TOM HEDDEN MUSIC, inc.
The Recording Studio as an Art Form
This experiment with the written word is not started without some trepidation; I’m not much for searching out Blogs to read and I have no real ambition to be an author. The creative challenges I face creating music are certainly sufficient to keep my imagination busy and satisfy my need for accomplishment. Music, fortunately for me, has been enough to keep the lights on and cover the cost of warm socks.
The reason I’m putting pen to paper (and I mean that in a very metaphorical way) is that I want to hold on to some memories. These are things that I fear may become historically important in very short order. I don’t mean to say that my involvement is in any way the important part of the story; it’s just that the world of music production is always changing and with that change there is a very real danger of losing things. Important things. As the big record labels fade into the spreadsheets of the corporations that have consumed them and digital audio becomes integrated into smaller and cheaper forms of technology the financial engine that drove the recording industry for decades has morphed into something new and far less extravagant. We are approaching the end times for the grand recording studios. The palaces of acoustics and analog electronics, designed with far less concern for their vast expense than for the “feel” and “atmosphere” they held are no longer a viable investment. Like the T Rex, these facilities evolved in an extreme time and were crafted to respond to forces that were far different than those of today.
Now, we are left to ponder the same type of questions that face paleontologists. What did them in? Was it file sharing (meteor strikes), mixing “in the box” (epidemics) or perhaps digital recording (climate change)? I am aware that the recording studio is not yet extinct but the genre has undeniably changed. Some of the Grand Old Dames still keep up the good fight but I fear the writing is on the wall. The industry just doesn’t support the same number or facilities it once did. So, I’ve decided to at least archive my own memories and perhaps do some small part in saving the spirit of awe and respect that was once so widely shared by the entire culture of the music world. I want to write about the feeling of being a 22 year-old kid and walking into The Power Station with my bass hanging on my shoulder or try to describe how it feels to conduct an orchestra made up of some of London’s greatest players at Abbey Road. Maybe I want to do this to make sure I don’t forget. Even if no one reads this, at least it will be stored somewhere besides my own head.
This is, without apology, a Valentine to some great recording studios. My intention is to capture the blend of excitement, awe, respect and admiration that I, along with a generation (maybe even generations) of young, would-be musicians and engineers had for these facilities. We saw them not as antiseptic laboratories or necessary steps in the process of our careers but something more like creative cathedrals. They might be grungy or polished, purpose-built or modified spaces but they held our imaginations. This is where records were made and this is all that mattered.
Things this Blog is not:
- Comprehensive – I have been very lucky but not that lucky. I was not a staff engineer, sitting in one facility for years. I was not a touring artist, stopping wherever I happened to be when the need for a studio arose. I was simply fortunate enough to have been able to work in many of the facilities that earned the title “world class”. For much of my career, I have enjoyed the title “producer”, a position that is afforded the pleasure of choosing where to work.
- A gear page – I will talk about equipment when it fits the story but I don’t really feel like this needs to be an endorsement page or an ode to one box or another. As Ted Williams said when asked about selecting the proper bat, “It ain’t the arrow, it’s the Indian…”. I guess my feeling is that in the hands of the right engineer, in the right circumstance, it’s all good. Most of these rooms had or still have great consoles but the outboard racks tend to be somewhat modest anyway, relying on gear rentals to bolster the invoice.
- A screed about the failings of the digital age – I love the fact that I can sit at my computer and have the vast firepower of a modern DAW in my home studio. I remember recording to a 2”, 16-track tape machine (for three years), I’ve edited mountains of ¼” tape and I’ve probably spent a few weeks of my life cleaning patch cables with brass polish. It all had its benefits but I don’t really want to go back.
- A one-way street – If the purpose of this endeavor is to create some type of living memory of great recording studios, it seems appropriate to make the comments section a place for those with memories of their own to join the conversation. Feel free.
- A sales pitch – My work in the various rooms will only be as much of the story as it needs to be and hopefully, not much more. I’m certainly always looking for my next project but that’s not the reason I’m doing this.
- A name list – Since the scale of a big, analog recording studio requires a team effort, none of these adventures were undertaken alone. I have not asked any of my partners-in-crime for permission to use their names, so I’m going to be vague about the “who’s who” (expect overuse of the word “collaborator”).