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Kenny’s Tip of the Day – Don’t Forget The Process!!!
The process of making records, whether you are an Engineer or a Record Producer has always been a big reason why many of us do this. I grew up loving the idea of working in a real recording studio. Hopefully with 100+ channels and as many tracks as possible. A big huge room full of double paned glass, leather couches and wood cut on an angle on every surface.
I loved the idea of working with five to ten amazing musicians, setting them up and spending the day getting great sounds. Dozens of microphones sprawled out across the room and enough microphone cables to circle the block ten times over. All neatly organized and taped on the floor to prevent tripping but also to look professional.
I couldn’t wait to dive into that control room, fire up the tape deck and see my huge analog meters dancing from side to side to the beat of the first song we were about to record.
Everyone was excited. This was a day we were all looking forward to. For some of the musicians it may have been years of planning and preparing. And when that Red light turned on, telling everyone that we were recording, my heart would explode as the magic was about to happen.
Everyone was playing real instruments. The drummer was hitting real drums with real wooden sticks. The guitar players were plugged into awesome looking tube amps that you could fry an egg on. It was an amazing spiritual and inspirational environment. And I dedicated my life to figuring out how to spend as much time as possible in just such a place. And luckily, I did. For many many years.
Fast forward a couple of decades and records are being made very differently. People are writing software to allow us to record and mix everything in a computer. We no longer need all these great musicians. Drummers are being replaced by drum software. Guitar players are still being used but their tone has become completely simulated. The recording space itself has been impulse responsed to sample the room that no one was ever present in.
The piano is a group of multi-sampled piano tones. No one is moving air and the tactile surfaces we used to use to manipulate the audio has all been replaced with emulations of the original units. Whether it be a real console or outboard gear that has now been reduced to pictures of the gear I used to touch. To feel. To manipulate like a craftsmen.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Look at this old guy mourning for the good ole days where records took way too long to make. Time has passed this obsolete luddite by.
Maybe. But I have definitely been one of the first of my peers to embrace technology. I used amp sims when there was only one available. I was one of the first to use IR reverbs and I was also one of the first of my group to buy a full Pro Tools rig and start mixing completely in the box. Many of my friends laughed at me and told me it would never sound the same. And of course, by now, they are all doing it this way too.
So I definitely embrace changing technology and appreciate the benefits of all of it. Being able to recall a full mix in seconds. Matching guitar tones that I tracked months ago. Tuning a vocal that had the perfect amount of emotion but just had some pitch issues. I’m not looking to go back. I love progress.
But have we lost something? Have we lost why we started doing this in the first place? I remember recording a guitar solo for one song on a record and we literally spent the whole night (and a fifth of whisky) doing nothing but nailing that solo. That was a great night. The studio was filled with smoke and we knew that are only purpose this evening was to get this solo. A solo that the audience may listen to and feel for many years. Yet now we spend no more than 15 minutes on that same part. No whisky. No smoke. Get it done and move on.
Have we lost the appreciation for the process? If I can get the same drum sound as CLA in 10 minutes, do I have any appreciation for that accomplishment? Does it mean ANYTHING if everyone with $14.99 per month can get the same sounds that I have? What’s the point of having a Neve console on my computer if everyone has a Neve console on their computer? Do we still enjoy doing it if it’s going to be this easy?
Ignoring the fact that it might sound exactly the same or that the audience will never “notice the difference” doesn’t it matter that we do? That making records has become a solo isolated effort that has been reduced to a laptop and a pair of headphones? Is this what I was dreaming of when I was a little kid?
I can go on forever but I’m going to close this with two quick stories that illustrate my point. The first one shows my love for doing things to get a reward. Cooking is a great example. If you spend 4 or 5 hours cooking a great meal, the reward is NOT just the meal. It’s the feeling of accomplishment that comes from being able to create this meal. People don’t climb mountains because they want to be on the top of the mountain. They want the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing something that is very difficult. Even if the result can be achieved by taking a helicopter to the peak of the mountain quicker and with less physical effort.
The other example I want to point out is the way we get from point A to point B. Have you ever walked to the store? Have you ever ridden a bike to the store? Have you ever taken a car to the store? Most of us have. But if your goal is to get to the store and nothing else, then taking a car is the most obvious choice. The result is the same but it’s quicker. But it’s not without its drawbacks. If you rode your bike, you’d be getting some exercise. Maybe see the sun. Spend some time in the outdoors or possibly see a friend or a person in need. And you can stop and help them out. If you walked, you would also gain those things but you would also be forced to appreciate every piece of ground in front of you. You can’t look too far ahead because you’re not going to get there very soon. So you look down. You look around. You really experience the world around you. In real time. Maybe someone offers you a ride. But you will have an experience during this walk.
My point is that the slow way is not always a bad thing. There is no finish line. When you finish this record, you’re going to make another. Life is a journey. So why are we always trying to get there so quick?
I hope this message finds you well.