In a time when the term "audio engineer" has been watered down to such a generic title, David Boucher is a throwback to a different era. He is not merely a connect-the-dots kind of guy. He has taken the time to learn his craft, not only from a musical standpoint but from the technical side as well — something that sadly is becoming lost in this current age of "plug and play." David has worked with mixer Bob Clearmountain (Tape Op #84) and producer Mitchell Froom (#10). He's also worked on projects with artists like Andrew Bird, The Indigo Girls, Missy Higgins, Susanna Hoffs, The Ditty Bops and Randy Newman. He's equally at home behind a console or mic as he is inside a console or mic, and he's uniformly enthusiastic about both! How many "engineers" out there today can you say that about?
Where did you grow up, how did you get started, and what got you into music?
I grew up in Atlanta. When I was about 12 or 13 my best friend got a guitar and told me I needed to buy a bass. He knew a drummer, so it was clearly, "You need to buy a bass so you can be in the band." We knew that we wanted to make a tape to sell at gigs, and I thought, "I'd really like to figure that out." I bought a little cassette 4-track. I didn't have enough mic cables, so I just jammed a [Shure SM]57 into the front of the 4-track — into the XLR connector. That was my mic cable and mic stand! I sat it next to the drums, and I had one mic cable that ran out front. My parents had an unfinished basement that they said I could have a portion of for music. What I didn't know was that my dad, despite working for IBM for 30 years, was actually really good with his hands. That became our father-son bonding project; we built a studio in the basement. There was no Internet or any way to figure out how to treat it, so we gleaned information from anywhere we could. We tried to figure out some way of making it — not necessarily soundproof — but just not super annoying to my older sister. We built the studio, I started making these recordings, and pretty quickly I decided that was what I wanted to do with music. I still wanted to play, but I really wanted to record.
Did you get another recorder at some point, when you were still in high school?
No, I always did the 4-track and then a 2-track [cassette] to make the masters on. I always was careful about how many tracks we were using -we were a three piece, so it was drums, guitar, bass and vocal on four tracks. It wasn't a mystery. It's something that I probably ought to get back to today. Do you need a track for the bass drum, snare, and toms? Do you need all that stuff? I got to meet Glyn Johns, who has been a hero of mine forever, and he's not doing any of that stuff. His "just in case" mic istheoneonthesnaredrum!SoItoldmydadI wanted to go to music school and he frowned. I asked, "What if I go for engineering?" And he said, "That sounds like it's got a future." [laughs]
How did you find out about the University of Miami?
My music teacher in high school was one of those people who really wanted his students to continue into music. He told me about a couple of different programs — [University of] Miami and Middle Tennessee State; he also told me about places like Full Sail and Berklee. I did some research and found a few other places as well. My parents and I went on a little college tour. I really loved Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan. I called my sister and she said, "David, I don't even go to class when it rains. How are you going to go to class in the snow?"
But you ended up in Miami where there's quite a bit of rain...
Yeah, there's quite a bit of rain but it only happens for about a half an hour and then you're okay.
Were you developing your electronics skills while you were still in high school?
I was taking gear apart, but it wasn't going back together. I wanted to know how things worked. I didn't have anybody guiding me with that, so I definitely ruined a few things. When I went down to Miami on the college trip, I was really taken by their whole deal. It seemed like, "Wow, look at this. They're really doing it." Ken Pohlmann [Professor Emeritus, Music Engineering Technology] said to me, "I'm not going to teach you what knobs to turn, I'm going to teach you how to decide which knob to turn and you are going to make your own decisions." I was really enamored with that idea, because I was...