It’s a very common line of thinking that the producer and engineer are not supposed to really influence the sound of the music; that they should mostly be invisible to the process of recording, so that the true identity of the band can really show.
But isn’t that why a particular producer gets hired? In order to provide guidance to the recording process, which in effect influences the sound?
Perhaps the line of thinking that producers should step out of the way comes from a certain era in music where things my have gotten out of hand, and the essence of an artist’s music was hi-jacked by the production and A&R team.
However, I can’t help but notice how often producers get hired because of a certain band they worked with or album they produced, myself included.
When a producer and/or engineer is hired to be a part of a project, to a considerable extent they are being invited into a collaborative process with the artist. There’s going to be a degree of influence on the sound that just comes with the territory.
I’m definitely not advocating that a producer, engineer, or anyone else should step in and change the fundamental musical identity of an artist… quite the opposite, really…
But it is an interesting question worth asking ourselves. Even if for no other reason but to keep ourselves in check, so as to not inadvertently eviscerate the very thing that makes an artist’s music special.
“Hopefully they will just search for us on Google.”
“Hopefully people will click on the 140 character review of our album and make a purchase.”
At the start there is certainly a time and place for the word “hopefully.” But you should be building and working within a plan that ends in measurable goals. Those goals are either going to end in an achievement, or end in a failure.
If your goals end in a failure, you look at your measurements, tweak, and reproach.
If your goals end in an achievement, you simply repeat.
I hear the word “hopefully” thrown around way too much – as if coming up with an idea and then saying “hopefully” is a green checkmark that allows you to proclaim that your work is finished, and responsibilities have been fulfilled.
Make no mistake, using the word “hopefully” in this way is a cop-out.
If you want to create meaning, spread ideas, and make an impact with your art (not to mention make a living), then relying only on “hopefully” isn’t going to cut it.
“Hopefully” certainly has it’s place, but it’s certainly not the linchpin.
Photo by: US Mission Geneva
…or a series of choices.
You’re either motivated, or you’re not.
You either have a passion for what you do, or you don’t.
You’re either making excuses, or you’re taking action.
Time to get some results.
On any given day, there are countless black holes scattered all throughout. Each one existing with the express purpose of sucking you into oblivion, obscuring your workflow so immeasurably that your productivity will be forever off track from your original plan.
How are you going to arm yourself from getting sucked up? The starting place is to arm yourself with the knowledge that you are going to encounter these black holes on any given day – make yourself aware of them. The next armament to wield is self discipline. Which means you’ve got to be in the practice of exercising this characteristic every day to keep it strong.
Beyond this there are no real clear answers as far as I can tell. But it’s worth deliberating over, don’t you think?
Here’s to the great willpower, perseverance, dedication, and passion it takes to pursue art every day. Keep going.
Right now, I’m finding my way back to the serenity of simplicity. And it’s so sublime.
I’ve never won when things have gotten complicated. Never.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” (as Da Vinci said, and Apple made famous).
Honestly, I’m conflicted to write a “remembrance” post. It seems just a little weird, irreverent, and kind of melodramatic.
But considering the significance of the devices in my life specifically-which were astonishingly a collective work of art that also happened to be revolutionary and powerful machines-something just does not seem right about going along in my day without acknowledging the passing of an icon.
Growing up in my family, we always had Apple computers-never the alternative options, which in those days were pretty much only IBM machines running DOS (Windows had not come around yet). The first computer I ever interacted with as a child was an Apple II. Specifically, I believe it was an Apple IIGS. I played archaic games that had to be loaded from one of those 5.25 inch floppy disks (“Ghostbusters” was my favorite game on this machine).
Sometime in the mid 80s my dad purchased one of the early Macintosh model computers. I know for certain it was the Macintosh SE, but it only had one floppy drive, and a black-and-white screen. This was the computer my dad used as one of the partners in a business he helped start in the late 80s.
Around ages 8-15 or so, my cousin and I were fairly close. We would often spend Saturdays at one another’s houses playing games on the computer. This I remember kind of being my first involvement in the “Mac vs. PC” debate, as his part of the family always used computers of the other platform. Early on, Windows had still not come on the scene, and IBM was pretty much the only alternative to Apple computers. So when I went to Stephen’s house, I was always confused about DOS, and how in the world to use his computer. Once we rolled into the early 90s, I do remember Stephen having some Gateway computers, running early versions of Windows (which I was just as confused by, as from from what I can remember, there was still a lot of DOS involved in these early versions of Windows).
Later on in high school, as I really begin to get into music and recording, Apple computers were obviously a big part of this. At this point, Apple computers may have lost the “Mac vs. PC” debate in the eyes of the public (so much more software had been developed for PC’s than Macs), but the creative community still maintained that those serious about their art had to have a Mac. I remember receiving a full computer recording setup as a gift one Christmas-consisting of an emagic Audiowerk8 card, emagic Logic Audio software (kinda funny/ironic that Apple ended up buying emagic around 2002), a small Mackie mixer, and some Alesis Point Seven monitors. This immersed me whole-heartedly into music and recording, one of the most exciting times I can remember of my teenage years.
In college I continued to explore music and recording, choosing Belmont University because of my attraction towards the school’s music and recording offerings. During these years I owned one of the first iBooks. This was also about the time that Apple computers were finally becoming cool, and anyone who was a hip college student knew that you had to own a Mac. Of course, I had been a Mac user long before it was “cool” ;)
Post college, I got a job a recording studio, and began my career in the music business. Need I even mention that every recording studio in the world has always run Pro Tools on a Mac. So as I began the professional phase of my life, Apple was a key aspect of it.
Once concluding my time an assistant/house engineer at the studio, and deciding to set up my own freelance production and recording business, I of course bought a Mac to run Pro Tools on. To manage my business, I use two Macintosh computers-a Mac Pro as my Pro Tools rig, and a Macbook Pro that I do everything else with (invoicing, accounting, blogging, email, etc). As I think about this now, it’s kind of a neat thing that in essence my dad passed down his practice of using a Mac to run his business to me, as I use a Mac to run my business today.
So while it may seem a bit melodramatic to write a “remembrance” post such as this one, and as I am a bit concerned that publishing this post might come off like I’m taking advantage of the passing away of such a great figure of our time (please know that I’m not. That I am sincere in what Apple represents to me), I simply could not let the day pass without some form of an acknowledgement, as Apple devices have not only been a significant part of my life growing up (I’ve never owned a PC), but also one of the core tools I use today to make money.
It’s kind of weird for me to be saddened by the passing of Steve Jobs. I never knew the man personally. But he has had a remarkable impact on me personally. I’ve drawn a countless amount of inspiration from him throughout my adult life, and aspire to do something that resonates with others-even if it’s just a fraction when compared to him (I’ll be striving for this the rest of my life).
When Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in the mid 90s, then brought back to revive the company in the late 90s, I began to think about what Apple Computer would be like without him at the helm. And in 2004 when it came into the public awareness that he had been dealing with health-related issues, I began to think about the inevitability of one day Steve Jobs leaving Apple for good. And now that that day has come, it’s kinda hard to accept. A strange and kind of irrational melancholy.
With the passing of such an iconic figure, one can only begin to think about their own life, the inevitability that every single one of us has a day in which we will pass from this earthly existence, and how we spend our time up until then.
Hopefully we each leave a legacy that inspires the world in some small way.
Every once in a while, you come across something that has tremendous impact on you, and evolves your way of thinking. We’ve all had those moments when a song or a record has an extraordinary influence on us creatively. And us engineering types have certainly had our moments when someone opens or eyes to something new in the recording arts and sciences field. I’ve had this happen to me a number of times, and each time such a new excitement is breathed into my thrill of recording that it feels as if I’m experiencing the buzz of it for the first time all over again.
Late last week was one of those moments. I hit a link on the Tape Op blog, Tape Log, which took me to a post, called “Sonic Varnish” written by producer, mixer, and engineer Allen Farmelo. What an incredibly articulate post!
Allen’s idea is rooted in the analogy of a high quality varnish, and the concept of different pieces of gear in a recoding chain inducing a tiny amount of harmonic distortion into the signal, bringing each sound to life with a thin layer of sonic varnish.
Allen illustrates this point using examples of recordings from the 60s and 70s. During this time in the field of recording, it was common practice for engineers to bounce tracks down in order to make room for overdubs (due to limited track counts). However, something I had never considered before about this process is the fact that with each bounce, each track was going through the recoding chain multiple times. And each time, a new layer of harmonic distortion was imparted on the signal. The cumulative result was a recorded work with a unique sonic texture.
I’m not going to dissect each idea in Allen’s post here, because you need to read it in it’s entirety for yourself. But I needed to share his post with you, because of how it enlightened me in such an important way. I’ve always been of the variety of engineers that seeks out harmonic distortion as a way to enhance the music I record, but after reading Allen’s post, I have a fresh way of thinking as it applies to analog recording, generational loss, and the multiple back-and-forth of analog, to digital, back to analog, and and back to digital (and so on…) that is so often a part of the process when making a record.
It’s a total travesty if you go another day in your recording career without reading this post right now. Read it on Allen’s blog here: “Sonic Varnish” by Allen Farmelo
Over a continued period of time, as I continue to author Producer Notes, it will grow in audience, participation, and value (hopefully!).
Over the course of this timeline you will be able to watch me become more skilled as a writer, blog editor, producer, and music business professional.
And as that happens you will certainly be able to dig into the archives and uncover old posts which contradict newer posts.
As you grow as a person and as a professional, and as you learn more and sharpen your skills, your understanding of things and your paradigm will continually shift. And somewhere along the line something you do or say is going to contradict something you did or said a few months ago.
I love sharing information with people, which is definitely one of the main reasons I run this blog. But I also run this blog as a way for me to learn things, myself, by sharing information. It’s the way I’m wired. I don’t fully understand and learn things until I both put it into practice, and teach it to someone else.
Which means that sooner or later (I probably already have) I’m going to contradict myself in some form or fashion here. But that’s a good thing, because if I’m doing that it shows I’m learning. And if I’m really doing things right I’ll continue to share ideas through these contradictions in a way that keeps straight any potential confusion.
Any time you keep an open mind, welcome in new ideas, and work to shift your paradigm when appropriate you’re going to come to a point where there is contradiction. But embrace this contradiction, as it’s a sign that you’re learning and growing.
Thanks for 2009
Hey, this will likely be the last time I post on Producer Notes in 2009, so thanks to another great year (can’t believe this blog has already been around for almost three years!). Thanks for being readers and helping me learn. Looking forward to where our conversation goes in 2010.