In late 2005 we celebrated the 50th Tape Op with an end page of "Fifty Issues, Fifty Quotes," featuring one quote from every Tape Op up to that point. And here we are at Tape Op number 100, so I decided to revisit this idea. I tried to recall certain concepts, thoughts, and stories that have resonated with me over the years from various interviews. Enjoy this stroll through 18 years of Tape Op, as well as a deep pool of recording wisdom and life experiences.
"I spent so much time in all these different studios, and they had problems. They would deceive you into thinking you had really good sound when you didn't. It was before every studio had Yamaha NS-10s; you'd just have these huge custom monitors, or you had Auratones. I remember at the Record Plant [L.A.] we would listen on these huge monitors. The engineer would just crank it and it was like, 'Yeah, it sounds great!' But then later you'd listen to it and say, 'Jeez, it doesn't sound so great.'"
"We didn't really know, when we first started recording on 4-track, that you couldn't make something sound as good as a recording studio. We knew The Beatles recorded on a 4-track; therefore, why couldn't we? We're not just a rock band. We're producers and we want to be engineers. It's part of the writing of songs for us. We're gonna keep doing it, and get better and better."
"There have been some people where I thought there were things that I really wanted to help alter, or obliterate, from their previous album. If I find out that they think they got it right, or they're not interested in what I'm doing, I'll say, 'Great, there isn't anything to talk about. You just keep doing your stupid records.'"
"[The recording] was really noisy. I kind of liked it. That was the way it had to be. Then you stop worrying whether you should have made this decision or that about how things sounded, and just get down to the business of making songs."
"We had to use the inserts as tape sends, and rely exclusively on the quality of the source signal and mic placement. It's never bad to know how to get a good sound from your amplifiers, drums, etc. Much of the equipment in our system was actually pretty shitty, but we made the most of it."
"When I started a band I wanted to make big, good-sounding rock music. It was never a conscious effort to say, 'Let's be lo-fi.' We just retreated to the basement because of negative feedback. 'We'll just do it ourselves, for ourselves, and fuck it all.'"
"I got the 4-track. I would record things and think, 'That doesn't sound anything near to what things I like sound like.' That leads to having to read about the different types of gear, and what different things do. It's been this ongoing quest to make records that I would want to listen to."
"When I'm making a record and recording the very first instrument, I'm thinking about the proscenium effect that I want this instrument to have. I'm thinking about where it wants to be in the song, where it needs to be in the mix, so that I don't have to artificially put it there. You try to get the right mic, but many of my favorite sounds are because they took the treble control, turned it up twice, and ran it through another one."
"With making records, whether you admit it or not, you only have so much energy per project. When we start a project, a band usually wants to record 15 or 20 songs. That's a great idea. They say, 'Then we'll pick the best ones and put them on the record.' Great on paper, but the problem is if you only have a certain amount of energy per project it becomes simple mathematics. Technically we're not gonna compromise, but there is still a finite amount of energy."
"If the project engages my imagination, and I have some good ideas, then it's something I would want to do. Sometimes I simply can't hear anything except what's there, and then I'll say, 'You're wasting your time and money.' That would be more like a job; I can't find my way into it. It's really good, but it's not the right thing for me."
"You have the songs in your head. They all morph themselves into different shapes. Sometimes I can't remember where they got started. Different pieces will cram into each other. But I'm constantly writing; there are constantly words that come into my head that sit there a while."
"Usually it's write the songs, play them live, drive around, do gigs, drink beer, go in the studio for a week, and make a record. I think it was making the live record that made me realize that the songs sound much more like themselves onstage. The songs that turned up on the live record probably sound totally different from the way they were recorded in the studio. But the studio was just a fluke! It was what that song sounded like, at that moment, in that studio. The songs onstage are more indigenous; that's where they live."
"I get so frustrated with drum sounds. I hate snare drums. I just can't ever get a snare drum sound that I like; but then I realized there aren't really that many records that have a snare drum sound that I like. I don't know how anyone else does it either. You always end up coming back to a [Shure SM]57 pointing at the damn thing. I tear my hair out trying all kinds of shit. I keep coming back to the stupid 57 on the snare again, and it sounds the same way it always does. I don't have the time to experiment sometimes. People can't sit around there waiting for me to spend three hours on a snare drum."
"I hated having the three digital reverbs on the snare drum, and all that goofball stuff. Somewhere in the mid-'80s, after the LinnDrum became this staple where every record had some kind of drum machine incorporated into it, I started noticing that when people heard anything that had a drummer with real time — or choruses moved and versus dipped — that people were physically uncomfortable listening to it. They'd gotten so programmed to listening to these beats where everything was quantized. Physically they couldn't dance to it on a dance floor. That's kind of sad. Even if you go back to all those '70s disco records, they groove. They don't have perfect time, but they groove."
"I'm working on a part for a new CD where Tick is talking to Tock inside of a clock. So we created a tick-tock fugue by slowing those sounds down. That's an old technique that started out with musique concrète. You can do it so much better now because you don't lose quality digitally. With analog tape, you used to wind up with all kinds of surface noise. Years ago Ampex came out with a tape that developed traction, so we have some tapes that scrape off and catch on the heads when you play them now. It becomes like glue. You have to warm them up in a convection oven. But even then, you can only play them once. Of course, that's sort of what happens to language. Sanskrit is on the way out."
"I'm very conscious of environment, and I'm always working to make it better. Either purposefully making it comfortable, or uncomfortable, to the point of tricking musicians into doing stuff that they actually want. Sometimes it's technical tricks. Someone could be singing, and I can sense that they are right at the point where their voice will break. If I think they can get the pitch, then maybe I'll change the pitch of the tape a hair, without telling them. They won't sense it, but then they will be able to sing it."
"Most of the projects I work on are 'studio projects.' We're not sure what it's going to be until it's done. We put things down one by one, then sometimes do it all over again because minds tend to change so much. Or, you get to the point where you realize what you should have done, and you start over and keep going and going. Even the simplest things I do now tend to be 48 tracks."
"The only reason that people get work and are working on records is because somebody has heard a record that you've done something on and they want to pull off a little of that. There's no other secret that is being withheld. People are going to hear some tracks that you've done and say, 'I think that's cool; I want to work with that guy.' And it's not always the thing that you think. It's going to be the B-side, or something that was never released. That's the reality of it."
"The engineer's job is to record every note as well as they can possibly do it. The producer's job is to finish [the project] and basically steal it from the artist, because there's no artist on earth who wants to give it up. Because once they give it up, it's not theirs anymore. You can't even blame them. I myself, as an artist — I stand at the microphone and I don't want to give it up. Paul Westerberg looked me in the face and said, 'I'm not going to give you 100% because you don't deserve it.' So I had to steal everything I got from him. That's the producer's job. It is a nefarious craft, and when it's happening to you, you don't know it."
"I actually have a degree in computer music. When I was doing that, I had enough experience recording music that I got to go on the road as a recording engineer with some really famous people, like Yo-Yo Ma. It was a big change of pace from all the rock that I'd been doing up to that point, and I got to hang out with all these classical engineers and musicians. I learned a lot, because the techniques they were using were nothing like the techniques I was using for rock. Lots of omnidirectional mics. You do pick up a lot more of the room, but you also don't get proximity effect. You can take an omni and stick it right up into the bridge of a violin, and you won't get this boomy sound."
"Nashville went through this period where everybody had to have Monster Cable. It was this gigantic, thick fucking cable, and it was a nightmare. A couple of engineers in town got endorsements, so I would have to rewire the whole fucking studio with it. I got so tired of doing that shit that I would just throw the cable on the ground and make it look like I had rewired it. They would see the Monster Cable and go, 'Oh boy, listen to that sound. Man, that Monster Cable is really kicking hard.' And I would just have it lying there looking like it was patched in, watching them make idiots of themselves."
"I'd love some tube compression, but I don't know how to use compression anyway. I've got no idea. Every time I record — which is very much a hobby, and I don't get much time to do it — I have to re-learn how to use the bloody desk. I still haven't figured out how to use auxiliary sends. I have no idea what that stuff does. [Instead] I go in through the echo and I re-patch it every time, for every instrument. I haven't got any effects in stereo — I haven't figured out how to do that. It's brainless and hopeless. That's why the new album sounds like shit."
"I suppose we [Tortoise] felt that we had gotten past the confines of simply playing instruments together in a room and documenting it. It was really exciting that all of these resources (in the studio) could be used in a totally creative capacity. It shed a new light on everything. In retrospect, it was easy to talk about things like that. Now, however, I wouldn't necessarily say anything along those lines, because I think the whole process of making records has changed so much. People's attitudes and conceptions of what's possible when you make a record are very different than they were ten years ago. It's understood when you go into the studio that there is always a potential aspect of the production that may involve a certain amount of 'something' above and beyond the actual setting up of mics and 'straight' recording."
"I was trained as a concert pianist, but then I gave up because I realized the futility of that venture pretty quickly. I didn't want to practice. I started to listen to jazz as a 14-year old, and then rock 'n' roll as a 16-year-old. I left South Africa in 1960 and got to England. I was always into fiddling with knobs and electronics, and with trying to make things sound better. I guess, after about a year and a half working as a messenger boy in London, I figured out what I wanted to do. I became an engineer by just pestering a couple of the new studios that were up and running."
"I try to get one definitive mix. I definitely do involve the artist. I really believe that there are a lot of little decisions during mixing that are not necessarily right or wrong, they're primarily personal preference. If the artist is very aware, and is on top of what is on the tape and how it all works together, that is very useful to me. I also like to know the setup that they have in mind. Like, 'You really need to hear this guitar,' or whether not to worry about it so much. Sometimes it's one person — sometimes it's the entire group. Other times it's the producer alone, or the producer with one of the band members. I do spend a fair amount of time working with it myself after having talked to the artists. I get the material to a point where I feel it's rocking and then they'll listen to it."
"That was the basic rule we laid down in the studio. 'Don't do anything, unless we ask you; or if you want to do something, ask us first.' I've pretty much always done all the hands-on EQ'ing and mic'ing. Nine times out of ten, with guitars, I'd just wind up doing it my own way. People were always into ambience and I was really trying to get a very upfront sound, mainly because the sounds I was using were so non-upfront that you needed the most upfront possible sounds to make them not sound like it's just a load of weird distant-effects. I'd spend hours trying to get the sound as clean and dry as possible. You know, people just let me do it myself 'cause they wouldn't have a clue, really, as to what I was trying to get."
"It's not rocket science. Just trust your ears. You can hear as well as anyone else what sounds good and what doesn't. Given the chance to listen to all these different things, you can tell why people like Neves better than SSLs. It's not that hard to figure it out, if you hear them both in front of you — it's pretty obvious what sounds better. And don't get intimidated by stupid engineers, 'cause it's not like their ears are better than yours. Just trust that you know what you want."
"It is making people feel important and loved. I have seen many people that have my job [that] are so insecure — because they don't want somebody trying to steal their show. This is about dealing with people. People are so caught up on specs and their own ego that they totally lose track. I am hired and the band is my client, and I have to work for that band. I am actually working with human beings that have feelings. Let it come naturally."
"If I used the same mic techniques on the same instrument in a better-sounding room and get an amazing sound, I know that it's not some special magic box. The room is how they get the sound, in that case. Sometimes you find the sound is not as cool. The more I work at other studios, the more confident I am that the sounds I get are going to translate to the outside world. If you only work at one place, you might know that your room is too bass-y, so you mix with less bass. But the more I work at other places, the more I understand the subtleties of what frequencies are wanted, and which are not. I think it's more important to have the proper amount of time to make a recording than it is having the right equipment."
"When I was assisting for Geoff [Daking] I thought, 'I'm never going to be an engineer, because I don't have the kind of outgoing personality to keep a whole room of people entertained like that.' He's got that really big personality. I thought, 'I can sit here and move the knobs, but I can't keep all these people happy.' I realized later that there are some people that want to be entertaining the room themselves, and they don't need any competition from the engineer. There's someone for everyone. There's a wide spectrum of personalities that get matched up with different personalities of producers and artists."
"At the time of working on [KISS'] Destroyer, everyone was cooperating and trying their very best. Certainly there were varying levels of proficiency on their instruments amongst the four players, but everybody wanted to succeed. We worked really, really, really hard in rehearsal on that album to make sure that not only did we come up with interesting parts, but that the band was capable of playing them well. So contrary to the urban myth that there were a lot of session players on that album, the band played virtually everything. I think that the band should get some recognition for that, because I think when you listen to things like 'Detroit Rock City,' you hear some powerful, confident musicians playing really interesting parts."
"My idea for a studio is getting an atmosphere where people will feel like they are going to be able to be creative, as well as to try to create a situation that is really different from what people may have experienced in a studio. We don't have a clock anywhere in the studio, and part of [it] is that no one's paying. Everyone who records here, pretty much it's for K Records. I think when you go into a real studio it's so enclosed and encased, and there's this feeling like, 'Okay, we got to get in here, and we gotta do it!' I think there's a little bit of an adrenaline rush that might be helpful, but I think, a lot of times, there's a stress level that gets people off edge."
"Have you heard that Bottom record that I did? [Feels so Good When You're Gone] That's one of my favorite records. It came out sounding really good, but it was a big, big struggle to make. Sina, the guitar player/singer, got really ill. She was able to pull off her vocals — which are amazing — and her guitar playing, even though she had the flu and was leaving the room every five minutes to puke. When I put that on I feel and hear what was going on at that time. I've actually gotten feedback from people who said they could feel the anger and emotion from it. It is the highest compliment — not just to me, but to the band too. Their feelings got put across on tape, and it's not really an easy thing to do. That is why I do this — because every once in a while being able to pull that off — all the emotion going through all the cables, and mics going through to tape — that's fulfillment to me."
"That is my goal — to keep the old traditional songs alive, because in the current marketplace they are in danger of getting lost. It's the same problem that was happening in the '30s when the Lomax's went out to do the field recordings. There is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt saying that there is a chance of these old folk songs getting lost because of music hall songs. Of course music hall songs have been lost now; but the old folk songs are still around, so it was kind of ironic."
"Sometimes I might just have a simple bass line idea, and I don't play very well, but I'll just do that. Then I'll build a drum track around that. Even though a lot of people say you should start with the drum track first, a lot of times I don't. Or I'll have people come play around this one musical idea I have. Sometimes that might be a sample, or a few samples chopped up in a certain way. Sometimes it's just something real simple that I play and I'm like, 'Okay, can you hook this up for me?'"
"Naturally, I want to get the best performance. But if I have to go in and edit, I am not afraid of doing it, nor am I morally opposed to it. But I don't like to rely on it. Sometimes I have relied on it a bit too much, just to keep it moving along. I don't want to have to keep overdoing it."
"I think some of the functions in the studio should be regarded as public functions. Knowing what the arrangement of the song is — that should be made public. The clock positions of your recording system should also be made public so that the people in the room can educate themselves as the work is progressing. For example, if the guitar player hears a point in the song where he feels he wants to do a repair, or have a point to come back to, it's nice for that person to be able to say, 'Could we go to 237 please?' It's helpful so the engineer knows what he's talking about. With the wonderful advantages of modern day technology, one of the things that has not improved seemingly is exactly that — the communication system."
"I've never decided to have a home studio — I gradually built one up. Without a recording studio, my life would be very awkward. I also use outside studios for drums and such. I realize they don't have all these instruments whenever I go to other people's studios! If I'm going to change one instrument's part, I'd have to go home and get it."
"When I came along they had just started putting the engineer's name on album covers. Because of Sgt. Pepper's... the general public realized there was a lot of hocus-pocus that went on in the studio and it validated that part of the profession. You got your name on the record, and you didn't have to ask. But I used to like to get my picture on, too, if possible. That's how awful I was back then!"
"What sent them down here was because somebody else had made a hit that made some money, so they were gonna try to do that too. They didn't care what it sounded like. 'The New Orleans Sound?' There's no such thing. It's the musicians, the atmosphere. To be perfectly honest, and I say it all the time, a lot of good musicians made me look good. Seriously. The best engineer in the world can't make a bad musician sound good. Nobody goes into the studio to make B-sides, right?"
"I made my own way of making electronic music in the late '50s and early '60s using test equipment — oscillators, patchbays, and tape recorders. While everybody else was cutting and splicing I was finding a way to improvise with the electronics, using 'difference tones' between oscillators. Setting oscillators above the range of hearing, as well as using the different tones between the oscillators in a tape delay system, caused a lot of beat frequencies with the bias of the tape recorder. That's how I made my early electronic music."
"I'm really not that fussy — I think it's more important to make the best use of what you have. I don't like to walk into a studio, lay down the law, and say, 'I must have this, otherwise I cannot continue with the session.' I'm not like that. I prefer to be more, 'What have you got? Let's see what we can do with that.' I hate spending inordinate amounts of time just playing with a sound, trying different pieces of equipment, and different mics and that stuff. Let's get the job done. Let's make a record. The whole process of recording is one big experiment in itself."
"Before my parents built the house in Hackensack [New Jersey], I was boring holes in the walls of our old house for the cables to go through. But when they built the house on Prospect Avenue in Hackensack, the control room was incorporated into the design of the house. They knew how involved I was, and incorporated that into the home they designed. It was a large living room, a fairly high ceiling, and there was an alcove in one wall, as well as a hallway going toward the bedrooms and other rooms. It turned out that musicians were very comfortable playing there. Even today when I meet someone who played there, they say they have good memories of it."
"TONTO [The Original New Timbral Orchestra synthesizer] will always be a work in progress! It was designed to be able to incorporate whatever came down the line. I did not anticipate rack equipment that was deeper than nine inches. I did not anticipate not needing control surface — voltage control and analog synthesis require large panel areas. The amount of electronics behind there is incredibly small compared to the amount of panel space you need to access it — that's why it's the shape it is. There are a lot of things you have to control, see, and reach without stretching!"
"Nobody up to that time was playing what I was hearing on the bass, like little Latin-type of rock 'n' roll figures. They used me a lot, especially that pick sound. They wanted a real clicky sound at first, but I said, 'No, no. It's got to have a real bass sound.' But some people still wanted that treble sound, so on certain dates, like with the Beach Boys, I got a lot more high-end, because that's what Brian Wilson wanted. With Mission Impossible, I had the low-end and the high-end, and I really punched it hard."
"I saw a group called the New York Dolls, and the idea hit me that what was going to be important in the coming days was not so much musical virtuosity, but a new kind of thing where ideas mattered. I thought of the friends I grew up with in my hometown of Forest Hills, Queens. I thought those guys would make a great group. They could play as good as the Dolls, and they were very colorful people. So I got in touch with them and eventually got them to put a band together, which was the Ramones. I was originally their manager, but I ended up playing the drums as we had trouble finding anyone capable of picking up the style of drumming that we needed."
"Many people make a studio a certain way, because that's the way they think it's supposed to be. They read as many magazines as they can, and try and get as much gear as everyone else. They try to make it look how their clients think it is supposed to look. Essentially, they're trying to conform. There are so many studios that are physically impressive. They look like a cross between a space ship and an operating room. They have a black leather couch and so forth. They might be impressive places for a photograph, or they might be impressive to an advertising agency client, but they are mostly not very pleasant or conducive places to make music."
"I did a record a few years ago, which I didn't mix — a very famous mixer mixed it. He hated what I did, he was complaining constantly about the engineering. When I got the mixes back they were just horrible. Anyway, they were used. We were trying to make two different types of records. Often A&R guys say, 'He's had a few hits. He's great.' He does lots of pop stuff, this guy, but he's probably used to programmed drummers. What he did, for me, was squeeze the life out of everything. It was thin and he just didn't understand. It was an acoustic record. I wanted to have the sound of the room on everything. That was the way it was meant to be. The band has always said they much prefer the way the rough mixes sound. He's a brilliant, brilliant mixer; but not for that."
"I think my passion for music is all encompassing, from an engineering standpoint and as a player. I owe so much to so many people [for] my education, which is still ongoing. I'll do any job. I was Daniel Lanois' roadie for a while. I'll carry his guitars around, just to stand at the side of the stage and watch him perform — incredible performer. I was very lucky to make three albums, and tour, with Emmylou [Harris]. As a musician, it was an incredible experience just to be around her and Malcolm [Burn]. Her ethic is impeccable, her discipline — she's an extraordinary artist and a great writer too. I've been really, really lucky to have people be patient with me and teach me from a very young age."
"First of all, working with good and bad producers is a very important experience. At that time, for me, I realized that the strength for an engineer was to be the translator. Creed Taylor would give me tons of room. I think he was uncomfortable saying, 'I don't like what's being played.' So he'd send me out to Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, Kai Winding, or J.J. Johnson — all of those folks that he let me talk to on his behalf. I learned a lot from him. The mere fact that he would sit there quietly, possibly not saying anything — I was given the responsibility to go out there and say it for him."
"The minute somebody messed up you'd have to start all over again, every time we had to do a mix. When it gets to 3 or 4 a.m. — and we'd been in the studio for three, four, five days — your reflexes and responses get a little slow! We would be doing something over 40 times. We would get a whole thing, and then someone would bring in a part a little late. We didn't use any sequencing in those records — maybe a kick, snare, and hat. But not all the way through a song like people do today, which I consider to be kinda lazy. We would record for five minutes, go back, erase where we wanted to change the beat and have to catch it so it lined up in the spaces — the alternating beats. All of the sample parts were played by hand."
"The great thing for me was having worked with The Beatles for so long as a second [engineer], there was enough of a relationship there that even though the first day was a complete write-off they were willing to continue with me. Plus, they probably knew that no one else wanted to work with them. The old timers were used to the 10 to 1, 230 to 530, 7 to 10, which The Beatles completely changed. Secondly, they could be assholes. Tell me an artist of that stature that, at some point, isn't an asshole. Certainly they could be very boring. They sometimes took a long time to complete things, and the old timers were used to doing an album in a day."
"You've got to be crazy to own a studio, because you've got to deal with getting paid, expensive equipment that breaks all the time, and musicians that are coming by and peeing on your rug or whatever. But since I started doing it, it's great. I can really be so much more flexible in the way I make albums. I should've done this years ago."
"For me, the scariest thing about the 'hit-making machine' was the expectation that every new work was supposed to be not only bigger, but much bigger than the last one. The people surrounding Earth, Wind & Fire had that... Maurice [White] sitting down with me — we're about to start new tracks — and he says, 'Now this one's going to be really big!' I've already risked my marriage. I've stayed away from home for a year, and I've already done everything I can do. And he sits there and says, 'That one wasn't shit. Now this one is really gonna be big!' And then he starts out with the same old 'boom, chak, ka-boom boom, chak...' I had to get out of there."
"They [The Police] wouldn't be in the same room together. Sting would go skiing in the morning. Stewart [Copeland] would come in and say, 'Right, I want to overdub a hi-hat on that song.' Then Sting would come in the afternoon to sing or something and Stewart would go off skiing. We'd have a conversation like this 'So, what did you do this morning? What's that fucking hi-hat doing in there?' 'Yeah, but don't you think we should discuss it with Stewart?' 'No! Get rid of that hi-hat!' And he'd stand by the machine and say, 'Right. Put it into record. I want to see you hit the record button now.' Here goes the hi-hat. Then Stewart would come in the next day and say, 'Where's my fucking hi-hat gone?'"
"Well, the first mix engineer got fired because he would do things like set up a mic and go back in the control room — which was, like, a 50-foot walk. He'd have me play some guitar; then he'd come out and move the mic a half an inch on the speaker cone. Then he'd go back, and come back, go back and come back, and so on. It was eight hours to do a part. I had the time then, so it wasn't that. But it was so incredibly ridiculous; I could've done it myself in my underwear and it would've been better."
"I made great sounding punk records. Some I produced, some I just engineered. But I never wanted to be an engineer. I engineered because I wanted to produce and I didn't want to hire an engineer. I hear it all in my head and I know I can figure out how to make it sound."
"There's only so much you can show or tell somebody, and then you've got to give them a chance to actually do it. So, if they're in there doing it, not experimenting on your paying clients but they're experimenting on themselves, that's a little better venue for their experimentation. It's the only way anybody is ever going to learn. Recording schools are great; I'd wish they'd had them in the '60s. It would've made it easier for me to learn in an organized program. But there's only so much hands-on, practical experience that you can get in that kind of a setting."
"We're just trying to be tasteful and trying to make the kind of records that sound good and feel good. If they sound old, that's great — I dig old records. It's just hard not to read more into it than that and try to put some kind of politics behind it. But the truth is we dig old records, so we're going to try to make old records."
"That is one of the problems I have with a lot of contemporary recording. You don't feel like it is taking place in a room. It's taking place in cyberspace, or in an electronic environment — close mic'ing in a dead space. If you want atmosphere, you dial it up. I keep quoting these two examples, but I think they're good examples Buena Vista Social Club and Norah Jones — they really sound as though they've been made in a space. I don't personally think they would've been that successful if they hadn't sounded like that."
"I started asking questions, as well as reading books and magazines. I noticed that the whole approach to recording in the '60s and the early '70s was far superior to the approach now — both in terms of fast execution, producing results, being able to make a record quickly, and being able to come out with a good sounding record. At least in rock music. Electronic music is the only thing that's flourished in the digital age."
"I had called CBS when we got here from England and said, 'Whatever you do, you have to arrange a recording session at Sun Studios. We have two days. You have got to get Sam Phillips.' We worshipped him. The sound in the studio! We got there at six in the morning and we tried to find Sam — who had gone off fishing. We didn't find him until midnight that night — we spent 18 hours. At midnight he comes back totally drunk out of his mind with a fishing rod. He said, 'I'm not an engineer any more. I don't want to engineer no Limey bands!' It was only because I had $600 dollars cash in my pocket that he decided to open up the studio at midnight. But when he heard The Yardbirds tune up, he couldn't believe it."
"You don't have to be in L.A. to do records anymore, because of the ability to upload large files to FTP sites. The client doesn't even have to come to the session. They can send you files wherever you're at. I think you do have to have yourself established somehow, but I would recommend taking advantage of places outside of metropolitan areas because you can get the property so much cheaper. You can actually have decent recording rooms."
"I think one of the great losses is that when people began getting home studios — especially with the advent of Pro Tools — and started making records in their living room, or garage, or wherever — it separated people. They weren't all thrown together like we were when we all worked in studios together. Not only was there a lot of recording knowledge that traded hands, there was a tremendous amount of musical influence that went both ways. It gave you the opportunity to do all kinds of things. It's the kind of basic training you just don't get anymore."
"I very wisely hired a band full of producers and got a bunch of free production. I had T Bone Burnett on bass — normally people don't call him to play bass — and Jon Brion playing guitar and organ. And I just sort of sat back and let them produce it for me without them thinking — because they can't help it. That's my insider's tip. You ask them to do something that they're not normally asked to do. They're all flattered and think, 'Cool. Someone appreciates my bass chops.' And meanwhile you're getting something that would've cost a million dollars for three hundred dollars."
"I got really lucky when Suzanne Vega came here to work. Butch Vig did Sonic Youth's Dirty record here. The Ramones did Mondo Bizarro with Ed Stasium. In the span of about six months, I got an incredible stamp of approval from all of these really fabulous artists. I always say, quite frankly, that thanks to these first major bands and artists, The Magic Shop continues to exist today. I think without that run in the early '90s, this place would have gone out of business. But they came and made records that sound great — even now. Because of those records, I ended up having a business."
"The restrictions of analog lead to all sorts of wild creativity. There are people who are doing some interesting things, and have been for some years, in the hip-hop world. Inventive, really fun, interesting stuff, with the technology. I enjoy that. We can do all that stuff. At some point it runs out of interest quickly for me — I feel like I have a job. I much prefer things I can't control. I greatly admire Jackson Pollock, for instance, as a painter. And sonically, that's what we try to do. Some people really don't like it. We make living music. If you use a computer or a synthesizer, it just gives you a sine wave. It gives you one pure tone, one pure sine wave. If you hit a note on a piano, it has every other note in the piano, in that note."
"The most difficult part of recording, I always found, was satisfying the musicians in the room with the cue mix. Talk about challenges! Getting a sound with a string section or recording a bass, a saxophone — I can do that. But when it comes to satisfying a group of musicians with one single cue feed, no one is happy. Eventually technology caught up with that problem. We had a device, a series of eight-channel mixers, where we could adjust the levels to the desired mix for each musician. We called it the 'More Me' box. You know, 'I can't hear the drums!' And he's the drummer! It was hell."
"The way we record now — we're too much in a rush. Nowadays you write a song, 'Let me get it out. I'm going to do it right now.' It's so instantaneous that we don't take the time to see if something's there or not. To really hone in and ask, 'What is this? What am I trying to say?' Most people don't listen anymore. It's a shame. Most people want it to sound good now, but they don't want it to feel good. Sound is a byproduct of music making. It's emotion that we're being sold on. They go hand in hand, but songwriting is such an underrated craft."
"What I started to realize when I was working on Michigan is that it's really important that the sound I was making was the sound that I wanted. I don't really believe in technology, beyond just capturing a pure form that is perfect on its own. Just write good music and do whatever you want. I really don't think it matters."
"A lot of producers don't want to get too involved with arrangements and the function of bits. That type of conversation is like being in a band. You play your part and people comment. I think you pretty much work out straight away what's appropriate, or not."
"I thought it was a bit of a mystery as to what a producer did. Even now, I think the guys that go in and sit there while the engineer makes the record and they bark orders — I don't get that. That's for somebody else to do. That's not what I do. I'm an engineer — I record and I produce records. I think, for a long time, you're an engineer; then you're comping all the vocals without any input, and then you're comping all the drums. Then you're telling them to do it again. I was always doing that — probably to my detriment. I couldn't keep my mouth shut."
"I lived in a room, in a house on Orange Street, so that I could walk to work. My car didn't work. When I had my first four hits, Liberty [Records] said, 'You gotta be at the office at 10 a.m. on Monday morning for a shift.' They took me out to the parking lot and guys were driving brand new Cadillacs around me. They said, 'Pick out your gift!' They put my name on it in gold. It was my first new car — a white Cadillac convertible. After they got through with the press of telling everyone about giving me the car for having all these hits, they deducted it from my royalty statement. I learned the music business quickly!"
"The more time I spend fiddling with stuff, the more the levels aren't going to be right in the headphones. If people are going to play right, they need to be able to hear themselves. So I really try and work as fast as I can. I do a lot of pre-production, in terms of figuring out what mics I'm going to use, what preamps I'm going to use, and how the room is drawn out. When people come in to listen to their performance, I don't want to be sitting at the console fiddling around. I want them to be able to come in and hear the performances as close as possible to what they should be — especially when you're working with string quartets, or small ensembles like that."
"I don't have a particular thing I personally am going for. What I'm trying to do is translate the vision of the artist. You work with a new band or producer, and there's a little period where you're finding out how to relate to each other, and what each other wants. I find, after a while, there gets to be almost a telepathic musical connection. I'm not in service to the artist — well, I am; but what I'm really in service to is the music. To me, music is a sacred thing. It's the closest thing I have to a religion."
"My first studio experience was probably when I was about 12 or 13 — one of those deals where we won a battle of the bands and got eight free hours of studio time at two in the morning. So the [engineer] wasn't really too happy about that. I was kind of interested in it; I had my questions and it was all very new to me. The dude just didn't want to hear from a little kid. But I was like, 'Man, I can do this.' So I go home. I had a couple of tape decks. I'd record drums onto one, and I just [kept] bouncing back and forth. It sounded like shit by the end. You couldn't hear anything over the hiss."
"If I'm gonna produce somebody, I like to feel [that] we're not gonna argue forever. We sort of see things similarly. The person needs to trust me, and I need to trust them. [I] just [need to] feel like we're in accord as far as musical taste, pickin' songs, and stuff. You gotta remember singers are not the smartest people in the world. [chuckles] They're all ego freaks. I like to find the ones who ain't too big a pain, someone at least to have fun with. Like Tompall Glaser — we argued a lot, but we had a lot of fun. Me and Charley Pride argued a lot, but mostly about material and stuff. But I still like the guy, even though we used to argue all the time."
"I was teaching college and kept getting asked, 'Why are there so few women in this field?' It didn't occur to me that there weren't that many women in the field. I was in the middle of it. I didn't think about the gender politics of it at all. It happens to girls when they are young and they continue to move away from fields like this. I think young girls have to get over that hump. I've found they love it when they're given access to that environment. We're basically getting women credit on things that are recorded here. It's not just cheap studio time — you have to use our engineers. There's no getting around it. The whole point [of Women's Audio Mission] is to help women learn engineering."
"You run out of songs — your catalog is depleted. You start writing in the studio, writing in rehearsal. Or some bands take a long break, where the writers in the group have to woodshed and come up with some songs and rehearse them. But I think, with Brian [Eno]'s encouragement, we discovered that we could improvise stuff in the studio and make a structure out of that. You can only do it for certain kinds of music. You aren't going to come up with that kind of stuff that has really complicated, convoluted, chord changes. You're not going to jam on stuff like that. Jazz people might, but we're not going to do that. This worked for us."
"The future of the industry is that the major labels will collapse, and the attorneys and all those people will be gone. There will be a few, because there will always be rap and there'll be a few [big] things. But when somebody finds out that the company doesn't control them... They don't pay them; they run their debt up, turn down what's good, put out what's bad, and charge them for everything in the world. They get you caught up for a half a million so they won't have to pay you, and that's what they do. You're at the mercy of sitting at a big table, listening to a bunch of clones watching their president to see what he's going to say. It's a horrible situation."
"I believe a lot in 'doctor chance.' Sometimes you put a tape up and whatever the board was — if it wasn't zeroed out — you play something and go, 'That sounds interesting.' You might have a teensy EQ'd bass drum and this huge hi-hat. A totally weird combination, but you probably could use that for something. You can't really think of it. It's just obscure. Lots of things happen that way."
"Anytime I've ever had to mix something in Pro Tools where there's an unlimited opportunity, I just don't like it. It feels really uncomfortable to me. It's just scary. I see other people doing it and I don't like what I see them doing. I don't like the plug-ins instead of real tools. It's so abused. There's one great thing about working on tape, and working with the limitations of tape, as well as real, mechanical tools you don't change things easily. It's even worse in Pro Tools — you'll fix three other things and then there's no soul left in it. I'm not saying it can't be done. I know people who record and don't use plug-ins."
"Everybody liked the tube electronics and the analog gear. I could never see any real reason to go with all the new stuff. I didn't buy every new toy. When I was at Fifth and Bell in downtown Seattle, there was a studio within a block of me that was buying every new tool that came out. He ended going belly up — losing his business, losing his house and everything else. For what? He had to have every new little thing and I don't see that."
"It's not a conscious thing even — you hear something and think, 'Oh, I like the way that sounds.' It's a new thing and you tend to do that just because it's cool. It's not even conscious. You just put the thing up and go, 'Oh, I know what I'll do.' There's not lot that I think I do. It's funny, because people ask about certain techniques. When I was learning, I would listen to records and then I'd go into the studio and invent something. I'd try to come up with something that would get me the same sort of thing, but maybe change it in some way. Not necessarily duplicate it, but sort of get that similar thought. That's a lot more interesting, because I don't want my records to sound like other people's records, and I don't want others to sound like mine either."
"A new idea had appeared, which was that music could be a lot like painting instead of being something where you stood in front of a mic and performed. By the late '60s, there'd been the history of Phil Spector and, of course, George Martin, as well as various other people. They were starting to realize that what you did in the studio was painting with sound. You could make a piece over an extended period of time — it didn't have to preexist the process; you could make it up as you went. It stopped being something that was located at one moment in time."
"I do much more pre-production than I used to do. I rehearse and rehearse. Not to define a way of doing the song, but to know the song inside out. I work with very good musicians nowadays, and they know how I work. I find if I know the song really well, I can feel very free about changing it, or trying different ways of doing it. And if the band doesn't know the song very well, you sometimes stand a chance of finding really fantastic little mistakes. We record everything live, including the vocals. I mean a mistake is a mistake. But the little flaws in the playing I think ought to be welcomed, and they can create a real atmosphere — it becomes more like a jazz recording."
"Everybody is faking it. Pretty much everybody is not as good as you think they are at it. Everyone is constantly afraid that they're going to be found out as a fraud. Now I've been making records long enough that nothing really surprises me. I don't feel like I'm going to be baffled. I might not necessarily get it right the first time, but I'll have an approach. I'll have a way of getting through the problem. It wasn't that way when I first started, but I was lucky enough to work with peers who would deal with just about anything."
"I started to wonder why certain records sounded like they did. I found out the older records were mostly recorded using a 4-track, whilst the new records were recorded using 24-track. If I was going to be recording with my band, I didn't want to do it on 24-track, so I started looking in the back pages of the music papers for a studio that had a 4-track. I didn't find any, as they didn't seem to exist anymore. We found an 8-track studio that (looking back) wasn't very good. [They were] set up in a garage with no control room and [it was] pretty bad sounding. This led me to be more interested in finding out how things worked. I started by experimenting with old reel-to-reels I'd get at jumble sales."
"Some of the records that I spent months doing back in the '80s, you could re-record in two hours now. They wouldn't be the same, but they'd be close enough that the average person might not notice. All of that is much easier when you know what you're doing. When you're actually making a record, you don't know what you're doing half the time. I was never afraid to scrap stuff in the '80s. That's one of the great things about the music business — records certainly can cost a lot of money to make, but it's the cost of time. It's nothing like a movie. If you don't like the movie, you usually can't go back and re-shoot it. A couple of times I have said, 'Right. We're going to start again, because this is not going to do what we want.'"
"The act and the art of making the record is always a positive one. It's always, 'Let's talk about how we can move this record forward. Let's see how we can expand our artistic horizons. Let's talk about what this record is about. Let's rehearse so we're in the ballpark when we go into the studio, but let's leave enough room for improvisation.' All of those things are very important, and it also makes the artist feel like he or she has a collaborator. If you need me to write with you, I'll write with you. If you don't, that's fine. Let me see what your lyrics are like; maybe I can make a suggestion. You don't need that? That's fine too. Let's see what the meaning of this is."
"There's a little bit of my mom and dad in everything I've done. They were both musicians, and both well-educated and trained. All they wanted me to do was record music and do it properly. They just wanted to help. I saw early on in my career that [my wife Bea's] support was going to be really important to me, so I included her in all my work. I never did a major project without bringing her to the studio. She's stayed up all night with Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Bea and I traveled with Michael Jackson all over the world."
"I got fed up with touring pretty early on, and the studio always beckoned to me. I just couldn't wait to get in there again. I used to not get much time in there. I'd write an album in about six weeks or so. Then I'd go in the studio and record it all in probably about six weeks as well. Then I'd be back out on tour a couple of weeks after that, promoting the thing. I didn't have a lot of time for second-guessing, or listening to mixes over, and over, and over."
"I haven't figured out anything, from day one. You absorb that and it becomes part of what you do, and you bring that to somebody else. It's energy. There's no absolute, definite version of anything. What you're hearing is a small tape, which was a product of a big tape, which was done on a certain date, which was intuitive according to the person that made that decision — not always the artist. But you get it as a fraction of the experience, and it's the version. That version is indefinite, endless."
"You get them set up and then you wait for them to play. You'd better be ready to hit the record button. That's basically how you do it. There's all this chaos swirling about; your goal is to see the bits and pieces of gold nuggets, grab them, and hold on to them for dear life."
"When you want to talk to the singer, instead of talking over the talkback, especially if they're having a rough time — you turn off the speakers and go out there. You go into the room and talk to them. You don't let anyone in the control room hear what you're saying. It's your little secret. Help them to feel comfortable."
"I want to slow this process down and bring talking and creativity back into it. With Fleetwood Mac, they were all sitting in a room with us and they had no place to go. My daughter [Colbie Caillat] comes in here and is like, 'I've got 40 minutes to do the vocal. I've got to go to another meeting.' I'd like to say, 'Could you just listen? Sit down, and talk about the music.' Pro Tools is great for editing, structuring, and things like that. But slow it down. Just take your time."
"It's great to jump around between different projects. But, on the other hand, people aren't willing to go through the uncomfortable stage of making a record where you're sweating and experiencing enormous self-doubt. Or when you're totally immersed and you'd rather run screaming from the room. I love that too. Immersion tends to make the best albums."
"We are force-fed that better studios and better gear is the only way to record records, but I welcome this change of being stripped down to the essentials: artist, mic, and a format to capture sound. Music is made everywhere on this earth. I'm honored to experience it again and feel those emotions, like the first time I plugged a mic in."
"I stopped using analog tape in 2003. I don't think that my recordings sound any worse. If anything, they sound better. I prefer well-recorded digital. I don't really give a shit if somebody else has a hard time making something sound good in the digital realm. That's their problem. Figure it out, or not."
"The future of music, audio, filmmaking, gaming — any creative media construction, from inception, to post-production, to delivery — is truly boundless and limited only to our collective imagination."