Today on Tommy T’s obsession with Random Ruminations – “studio daze” edition

OK – when I was playing in various Dallas bands, I was working a day job – since I already had a commercial drivers license from back in Waco (where I was driving a 20-ton dump truck for the City,  hauling asphalt for the Streets Department).

I was working in North Dallas hauling forklifts with a 10-wheel rollback. My boss eventually decided to get out of the hauling business and sold the truck.

Suddenly I had a lot of time on my hands, so I went over to a recording studio that I had passed numerous times as it was close to my job. The name of the place was “Good Vibrations Recording Studio”, and I found out that it had been started by Charlie Pride’s band members.

I talked to the owner and his lead engineer, and they gave me a little test.  The studio had a very nice Neumann condenser mike, and the owner said “Go out there and put a pad on that mike.”

I went out and found a foam rubber mike protector (spit guard), and put it over the Neumann. I went back and they were both laughing. What I didn’t know was that condenser mikes have a switch to limit the output, so that an amp has the same dynamics as a vocal. It’s called a “pad”.

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They took me on anyway, as an intern. I learned a lot in a short time, and after a number of months, the owner called me into his office and asked me if I wanted to be manager. I said yes (of course).

Good Vibrations was a 1″ 16-track studio (Teac/Tascam), and as such, did mostly demos for local bands who didn’t want to spend $100 / hr to record in a 2″ 24-track place. We did a fair amount of business, largely because we had outstanding microphones, which are any studio’s most important asset. One day, a local group called “4 Reasons Unknown” came in to do a demo that would shortly be the track for a music video .

The group’s manager got them a slot on a new competition on MTV (you may remember MTV from back when they were just music videos) called “The MTV Basement Tapes”.  They won the competition.  Over hundreds of bands that submitted songs. For real.

Suddenly, the phone started ringing off the hook, and we were booked 24 / 7.  Everyone wanted to record at the little place were the first MTV Basement Tapes winners recorded. I didn’t get much sleep in the months that followed.

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So – we’re at the studio daze part of my random ruminations series.  Click on the “read more” for the first installment.

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On “Producers”…

In my studio days, we had a lot of bands come in to do demos, and occasionally, albums.

A lot of these bands had no producer, which meant that the engineer (me) had to help them through the sessions. Now a real producer’s job is to tell the band what songs to record, and which ones to ditch – and to ride herd over the recording of the keepers. As an engineer, my job was just to point out the obvious flubs and missed notes, and punch them in to fix them.

However, some bands did have an actual producer, and some of them were – um – more enthusiastic than knowledgeable.

Case in point – the “producer” who came in and decided that his boys were going to record EVERYTHING without any compression at all. None. “I don’t want any of that shit on our music – I want it RAW!”

His rationale? “They’re going to compress the hell out of it when it’s played on the radio.”

So – no compression. For anything. Gotcha. So – everything with any dynamic range at all was either going to be alternately pegging the meters, and more or less inaudible.

He stopped me during playback of the rhythm tracks to complain about the drum sound : “Where is the ride cymbal? I can’t hear it!”

“Well, sir – the crash is just a lot louder, and with no compression on the overheads, the ride’s going to get wiped out every time the drummer hits the crash.”

He spent the rest of the sessions complaining about the drowning out of everything by everything else.

Mama Mia.

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Oh – and for the non-gearheads who don’t know what a 1″ Teac / Tascam recording setup looked like :

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One thought on “Today on Tommy T’s obsession with Random Ruminations – “studio daze” edition

  1. LarrytheRed says:

    Ah, the nuts and bolts of how to actually do things. I love it.

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