Last week I spent a day working with my trio at Audio Logic recording studio. This was the first recording we’ve done in almost five years, and I was struck by how the recording process has changed since I first started recording in the early 1970s, both for the better and the worse.
One of the biggest differences, of course, is the digitization of the recording process. One of the dominant features of any 1970s or 1980s recording studio control room was the big multitrack tape machine. This time in, I don’t think I even saw a single tape machine in the studio. And while the mixing console still has the recognizable sliders and eq modules, much of the control of the actual recording process is now done from a PC keyboard and mouse (wireless, of course). The recording is done onto a bank of hard drives that is hidden from sight – no muss, no fuss.
The current studio is superbly set up for the modern style of recording popular music – a combination of digital instruments and regular instruments (whether acoustic or electric – perhaps we should call them “analog” instruments) recorded primarily one at a time, building up tracks as you go, editing digitally, adding samples, etc.
But it’s clear when you work in a modern studio that the studios and the engineers themselves are no longer set up (for the most part) to record a group of musicians playing non-digital instruments in real-time together. If you look at photos from old recording sessions (say up through the 1960s) you’ll see that for the most part musicians recorded together in the same room, and that the studios had all sorts of movable baffles and half-height walls (known in the trade as “gobos”) that allowed for acoustic isolation between instruments (better for recording each instrument optimally) while allowing the musicians to see each other. Current studios accomplish the same thing by isolating the different instruments usually in different rooms, with double-pane glass windows allowing for site lines. The problem with this approach is that it requires the musicians to hear each other with headphones, which is very different than generating the kind of feeling you get playing together in the open air in the same room.
When you tell a young recording engineer that you want to record all together in the same room, and you want to do it directly to a stereo mix, meaning that you’re unable to go back and fix things (either in the performance or the recording) later, you’re likely to get stares of incomprehension, followed by a look of stark terror. Jay Kenney at Audiologic is not young enough for that response (sorry, Jay!), and he did a fine job of getting a respectable jazz sound for us, even if it wasn’t quite the Rudy vanGelder classic sound I had imagined – hard to say whether that’s because of the studio or the players…if you know what I mean.
There are some photos of our studio adventure here, and drop me a line if you’re interested in hearing the results when we finish editing them.