From the co-writer and producer, Julian Colbeck…
Back in the 1980s when I was a jobbing London keyboard player I had the good fortune to be hired for a month-long recording session not only with Alan Parsons but also at his beautiful house/studio The Grange, deep in the leafy Kent countryside.
The sessions were great–it was the early days of digital tape–and I brought along a new MIDI sequencer I’d found called Pro 16 made by a young German software developer called Charlie Steinberg.
And so began a professional and social relationship that has survived more than 25 years; all the more impressive since the past two of them have been spent practically shackled together either in a studio, or at either end of a video camera–on location, and even at either end of a screen-sharing IM session writing a script or going over an edit.
Alan’s position in the recording hall of fame had been established long before we started working together (on an album by Vitamin Z, incidentally), as was evidenced by the gallery of gold and platinum records stretching along both walls over a 30 foot corridor that separated Alan’s house from the studio.
Through many years of occasionally working together–and more normally simply enjoying a shared interest in good food and wine–I found it hard to pin down exactly what it was that made Alan such a great producer. Like all great artists, nothing ever seemed to look remotely difficult.
When we started working on this project it was easy to see how easily Alan juggles his scientific ‘trained engineer’ knowledge with his musical ear. But it wasn’t until the tracking session for a new Alan Parsons ‘All Our Yesterdays,’ written and recorded especially for this series, that the penny finally dropped. The guys had been played a bare bones demo, had just been handed (and hand-written too) a chord chart, and were on their second run through. Alan decided the track needed a pad, and called everyone into the control room. At that point he gave the most minimal, succinct suggestions to each player and, with the pad duly recorded, they returned to the studio.
The very next run-through and the track sounded pretty much as you hear it today – like a classic Alan Parsons song!
I wondered for a moment whether I might have nodded off for a couple of hours somewhere. Did something happen that I’d completely missed? No, the answer was that, when confronted by a recording that isn’t quite working, most people spend a lot of time and energy driving down blind alleys, throwing things at the walls, running things up flagpoles. But Alan doesn’t. He listens, he hears what needs adjusting, he makes those suggestions, it works, and the session moves on.
The thing that differentiates Alan from most of us who enjoy recording music is, I concluded, that he ‘hears’ things better than other people. Not only in a physical sense - although that is also true I believe - but also in his knowledge and the experience that he can draw upon.
The latter of these comes purely from spending hour upon hour listening to all types of music over many years. That’s what they did ‘back in the day’ in professional recording studios. One day it might be an opera singer, the next a rock band, the next an orchestra, the next jazz, and so on.
What we try to do in this extravaganza of aural delights is introduce you the viewer to this type of experience. The series is not magically going to turn you into the next Alan Parsons. Only you can wave that wand. What it can do, though, is give you the familiarity with the basic tools and tricks of the trade so that you can develop your own frames of reference, and build up your own pool of knowledge that’s relevant to the field of sound recording that interests you.
Like all great teachers, Alan is someone whose advice you can come back to time and time again and always find new meanings. Coley Read, one of Alan’s mix engineers once said about the Drums section, “I must have watched it 50 times and I’m still learning new stuff.”
Many thanks for making a purchase and we hope you do likewise.
Julian Colbeck, co-writer, producer.
From Alan Parsons...
The problem with a DVD written and produced by two English blokes is that it can come across as a bit too, well, ‘English’. To offset this, the producers wanted an American voice for the narration and, Anglophile though he is, it doesn’t come much more ‘not English’ than Hollywood icon and accomplished musician Billy Bob Thornton. There are 70 pages of narration script for this series and two days were set aside for the recording session deep in ‘The Cave’, Billy’s Los Angeles studio, once owned by Slash. Billy tore through the session in a single afternoon, complete with extremely helpful edits along the lines of, “You guys might want to consider re-wording this so that normal people can understand it!” So many, many thanks to Billy, engineer J.D. Andrew, and Billy’s music manager, Lisa Roy for making the narration such a special part of the series.
The Art And Science of Sound Recording is over ten hours long and has taken two years of many peoples’ lives. Wrapping it up has been a bit like completing and delivering a dozen CD albums - all on the same deadline! I will always be grateful to those behind the scenes who graciously tolerated my incessant search for improvements - usually in the form of, “Wouldn’t it be great if...”?
Modern audio technology is one thing, but modern video technology (which I know much less about) is a big part of the overall ‘picture’ in this series. Thank heavens for the internet; without it our FedEx bills sending files back and forth between Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz would have been astronomical, and the project would have taken another year to complete. Throughout the project, particularly in the later post-production stages, my partner in crime Julian, Chris and Ben the editors, Coley and Sami the dubbing mixers and myself were in daily, virtually constant Instant Message mode making adjustments and refinements and buzzing script, audio and video files back and forth; “Where’s the audio for this?”, “Where’s the great shot of that?”. My heartfelt thanks go to them all, as do further sincere thanks to Lisa Liu not only for her amazing graphics work on the video itself but also the packaging artwork for the series. Another Lisa, my beautiful wife, was always there for support, encouragement and help with hair and make-up - mostly mine. Be assured, whenever I don’t look quite right, she was not around.
So who have we made this program for? There has always been a curiosity by young musicians about the mysteries of the recording studio. I had that curiosity myself, and through an extremely fortunate series of “right time, right place” events, I managed to land a job at Abbey Road Studios in London at the age of 19. Virtually every modern musician has access to some kind of recording facilities these days - even if it’s just via the internal mic on a laptop computer. If you are a complete beginner, the series should teach you at least the rudiments of each aspect of sound recording. The wealth of knowledge that has been passed on in the program by all the celebrity artists, producers and engineers who so kindly agreed to participate, should also be welcomed by those with recording experience at all levels. ASSR is also firmly aimed at Schools of Recording and other Media Education establishments. (See back page.)
Our hope is that there is something here for everybody - including just plain music lovers. Enjoy.