Back in March, I wrote a blog titled, “The Value Of A Great Recording Engineer.” It was an overview on my perspective how vital a good recording engineer is to insure a project’s sonic integrity.
I had referenced my primary engineer, Bob Bullock, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with for about 30 years. His recording credits include projects totaling over 100 million units of CD and record sales. Together, we’ve worked on film scores, albums, demos, TV themes – just about any type of project I’m involved in, he’s the final chef in the recipe.
As mentioned back in the March blog, I thought it would be of interest to ask Bob 5 questions about his role and the role of a recording engineer in today’s music business landscape.
Randy Hart: As a recording engineer who started a career in the pre-digital era, works now in the digital realm, and teaches recording techniques, what are the common mistakes you see consumers make when recording and mixing on their own?
Bob Bullock: I think the biggest mistake that consumers make when trying to record and mix is they don’t really realize how much skill goes into arrangements and sound quality. Even with excellent gear becoming more affordable, I see it frustrating to many that really don’t have the musical and technical skills to “think” like a whole band. Also, they may be unaware of the concepts of compression, equalization, echoes, mastering, etc., so their product can end up sounding out of balance and flat, as opposed to a sound it would have with more experience and knowledge of those tools.
RH: With so much music being virtually created (instrument samples instead of live instrumentation), how do miking technique fundamentals still apply to production?
BB: I see it as two different aspects of producing music now. One represents a producer that’s working with virtual instruments and samples (where the professional recording has already taken place) with a musical knowledge and background for what sounds good. The other is for anyone that is working with live instrumentation. Miking techniques, understanding room acoustics and knowledge of what microphones to use with different instruments still applies as it always has. It is now split into two different methods of producing music.
RH: If recording puts a sonic microscope on instrumental and vocal performances what extremes have you encountered with producers to reach a perfect and flawless track?
BB: A couple of projects I’ve worked on come to mind. One good example would be Mutt Lange (AC/DC, Bryan Adams, Lady Gaga) who, as a writer and producer, pays extraordinary attention to detail, seeking perfection. On one Shania Twain album, we worked on one guitar solo (about :10 long), with 2 different guitarists in 2 different locations (live) for about 10 hours, ultimately using some of each. Another example is Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan who also have reputations for perfection. On the “Katy Lied” album, they brought in several guitar players to play their ideas for a guitar part (about :08) which took a couple of days, and then chose the best one. In both cases, these records are not only sonically perfect, but the music is also superb. I do feel sonic perfection is meaningless though, without great music (songs).
RH: You’ve engineered hundreds of records, many of which have become multi-platinum iconic recordings. Give us an example of a studio “accident” that turned out to help make a hit record what it is.
BB: I personally haven’t encountered as great an example as other stories I’ve heard. I got to work with Jeff Lynne (ELO, Traveling Wilburys) back in the late 70s. ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” had just come out and was a huge hit. I noticed something sounding really different about how that sounded and asked Jeff about it. What happened was, back then everyone was using a noise reduction process called Dolby. You had to not only use it when you recorded, but also in mix mode. The drums had been recorded with Dolby, but in an overdub session, the engineer forgot to set that properly and the result was a unique, somewhat brighter sounding, but definitely different drum sound. They decided to leave it that way! After that, I, along with many other engineers, started playing around with using that process that was started by an “accident”.
RH: What used to be equipment costing hundreds of thousands of dollars can now be purchased for consumer use. What do you see as the future of recording?
BB: Applications for smart phones and iPads are already allowing us to create music from anywhere. What is now advanced technology will continue to become more user friendly, allowing more creative juices to flow from more people. Technological advances are simultaneously going in 2 directions – the consumer is getting more easy to use tools to use (such as Garage Band) with more options, and the industry professional is also being provided with higher end tools to use in more advanced applications. That being said, I believe films with multi million dollar budgets will not be replaced by iphone videos, but the beginning filmmaker has greater tools to start with than ever before. The same applies to music.