
“Print things. Obviously, you’re going to have to print effects on with guitars and drum machines, because you can’t tie up your only piece of outboard gear on your drums. If it sounds good going down, by all means, print it! Print a stereo mix with the effects if it sounds good. Commit, commit!” —Tom Lord Alge, November 1988.
“Musically [playing live in the studio] gives the advantage that it’s harder to do. It’s just like the recordings when people only had four tracks to work with, or only three tracks. You had to be a really good engineer; it made you be a better engineer than you have to be now….You can’t do a take and like part of it, and not like the other part. Everything springs from the decision [to record in this way]. In a way it reminds me of the marriage vows. Once you make a commitment to something—if you really commit to it—then it gives you all the great energy that manifests in freedom.” —Tuck Andress, September 1989
“My studio had just installed its first digital reverb and I was still multitracking on a 4-track cassette recorder and dreaming of the 1” 8-tracks I’d left behind at the University. I didn’t own a computer yet; I was thinking about getting an Amiga since most grad students couldn’t afford a Macintosh, and I was eager to try software-based MIDI sequencing for my small collection of synths and drum machines. (Sixteen whole MIDI channels! Luxury!) —Mike Metlay, on his recording set-up in 1987.