Recording 3.0: Rethinking the way we work

While Editing

Over the last weeks I have been expressing lots of controversial ideas and swimming against the tide. I needed to set up the scenery before detailing some specific actions. I made my case about the bad working conditions of musicians and how these force us to lower our expectations and, far worse, the quality of our work. I also spoke last week about the musician’s lack of interest for other media as art forms and his/her wrong obsession with a dying art form: the concert. Of course, this has consequences on the way I work, especially in studio. Today, I’d like to share today some of the changes I’ll be operating in the following weeks concerning one of my prefered medium: recordings.

Of course, I have a very personal perspective on the recording process: for me, it is an art form. But most of the time recording is about reproducing and enhancing what you could hear in a live performance. It’s cheaper, quicker and probably good enough for an audience considered dumb and deaf by the industry. But I truly believe this type of recording is a form of scam: maybe that’s why people have no scruples about pirating them. It’s just a pale copy of a another reality, and can’t be called art. Like printing reproductions of a painting: it has never been called art and never will be, even if it’s technologically complicated to get it right. But I digress.

I first believe that the artist should take part to each step of the process and be the architect of it (my inner control freak is so happy when I say that!). Also, a lot more time should be allotted to making a recording. So how practically getting in the driver’s seat again and transforming the process so that recording is an art form and not reproduction?

I’ve always been deeply involved in pre-production. I spent countless hours learning about all this to finally be able to design my miking setups. Yep, that makes me a total geek but I feel very comfortable with that. It also means that there is no mistake: the sound created is the sound wanted, as unrealistic this sound can be. The purpose is to create a sonic environment, not reproduce reality which can not be reproduced anyway.

During recording sessions, even if there is a producer somewhere doing it already, I like very much taking notes: what felt and sounded good, what I’d like to use, what can’t be used. I’m quite surprised that isn’t the norm, but I know no other colleague doing it. Of course, if you’re not involved in post-production, there is absolutely no use to do so, that’s maybe why they don’t do it. But if you do it is invaluable information, not only for this recording, but also for the future ones, as you learn to recognize and feel what is a good take and a bad one. Sometimes it feels right in the studio, but sounds crappy in the control room.

When it comes to editing, although I am almost always in the control room, I have always been very frustrated. I’m a slow worker: I need to listen to all the material that could be used, think about how to combine the different takes, try things out. And I can’t really do that more than 3-4 hours a day or the quality of my work drops significantly. So as I feel now confident enough as a serious editor, I’ve decided to build my editing studio at home so I can take the time I need to polish my work of art without spending insane amounts of money for each release. Thanks to digital technology it is now quite doable for a reasonable price, and as I am quite a tyrant in the control room, doing it myself will spare the nerves of an engineer (turned into a copy/paste/EQ/apply slave) and of a producer (turned into an assistant writing down the edit points on the score). Everybody happy, me first, since I get what I want: creating a work of art.

Yes, according to me, that’s what it takes to produce a work of art: be in charge all the way, creating the conditions to deliver the best work possible, think each step of its building. Who knows better than I do what I want to hear? Who knows better than I do which options are possible and which are a non-sense for me? That’s why I always found awkward to delegate one of the most important steps of the recording process: pre and post production. Maybe the wording is to blame: it sounds like these are outside the serious step of “recording”: before and after. But in fact I consider them part of my job too, as an artist, as they essentially condition the final work of art. Because again, this is what recording is all about: creating a work of art, not trying to reproduce a live performance.