This is the first installment in guest blogger Ryan Hewitt’s “Always in Record” series, which will cover various aspects of the recording experience from an engineer’s perspective. Today Ryan discusses the inspiration for the series title and why, indeed, it is important to be “always in record.”
There are few things more exhilarating than capturing an incredible live performance of a group of musicians in the studio. It’s a rarity in these days of hyper-perfection, budget consciousness and global outsourcing of overdubs, but man, when it happens, right on the other side of that glass, my pulse gets pounding! I bounce in my chair and exchange knowing glances with whomever I’m working with. It’s electrifying, and everyone participating knows it when the take ends. Were you in record?
In these situations, it may not be immediately obvious that the band is about to record the take. The bass player is still on the couch next to you, the guitar player is in the bathroom. But the singer sits down in the booth and starts strumming her guitar… Then starts singing. The drummer sits down, makes some adjustments and starts making motion. The bass player feels this and gets into the action. The song starts coming together… The singer takes it around the basic structure a few times, building in intensity with every verse, chorus, bridge. It’s rocking! An impromptu breakdown from the drummer brings it back down to earth… Another chorus and the band miraculously finds the ending together. Did this just really happen? The look on the producer’s face is priceless.
Then we start messing with the song. The guitarist returns from the bathroom. We change tempo, change key, change arrangements, record 20 more takes. Can’t beat that first one. “Did we get that jam?” You know it.
“Always in record,” Phil Ramone once commanded me. In the days of tape, that was an expensive proposition, but now, with storage being so cheap and plentiful, there is no excuse to not be recording whenever the artist is in the room.
There may be many gigabytes of worthless recording, but for all of that, there is the gold that we pan for… The jam that turns into the best song on the record. The off-the-cuff, vulnerable take. Musicians unaware of themselves, unaware of the red light; performing without a net, without a click track, but with all their heart and with soul.
Did you get it?
In Ryan’s next installment, he’ll look at default recording setups and why you might want to shake things up a bit. Look for it next Wednesday. For background info on Ryan, check out this short bio.
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Ryan Hewitt is an in-demand engineer, mixer and producer who has worked with such artists as Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Avett Brothers, Sheryl Crow and blink-182. He got an early start in the recording business, going on the road at age 12 with his dad, Remote Recording Services founder David Hewitt. Ryan has a degree in Electrical Engineering from Tufts University, and has worked at Sony Music Studios in New York and Cello Studios in Los Angeles, where he learned from some of the best in the business, including Michael Brauer, Phil Ramone, Elliot Scheiner and Jim Scott.