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THE STUDIO - A REFLECTION by Bill King

I remember the first time I stepped into a recording studio. The elation and sense of wonderment I felt was akin to the astronauts first landing on the moon. The sensation was like walking through an invisible door into a mysterious world beyond comprehension in 1964. The session lasted all of six hours culminating in a top fifty Billboard hit titled "Moanin"; released on the Nashville label Smash by the Chateaus.
Two sides were recorded for the single, the B side an original I cloned from Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" called "Seven Come Eleven". Not only was I immersed in the art of recording , but I also learned a painful lesson when the forty-five was released. The co-producers name and publishing company were credited for my particular rewrite of Hancockšs hit. Needless to say, I never saw a penny from the successful arrangement I did of Bobby Timmon's "Moanin" or my crafty take on Hancock. I was eighteen years old with no understanding of the music business.

I would learn over the ensuing years how little my approach to recording would modify to my present capacity as co-president of Radioland Enterprises.
I eventually moved to Greenwich Village in Manhattan during the peak of the sixties revolution. One of the bands I hooked up with were recording at A-1 Sound on 56th street , the old Atlantic studio where Ray Charles pounded out the hits for one of the labels original founder's , Herb Abramson.
Herb was a two-track man in transition. Every thing in his studio were relics of an era in the twilight of enormous change. The Beatles were multi-tracking with George Martin's four track while Herb rarely overdubbed opting for the precise performance.
ESP records would rent long stretches of time from A-1 and let the tape flow cutting as many discs as could be crammed into a two week period. There was no mixing, aural effects, samples or multi-verb systems. Just the documentation of the session at hand.
I rode through the sixties, seventies and eighties halfheartedly on board the technological juggernaut. I marvelled at the advances in sound reproduction but still knew in the back of may head this was a mute point if the players couldn't make it happen.

I spent six weeks in Cherry studios in L,A. in 1982 with the very finest engineer and studio musicians recording with a new mega band , China; and two twenty-four track Studors perfectly in synch. What did we get? A 186,000 tab; paid for by Epic records. The record sounds quite good, but believe me the same or better results could have been obtained by efficient pre-production and nineties like austerity.
The eighties were beyond control with bands like Fleetwood Mac spending a year and millions of dollars in the studio. None of the excesses guaranteed hits. Look at the fifties! In and out. Everyday a new artist, a monster hit. As I write this in August 1997, I can honestly say I'll never revert back to the mind set of the seventies and eighties. It's all in the quality of artist and preparation that brings a song to life. I make a practice of securing the very best engineer who is quick and sensitive about the music. The artist must be thoroughly prepared.

We work on strict budgets which includes studio costs, musician fees, graphics, photography etc. I donšt like to spend more than twelve to sixteen hours in a studio on a project. Everything straight to DAT.
I'm not a fanatic internally struggling with the merits of analogue over digital. It's a matter of economics. Digital sounds great to me. I couldn't wait to unload as much lumpy vinyl replacing my favourites with CDs. That was four years ago and not once have I cried with nostalgia it's passing.
The essential trick is capturing the right performance. That means my role is that of champion of the cause. I massage egos when necessarily and dissect and solve problems when they arise. I listen behind the engineer usually perched near the back of the room. My partner Greg Sutherland likes to stay close to the console where he can quickly communicate a given response and exchange dialogue with the engineer. Our main man is Kevin Doyle one of the most celebrated engineers in the country. We all work as a team. What one misses the other will log in memory. There's no yelling, arguments, or bruised egos. We've all survived those recordings, steering clear of such encounters. There's a level of maturity that comes when entering a studio that must be maintained. You're there for one purpose. Follow through and the results can be quite exhilarating.

We usually allot two hours for each song, giving the artist time to find a comfort zone. Somewhere between takes one and three the magic occurs. Much beyond that and spontaneity is lost leaving each additional pass emotionally cold.

I like to exit with good feelings and satisfaction work has been accomplished. I wait a couple weeks before reviewing the DAT to listen with open ears. This is the moment I begin to sequence. I don't worry to much about the hyperactivity of the moment influencing my objectivity. I'm very clear-headed and tuned in during each pass. The only surprises I hear two weeks later are always pleasant.

With the right players, material, engineer , studio and attitude the music with essentially play itself. A sound recording, especially jazz can last a lifetime and serve as a reminder of a moment when some very special players got together and spoke magnificently as one.

 

   
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