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The day the clouds parted...

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Seems that one day we all of a sudden "get it". For me it was when in like 1985-86, I was engineering at Mission Control Studios on Boylston St. in Boston.

Jimmy Miller was Producing a 'Buddy Guy' record for Motown, and Joe Perry came in to do some guitar overdubs. This was one of my first times working with Jimmy, so I didn't really understand the way he worked.

So I got a sound, had Joe play along with the sound to see if it worked in the track...stopped the tape and started to wind back while looking at Jimmy and Joe and saying 'yeah, I think that sound works...wanna take one?' Jimmy looked at me and said: "we should have been taking that one".

I'll always remember that moment as an event that really changed the way I work. It wasn't just that I was working with 'famous dudes', it was that I fucked up working with 'famous dudes' and survived. More importantly, I never made that little error in judgement again.

So...what changed your world?


Profile picture for user Bob Olhsson

Bob Olhsson Tue, 02/13/2001 - 15:20

I was asked to run a stereo mix of "The Tracks of My Tears" by the Miracles.

I put up the three track tape, brought up the rhythm track and found a distorted unintelligible mess that sounded like it had been run through a fuzz tone. I was afraid something was broken so I left the tape rolling as I fooled around with my patch. (At that time, you had to patch each and every piece of gear at Motown.)

To my horror, the next tune sounded just fine, this horrible distortion was ON the recording. I brought up the other two tracks which were the lead, backgrounds and horns on one and a guitar overdub on the third.

When you dropped in that third track with the guitar, THERE was the hit record we have heard thousands of times.

alphajerk Tue, 02/13/2001 - 17:24

the day i recorded the Bakerton Group

, the rough tracks went down quite easily and everything sounded nice but now it was time to do guitar OD's. never before have i seen a guitarist work the OD's like that to sculpt the direction of the song. in such an aloof manner too without care to much but it all came out great. just giving his soul over to the song.

most of the time i spend in the studio, there is just so much nitpicking about this and that which can quickly drive somebody nuts. this was the first band i had worked with where ego was nowhere to be found.

in a way it has spoiled me. the absence of ego let me in on how much it really does get in the way. but as luck would have it it taught me new ways to look at the big picture like a master chess player, seeing into the future of the song and motivating to get there.

i know its no motown, but it opened my eyes.

tonewoods Tue, 02/13/2001 - 17:24

I'll bet the guy that Phill Brown talks about in a recent issue of Tape Op who accidently erased the Steely Dan master has got a good (or rather, horrific) story up his sleave....

For me, it's the day I got my first good ribbon mic, A/B'ed it with a condenser, and said "what's the big deal"? It sounded really mediocre...
Then I recorded something with it, brought it up in the mix, and suddenly understood the value of that wonderful family of microphones...

Rick Greenly Tue, 02/13/2001 - 19:41

I think the event that turned the corner for me was only about 7 years ago. I was recording a voice over for a LawnBoy lawnmowers radio spot with TV actor Dennis Weaver, in his home studio in Colorado.

Something was routed in such a way that when I pressed a certain button on the console, an ear-splitting oscillation went straight into the poor guy's headphones. ;) Check and double check your setup is my motto now, or like Tonebarge says, "Measure twice, cut once".


Gregg Tue, 02/13/2001 - 22:34

Hey Rick!

Wassup in AZ? We got +snow+ at the beach! Where's that global warming stuff? :eek:

This is a cool topic. There have been soooo many of these for me that, at first blush, it's difficult to pick one. So, I'll go for the one that affected me enough for me to never forget it.

I was director of product development and chief engineer for Mobil Fidelity Sound Labs when we were in Chatsworth (the good old black record days) and I thought I knew it all. Dr. Keith Johnson brought in his album to have it mastered. He also brought in his own, custom built, two track (IIRC it was 1/2"). He watched me for about three minutes and then looked at me and said, "Why don't you turn off all of the scopes and measuring garbage and just +listen+ to it."

Man, that was a wake up call. And I'm sure that that is why his recordings sound so awesome!


mp@soundtechre… Wed, 02/14/2001 - 05:58

Originally posted by Fletcher:
So I got a sound, had Joe play along with the sound to see if it worked in the track...stopped the tape and started to wind back while looking at Jimmy and Joe and saying 'yeah, I think that sound works...wanna take one?' Jimmy looked at me and said: "we should have been taking that one".

That's funny, the guys I work with usually are horrified to discover that I actually recorded the first run through.

The often heard quote; "You didn't record that did you?". :eek:

The most eye opening thing for me so far is discovering that talent is the missing link for improving your productions. It's amazing how much better everything sounds when you've got real talent at the other end of the microphone.

Mark Plancke

Kevin F. Rose Wed, 02/14/2001 - 06:50

I have to agree that "eye opening" experience was working with Phil Hadaway on a local singer/songwriter album he was producing and the experience was all about the drummers talent.
I was playing session guitar on the record and was hanging around trying to learn shit and make good coffee etc.
The drummer for the losely formed live combo was trying to lay down some tracks, had to leave early and was a pain in the ass to work with. Needless to say the tracks weren't all that great.
Phil had set up time for a *real* drummer to come in for second shift so I stuck around only to have my world turned on it's end. He used the same kit, signal setup etc. but it was like night and day. The snare exploded, the track would swing during the verses and push during the choruses and the kick sounded the same every time it was hit. The track now had a life of it's own after two takes with just one preliminary listen over cofee. No gear in the world could make up for his talent and Phil's job was so much easier.
I want to live in that world more often.


alphajerk Wed, 02/14/2001 - 12:45

"The often heard quote; "You didn't record that did you?". "

i get that and always answer "No" and hit undo. sometimes i even say before hand that im not recording it so do whatever to get levels, little do they know that i AM recording... sometimes when they think the red light isnt on gets the great performance because they arent thinking about it.

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Guido Wed, 02/14/2001 - 13:58

What changed my world (besides The Fabs on Sullivan and buying my first Neve 1073) was in 1990, after many, MANY years of "chasing the dream", I was asked by a well known cat w/ "a major label" (they appeared to be close to signing us and he had just seen us play a particularly blistering set before an enthusiastic crowd) "what do you see as your image?" I told him that I imagined 4 or 5 guys writing and playing great music... with great melodies and lyrics.... the people and chops to back it up..."doin' it" every single night and having them promote said product to the public and having the public buy it in great numbers and everyone could live happily ever after.
He reminded me that that wasn't enough and asked if I'd be interested in a new lead singer. Being the lead singer (believe me...after an entire career of "singing by proxy"...I didn't give a rat's) and told him to find us somebody. He sent 7 tapes and photos (5 had their shirts off in their headshots) and NOT ONE of these "singers" could sing better than me...and that ain't too terribly difficult!!!
It showed me what the biz has really become, and seeing as how I turned 40 in '95, I knew it was my very last shot at a major record deal.
By this time I had always been a working "engineer/producer" and a "player/singer/writer", as well as learning midi from day I applied these skills to the corporate world.
I since have made a killing writing corporate event music as well as radio/tv stuff... and that is NOW what I would have to say has "changed my world".
Cold, hard cash.
Art is dead!!! Long Live Art!!!

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Bob Olhsson Wed, 02/14/2001 - 15:59

We just have to be patient. The labels have forgotten how to sell music so they are selling TV stars.

The thing is that there's no real profit in doing things that way in the long run so it'll have to come right back around to making records that are exceptional enough to sell themselves.

Ang1970 Wed, 02/14/2001 - 20:52

The thing is that there's no real profit in doing things that way in the long run so it'll have to come right back around to making records that are exceptional enough to sell themselves.

Thing is, there has been an endless stream of crap making beaucoup $'s in the short run for a very long time now. Having talent and records that sell themselves can even be a liability when the record company insists on using the same sales formula they use for b.s. artists. I have seen careers of talented people crushed by the label saying "we're not ready yet, stop promoting". We could also get into the dynamics of the A&R heirarchy system. "Sell something fast, or you're out on your ass." The luxury of what used to be called "development" is long gone. In its place is a kind of "grooming school" for movie stars. So now the only way for a label to realize a band is good is if they have enough fans (touring at least 5-10 years) to guarantee enough sales to cover the outlay of the recording budget. Or in many cases, enough sales (out of trunk, internet, etc.) to guarantee those sales.

Could that be the real reason why Nap is worth $50mil to BMG?

And what do we do about it?

alphajerk Wed, 02/14/2001 - 21:06

"The labels have forgotten how to sell music so they are selling TV stars.
The thing is that there's no real profit in doing things that way in the long run so it'll have to come right back around to making records that are exceptional enough to sell themselves."

i subscribe to that.

im just glad to be dicking around in the studio regardless. havent been much aware of the mass music scene for the past year. shit, they are playing nirvana on the radio again here... lots of older stuff. i gues syou can only play gimp bisquick so many times in a day. i cant say i've ever heard n'suck or hacksteet noise on the radio.

i'll tell you another day the clouds parted was the other day at digiworld seeing soundreplacer and vocalign pasteurize and homoginize the mix. the industry's new crack habit.

i still like the challenge.

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Bob Olhsson Sun, 02/18/2001 - 09:00

The same thing happened in the late '40s when the labels could only sell movie stars. You can sell anything you pour enough money at. The challange is actually making a profit on your investment. Corporations regularly lose money on high profile artists as a means of keeping their stock values up, a true house of cards.

This is where quality comes in. Simply put, a better record costs a lot less money to promote.

egghd Sun, 02/18/2001 - 10:21

I don't agree that a label can sell anything they pour enough money into.

This is a misconception. A label can spend a lot of money to make the public aware that a record exists in the marketplace, but they can't make people go out and buy it.

Does anyone really believe that the only reason capitol records is "cold" right now (other than the beatles #1's) is that they didn't spend as much money as Sony or Interscope?

I hear unsigned artists say that the reason this band or that singer has a hit is only because the labels paid money to the radio stations, who in turn played the record and as a result of that, all the stupid people in the world went out and bought a bad record.

Jive records was one of the more frugal labels in terms of radio promotion yet they caught a huge wave with teen pop when nobody else would touch it and radio wasn't playing it. The kids responded and forced radio to play what they wanted to hear. It's all about the Arbitron ratings to the stations. labels can't compete with add dollars. I'm sure most people are aware of radio's call out resaerch, the use of what they believe to be true audience reaction to a song (not inlfated calls by fan clubs or labels) and radio's fear of playing a song that will make a listener turn the dail and make them lose audience share.

if anyone finds getting a deal from an A&R person difficult, try promoting a record for real airplay at a major market station.

Look at Wind Up. they have Creed selling zillions of units, yet with all of that income flowing into the company, you'd be hard pressed to know who else is even on the roster.

Garth Wed, 03/07/2001 - 00:45

These days I record every take even if the client doesnt want me to. I figure even if I have to change the gain a little ways into the tune the first part can be re-cut and we can keep the rest if it's good.
Its a horrible feeling to be asked: "Did you get that?" knowing it was cool and have to say "No.". What have you got to lose by always hitting the red? Nuttin.

j.hall Wed, 03/07/2001 - 06:27

i remember i time i worked a session with fletcher @ prophet sound in bean-town

i was acting as seudo engineer while he produced the band

trying as hard as i could to stay with fletcher or a little ahead if possible was proving difficult in a studio neither of us had ever worked in.......i was turning to the assistant for routing questions a lot

that poor assistant could not get much right other then the food i feel bad for that guy

the thing i learned after that weekend:
fletcher can smell fear, and
stay ahead of everybody no matter what
how you do that is the hard part but once you learn you won't even remember what is was like to be "out of it"

bluntly put - get pro or get out


Dave McNair Sat, 03/10/2001 - 19:50

My life was changed when I got a call to record Miles Davis. I was on staff at the Hit Factory in NYC. I went in about 2 hours early to set up( one mic, an overdub lol). It was for an Italian singer named Zuckero, that apparentlt Miles dug, or he wouldn't have done the session. Miles walked in wearing black leather pants, a black silk shirt, black leather jacket, and black wraparounds. He opened two cases, black and RED laquer trumpets. I had set up an M49, just like all the blue note era pictures, and a tall stool, mic near the floor, of course. He never said a thing about it. The assemblege of people spoke no English, except a beautiful tall Norwegian women, and Miles' bodyguard. There was about 15 people in the studio. His guy told me he was a little nervous, but everything was cool. So we got to work. I played the tape and got a headphone mix, as Miles warmed up. He stopped and went over to the piano. He hit a few notes and looked in to the control room from this huge studio and said, "this F# ain't workin, and the tune is in G, do any of ya'll motherfuckers know what I'm talkin' about?" I hit the talkback and said, "yeah man I do". Things were cool from there. He said " give me a few passes and punch me in when I say". I was terrified. My hand was locked on the A800 remote as I watched him for any slight nuance of communication. But his eyes were like a laser, and when he stopped and I rewound, I punched in when he looked up. A total Zen connection. I guess I didn't fuck up, cause after a few passes he seemed very happy, and he came in and gave me some comp notes. Soon everyone was all smiles, and Miles turned around and said, "lets all go out for pasta!" I'll never forget that session.

Dave McNair Sat, 03/10/2001 - 20:09

I'm on a roll so I'll relate another session I'll never forget.
I had been working on the John Fogerty record that became "Blue Moon Swamp". John was a perfectionest, but in a very elusive way. He eventually tryed about 30 drummers, but I was working on the record in the early phase before I had enough and had to bail cause of other commitments. We went through a few drummers when I was there, all great. For me, the most memorable was Jeff Pocaro. He was a prince, and what a badass player. Jeff had the ability to be totally the BOMB and yet make everyone in the session feel equally cool. About the 2nd day, we were listening to a playback. I was pretty proud of the drum sound, and asked Jeff if he wanted to come from the front of the console,(his fav listening spot) to where I sat, to check out the sounds. He looked up and smilled and said, " No man, I know your bad!" Anyway, a few days later after talking shop during lunches and such, he heard me fooling around with a guitar. He said, "hey Dave why don't you come down and sit in with this blues thing I'm doing?" I said, no man I have to shed somemore, he said," shed on the gig!" A few days later, knowing he was a huge Hendrix fan, I turned him on to a little thang I had discovered. If you take "Third Stone From the Sun" and put it to a 2 track at 15ips, play it back at 30ips, and put it two two faders panned mono with one phase reversed, you will hear Hendrix and the engineer, Eddie Krammer?, having a conversation. Jeff was blown away. He took the tape I made for him to the mixing session for the last Toto album with Clearmountain. The next day at the Fogerty session he said, "you scored big points with the fellas for the Hendrix stuff." Bob Gloub called me about 2 weeks later early one morning and gave me the bad news, one of the greats had passed on. Rock on Jeff.

KSmith Wed, 03/14/2001 - 10:07

Cool thread. I've had a few moments that changed things a bunch for me.

I just got hired to assist but technically, had never actually done that before (I lied). Never engineered anything before, either. A week into the gig Norman Whitfield booked the studio, supposedly to do vocals with an artist he was producing. Anyway, his engineer called right before the downbeat and said he wasn't coming, "do you think you can setup a tube mic and a compressor and get it to tape?" Uh sure, yeah.

10 minutes later, James Gadson and his drum kit show up. So do racks of synths, a guitar rig, and a bass rig. Eventually, the tape does too. 7 tracks are open - one for guitar, one for bass, two for keys, one for vocal. That left two for the drums. At this point I'm really starting to sweat. In the literal sense, I was scared to fucking death.

Drums first. Hey Mr Gadson, where should I put this mic? Made a stereo mix on the groups and rolled tape. It wasn't a great sound but it worked. Ok, who wants to go next?

I don't know how I pulled it off, but when they booked time later in the week they asked me to engineer it. Lesson learned - be ready for anything. Lesson #2 - use high quality anti-perspirant because there will be times when you are way, way over your head.

Another, much more stressful experience: Got hired to track a song with a major artist, a minor artist, and a flavor of the week producer, at the biggest, baddest ego room in LA. It was a vocal duet, and when it came time do vocals, they wanted to track them together. No problem.

The studio had this bizarre headphone monitor system. So bizarre they were in the process of re-designing it. So I told the seemingly capable assistant to watch over the cue mix. On the 5th or 6th pass the major artist yanked his cans off and said something came in real loud. So I go out and listen, yeah it sure is loud (artist got a laugh watching me lurch). The second gets on the talkback a minute later and says the problem's solved. We're back to work in about 3 minutes.

The next day, the producer tells the studio that the headphone system caused 3 hours of downtime so he wanted a credit. Studio manager gives him one, then calls the assistant. The assistant says oh yeah, that engineer didn't know the headphone system, blame him not me. Didn't mention that we were only down for 3 minutes.

I'm oblivious to all of it until my manager calls me later in the morning. Dickhead studio manager wanted ME to pay $500 to cover their credit! We had a pretty lively conversation about an hour later, and I later steered several other projects into different studios.

Basically what happened is that they were overbudget and the producer was gonna pay out of his own pocket to cover it. So he tried to screw it out of the studio, which tried to screw it out of me.

Lesson learned: there's a whole bunch of assholes in this business.