Establishing A Creative Environment

Going Beyond Natural Sounds Part 3


To set up the musician’s foldback system, I scheduled the first recording session to track the most extreme compositions included on the album: a high-energy, classical guitar piece over-dubbed with three synthesizers; and a softer tune for acoustic piano and jazz electric guitar. Working in this way I tested the control-room equipment’s noise floor with the piano and electric guitar. With the classical guitar I started listening for locations in the studio that had the necessary acoustic support. My engineer Chris Minto and I also worked out imaging for the foldback – the same one that was used later in the mix. In the next session we concentrated on the drums and bass sounds.

Every aspect of the production was documented, so that we could pyramid into the larger ensemble groupings. With detailed documentation, we could always reconstruct the previous session, right down to the foldback mix.

To begin our preparation work, the crew and I would arrive 2 1/2 hours before the players. Chris Minto, assistant engineer Phil Brown, and I would check out every phase of the recording chain. By the time the players arrived, the cue mix from the previous session would be playing in their headphones. Every headphone cue was played at the same volume level, so that while they were setting up for the session, each player could get into the vibe.

The foldback and playback mix are the most important elements for a musician while capturing his or her performance. The sound engineer and I take the time to discuss our approach so that, as they are playing, the musicians hear a very close approximation to what will be recreated in the final mix. Imaging and effects for the acoustical environment will be used in the foldback and playback mix, even though they may not be printed to tape. This technique gives the player a feel for what we are trying to achieve in final mix. Musicians respond to sound, telling them what you are going to do with their sound isn’t enough. If you want a good performance, take the time to let them hear where you are coming from.

Since I was serving as primary musician and producer, for the foldback mix Chris provided us players with a perspective of being “under the microscope”, as opposed to a less detailed cue system. Some of the players were expecting a jazz-type of sound concept in the headphones, but it wasn’t. They got to hear clarity and imaging; a playback and foldback system that had a balance between the two. As a result, even players performing in a separate room – the horn section, for example, was recorded on the second floor, while the rhythm section was on the first floor – could hear exceptionally well. With current techniques it is possible to achieve that kind of definition and clarity in the earphones and on tape, even though you’re cutting all the instruments at the same time.