Cookie Marenco called her seminar at the Newport Beach show, ‘The Six Degrees of Degradation” and listed six production stages. These included recording, mixing, mastering, tagging/encoding, remastering and consumption. These stages are common and part of most music releases but all of them aren’t actually required. For example, I know of several music albums that went straight from the session microphones to the two-track mixed master. William E. McEuen’s ground breaking production of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was produced this way…and Bill Schnee’s audiophile label Bravura Records does all of its productions this way. He considers his mixing a part of the performance.
I don’t master my recordings at AIX Records. I simply don’t want to remove any of the dynamics or subtle details that the musicians performed by using compressors or other processors. I trust that they played the music as they wanted. My job as an engineer is to record what they perform.
The point is there are lots of individual approaches to making recordings, lots of tweaks that experienced engineers utilize during sessions and they are all unique. I remember talking to Jim Scott (a very prominent audio engineer that has worked with John Fogerty and lots of other “A” list musicians) about the profession. He told me that it took him 10 years to get to the point where he felt he could make a good sounding recording. The 10,000 hours of practice that it takes to master just about any art or craft applies as well to technical pursuits like audio engineering and coding.
So I thought it would be helpful to explore audio production stages in greater detail. Let’s start from the beginning and work our way through the entire chain. Today, I want to talk about the venue…the actual recording space where the musicians perform.
Music making can happen just about anywhere. I saw Les Stroud, aka “Survivorman”, playing his harmonica in the middle of some jungle the other evening. Todd Garfinkle, my friend and owner of MA Recordings features the different places that he uses as part of his sound. He has recorded in churches, the Paris metro as well as concert halls. One of my most memorable recordings was made in a cock-fighting arena in the middle of Haiti! Anywhere music happens can be a recording “venue”. This is called location recording.
Recording studios have many advantages over other locations. First, you get a quiet place to capture the music. There’s no airplanes flying over or subways rumbling underneath. A studio can be optimized for good acoustics, has all of the necessary equipment on hand and is restricted as far as hours or sound levels. Most commercial records are made in sonically dead studios. Reverberation, which is required on just about all recordings, is simply added using a digital processor.
When I started AIX Records, I knew that I wanted to make my records in a live performance space…no digital reverberation applied in post production. I record in a chamber music auditorium and capture the sound of the music bouncing around the room. Artificial “convolution algorithm” reverberation systems do a tremendous job but they can’t match the real thing. The acoustics of a live space contributes to the ultimate sound of a recording.
Finally, I should mention that many recordings are made without rooms of any kind. There are thousands of musicians/bands that are making records in their bedrooms using personal computers or even tablets. They dial up “virtual” instruments and trigger them using a sequencer. Everyone can be a musician or DJ with a little practice and the right software. The results can be great or terrible…remember the 10,000 hours or practice I talked about above. It still applies.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the recording spaces discussed above. A good engineer and producer know when to use one or the other.