Sound Advice-Put Up Or Shut Up!


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Based in southern California, Barry Rudolph has been a recording engineer for more than three decades and has worked with a "who's who" of top artists. He also is a widely published audio journalist whose work has appeared in numerous industry publications.



Put Up Or Shut Up!

To Speak Up Or Not When Working Creatively

A basic tenet in quantum mechanics, something called the Copenhagen Interpretation, posits that the very process of observation disturbs the phenomenon being observed.

It’s always been my wish that I could somehow NOT influence any part of the creative process when making a record. Why? For a lot of reasons, but mainly, because I believe in the purity of the art, as well as art for art's sake and the autonomy of the artist.

Of course, record making is a collaborative process between artist, producer, musicians and engineer to produce the best art. So I've developed my own personal rules about how and when I "add" to the art.

"Take" On The Subject
OK, I'm not talking about practical engineering issues germane to the session or answering questions from the artist, producer or musicians or suggesting certain steps to achieve goals.

Rather, I'm talking about expressing my own feelings; my "take" on the subject, my learned opinion - what I believe can make a record better.

You might be thinking, “Why wouldn't the producer and artist want the engineer to express his opinions and feelings all the time?” Because I believe the engineer's main function is as a facilitator of producer and artist's vision.

Unless the engineer also signs on as the producer, his artistic contribution and creativity are expressed in his expertise: recording, editing and mixing music.

Personal Rules
As an engineer, one of my rules is to never put my opinion in the ring of discussion unless asked by the producer. The problem with being "allowed" an opinion is that if you veto the current plan, then the responsibility of coming up with a better idea is on you.

It's pretty easy to just not like something, but very hard to bring in something better. I come up with good plans on my own, but I'm not necessarily ready to lobby for it and scrap what the producer and artist have already meticulously worked out.

I've often followed the producer's plan and hours later, when he has thrown up his hands and given up, I'll lead him out of the dead-end alley he's taken the session and show him the light. It's part of the gig.

Another personal rule is that I only complain about something one time. If a guitar part doesn't work, or the drum sound needs attention I'll say it once, submit my reasons clearly, and move on. I really dislike whiney, pestering people, and so does everyone else.

"When in doubt, leave it out" is another rule. Doubt in a recording session is like a cancer. Having second thoughts is normal, but expressing doubt or second-guessing everything all the time during a session can breed doubt in everyone else like a virus.

Before you know it, everyone is second-guessing themselves, their performance and their equipment and losing self-confidence.

Keep It Light
Once I followed the producer down a very dark alley when recording an album for a group of very devout Christians. I was doubly certain to control my language, clean up my joke repertoire and keep my snide remarks to a minimum.

We were overdubbing an acoustic guitar part, and the player could not keep in time with the track. We call it "locking in" - the part when it’s in perfect time with the rest of the band.

The producer, in an effort to help out, started having me mute parts of the production to make the rhythm clearer for the guitarist to follow. First the strings, then the brass, then the backing vocals, then all the keyboards and finally all the other instrument tracks were turned off except for bass and drums.

With each successive layer removed, the guitar player's performance got no better. In a last ditch effort to get the guitarist to lock, the producer had me remove the bass. Without tonality reference, I said we'd have to count bars to know where we were in the song - which we did.

After a couple of attempts at playing along to only the drums and still no improvement, the producer told me to mute the drums so the guitar player could clearly hear himself only, with no backing track reference whatsoever.

Finally I remarked, "What's he going to lock to now? God??"

The producer, artist and everyone else in the control room stood up and said: "Hallelujah, praise the Lord - that would be lovely!"

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