Recording Master Classes in Santa Barbara, Live + Online!

Not Even Expecting The Unexpected
Alan Parsons springs surprises at the ParSonics Virtual and in-person master class

ParSonics Studios
Date: August 13-14, 2021
Country: USA
Venue: ParSonics Studios
Event: MCTS Level 3
Producer: Alan Parsons
Artist: Julian Colbeck and James Durbin
Engineer: Noah Bruskin, Ian Bell (remote)
Media: Mike Simmons, Charlie Steves
Event Manager: Terry Shields
Event Producer: Julian Colbeck

Surprise Package

ASSR master classes are always planned and prepared but music production is a creative endeavor and it doesn’t hurt to sometimes go off-script. This was one such occasion.

The planned part of this master class involved a song written by ASSR founding partner Julian Colbeck, a singer, James Durbin, and musicians plucked from Alan Parsons’ touring band.

Two weeks out, things changed slightly when the introductory/key setting meeting between Colbeck and Durbin developed into a song mashing/writing session and a brand new song was born. An iPhone demo ensued, followed by an instrumental demo to better demonstrate the arrangement, which Julian then assembled on his trusty Motif.

Onto the day itself. Due to continued concerns about Covid, this master class had been limited to just 10 live seats, which made for a very pleasant, roomy, separate environment in the control room.

The song (Give ‘Em My Love) had been kept under wraps so the playback of the demo was the first time anyone aside from the writers had heard it. A little bit of pressure!

The reception was very positive aside from the length. At just shy of five minutes, Alan felt it could achieve its goals far sooner and more efficiently. And so began quite a complex round of snips and tucks, shortening this and removing some of that altogether. These ‘routining’ decisions, though obviously perfectly possible to make in ProTools after the fact, are still more powerfully—not to say more musically—made organically. Why? Because when musicians transition from one section to another during the course of a song they’ll naturally intensify or de-intensify, and sometime even speed up or slow down, depending on the energy of where each section has come from and where it's headed to. Of course you can cut and paste blocks of a recording any which way you like, but you risk losing human feel and character in the process. As frustrating as the live routining process can be, rarely will it be waste of time. And this was no exception. A tight arrangement was arrived at; moreover one that perfectly represented Julian’s initial concept of a song that went from minimalistic to bombastic inside five (but now a fighting three and a half) minutes.

The action then continued in the live room where Alan demonstrated his drum miking technique. As had been expected, in addition to his long-used mics for the main components, Alan’s recent discovery of a splendidly inexpensive drum mic set from PreSonus (DM-7) prompted him to have these alternatives on the kick and snare.

The tracking session included drums, bass, guitar (with amp in an iso booth) and piano (played on a Korg Kronos).

Singer James Durbin, who’d played acoustic guitar on the iPhone demo, was ushered into Alan’s windowless mic closet to both play an acoustic guide guitar and deliver a guide vocal.

ParSonics Studios Unexpected Event # 2: A guide vocal CAN end up being the vocal you use. But given the spill from the guitar (unavoidable at the very close quarters voice and guitar were being miked), everyone knew that we were highly unlikely to get a ‘keeper’ this time. That said, the moment James opened his mouth the entire room, including Alan, did likewise. He was performing it a) as if in front of a crowd of 20,000 and b) each and every time.

This is not something everyone can do. Generally, and quite correctly, singers need to preserve and protect their instrument when doing a guide vocal. James Durbin is just another breed. When asked later how and more’s the point why he gave each performance his all he simply replied ‘You never know when it’ll be the last time you’ll get to sing.” Fair enough.

Propelled by James’ boundless energy it wasn’t long before the takes were getting serious and finally Alan felt they’d got ‘the one’.

One or two repairs later and it was onto James’ vocal for real. Alan might have selected the second take but he could just as easily have picked the first. Both were largely immaculate performances that had the attendees clapping and Alan beaming, saying, “Unbelievable.’ Everyone agreed they’d just witnessed one, if not the best vocal recording they’d ever been part of. On a technical note, Alan recorded James on a Slate virtual mic using a Neumann U47.

Unexpected Event #3: Whether because the song had gone down so quickly or what, Alan announced that he’d like to record a second track while the players were here. He’d always wanted to do a cover of Be My Baby by the Ronettes (who knew?) and, with a new album coming up into who’s concept this fitted (again, we had to take this on trust),

Alan explained that the inspiration for this had been the recent passing of flawed genius record producer Phil Spector, with whom Alan had worked both with the The Beatles on Let It Be and George Harrison, separately, on My Sweet Lord that appeared on the late Beatle’s recently re-mixed and re-mastered masterpiece All Things Must Pass. “Phil Spector wanted more everything, all the time,” Alan recollected. “Basically anyone who could play guitar, who was in the studio at the time, was given one and played on the session.”

Alan wants his version of Spector’s first ‘wall of sound’ 1963 classic to be ‘even bigger,’ he says! Wow.

Unexpected Event #4: Who’s going to sing this? As MCTS events sadly do tend to be, this was a very male gathering. Alan then hit on the idea of doing a remote session on Source Connect. In short order, a singer and studio were found in the very excellent Tammi Brown and occasional ASSR engineer Ian Bell, both of whom could connect reasonably easily, in Santa Cruz, some three hours to the North.

And so this came to pass. Tammi sounded wonderful, even if she would have the far more normal number of takes to complete her vocal than Mr. First Take Durbin did. Ian Bell did a wonderful job recording Tammi on a U87ai and Alan produced the recording from ParSonics. ParSonics engineer Noah Bruskin was grinning from ear to ear. “This is great,” he said. “I just get to sit back and enjoy it.”

On Day 2 overdubs on both tracks continued and then the mixing process began.

The only real casualty of the twists and turns was that the mix was a stereo one only, no 5.1 this time around.

Nonetheless, attendees, both in-person and on-line got an action-packed two days in the life of a record producer. Not quite (actually not in any way, mercifully) the level of crazy of a Phil Spector, but one still blessed with a very active, energetic and creative disposition.

Exactly as record producers should be. An excellent lesson for us all.

The Music and the Musicians

Everything starts with the song and at this Master Class the song has been written by none other than Alan’s long-time friend and ASSR co-founder Julian Colbeck.

Before migrating to the world of writing about music production, Julian was already a successful keyboard player, songwriter and producer in his own right. As a member of the rock band Charlie, Julian co-wrote and co-produced multiple Top 100 albums and Top 50 singles including LA Dreamer and Watching TV. Julian later joined the John Miles Band - John Miles of the Alan Parsons produced classic, Music. He also toured and recorded with Yes iteration Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and recorded and co-wrote extensively with Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. He is currently arranging and producing the soundtrack album for a new musical, Equinox.

Julian’s playing career began with the intriguingly named ‘Greep’ who was signed to boutique UK label, Charisma Records, in 1973. In another of several career coincidences, Steve Hackett was also a Charisma signing, both with Genesis and as a solo act, and Alan Parsons’ debut album Tales Of Mystery and Imagination came out on Charisma in 1976. Both Charlie and The Alan Parsons Project subsequently released albums on the LA based Janus label before both being picked up by Clive Davis' Arista in 1979.

Julian and Alan didn't actually meet until 1985, on a session for British duo Vitamin Z’s debut album, with Alan as producer and Julian as keyboard player. Fast forward three years and Julian joined ABWH as second keyboardist on their extended world tour to promote the band’s eponymous album. In 1993 the band went on to record The Symphonic Music of Yes, produced by none other than A. Parsons Esq. and also featuring Julian on keys. (Interestingly, this album is being reissued July 30th on Voiceprint.)

It’s now been almost thirty years since the pair have worked together on a pure music project and several people in the ASSR camp felt it was high time this was rectified.

Spearheading the A-list musicians on the session was Alan’s arranger, musical director and keyboardist Tom Brooks, a Grammy award winning arranger and producer with 6 Platinum and 18 Gold Albums to his credit.

In the rhythm section were Danny Thompson and Guy Erez, both long-serving Alan Parsons Live Project super sidemen with a slew of recording and touring credits to their names.

Finally, on guitar, was Jeff Marshall, top-flight session guitarist (including with Alan Parsons) and faculty member at Hollywood’s Musician Institute.

Santa Cruz native James Durbin was first discovered by Alan Parsons in 2010 when he sang on what became the trailer for The Art & Science Of Sound Recording video series. Shortly thereafter James auditioned for American Idol Season 10, got through, and went on to reach the Top 4. Subsequently, James has enjoyed a multi-faceted vocal career on stage and in the studio, generating a raft of solo albums plus a stint as the lead singer with Quiet Riot.

James is a quite outstanding talent, with a range (note and style-wise) the envy of all who hear him.

In addition to being a stellar lead vocalist and front man, James is also a highly skilled musician, capable of creating powerful and imaginative backing vocal arrangements seemingly in seconds flat. Well, perfectly in tune, actually!

Mixing With Alan Parsons

Mixing used to be something of a team sport. Band members would end up with their paws on the faders; invariably, the ones relating to their own instrument! No prizes for guessing in which direction they'd progressively creep as the session wore on. As Alan recounted with a sigh in the Art & Science Of Sound Recording video series: “Chaos.”

Although Alan uses an analog Neve 5088, over which several pairs of hands could certainly hover and on which you will definitely get to hear the true value of analog summing, this will still be a fully integrated mix recorded in ProTools using plug-ins and automation. That said, Alan always encourages attendees who are willing and interested to balance the track at various stages along the way. There's nothing quite like sitting at the controls of a Neve board mixing an Alan Parsons record with Alan offering words of encouragement and wisdom over your shoulder. Katie and Alan

The Venue

ParSonics studio is situated on Alan Parsons' at his Tres Vientos Ranch in the hills above Santa Barbara. This state-of-the-art facility has a 32-channel Neve 5088 analog console, 5.1 monitoring through B&W 802 Diamond Loudspesakers and a selection of microphones collected by Alan over his 40+ year long career such as his Neumann U47 FET (Field-Effect Transistor) and British Coles 4038 ribbon mics as well as interesting newer items like the Neve RNR1 ribbon mic, personally given to Alan by Rupert Neve. Talk about bragging rights! The control room looks through to a generous sized tracking room with adjoining iso booths. The facility has its own luxurious green room and catering area; a spacious patio area overlooks the Pacific Ocean and can accommodate both dining and outside seminars. ParSonics was completed in 2018 and was used in the recording of Alan Parsons' most recent album The Secret, released on the Frontiers label May 2019. Another album, slated for a 2022 release, is in the wings.

The Producer/Mixer

Alan Parsons was trained at Abbey Road Studios in London, working under the direction of Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick and Beatles producer George Martin. After working with The Beatles on Let It Be and Abbey Road Alan started working as a full-fledged engineer with Paul McCartney, Wings, George Harrison, and countless other artists who came to Abbey Road studios.

In 1972 Alan became the sole engineer working with Pink Floyd on Dark Side Of The Moon, a record which would go on to sell more than 45m copies. (Alan's legendary 'Quad' mix of Dark Side Of The Moon was finally included on the Immersion Edition 6 CD Boxed Set.)

Alan went on to become one of the most successful producers of the 1970s and 1980s, producing a string of hits with artists such as Pilot, Al Stewart, Ambrosia, Cockney Rebel, John Miles and of course The Alan Parsons Project, a concept created by himself and Eric Woolfson.

Post 'Project' Alan Parsons has continued to work as an independent producer with such artists as Jake Shimabukuro, Steven Wilson and Yes. Alan runs a highly successful touring band (The Alan Parsons Live Project).

In 2019 Alan released his fifth solo album The Secret, much of which was recorded and all of which was mixed at ParSonics Studio.

Recommended Hotels:

  • Ritz-Carlton Bacara 8301 Hollister Ave, Goleta, CA 93117-2474 • (844) 631-0595 Upscale resort with fine dining. Very expensive!
  • Hilton Garden Inn Santa Barbara/Goleta 6878 Hollister Ave, Goleta, CA 93117 • (805) 562-5996. Very pleasant facility a short drive from the studio.
  • Pacifica Suites 5490 Hollister Ave, Santa Barbara (805) 683-6722 Professional mid price option.
  • Motel 6 5897 Calle Real, Goleta, CA (805) 964-3596 Only a 2-star but clean and perfectly acceptable.


Friday August 13th, 2021

  • 09.30–10.00 Welcome, Registration. Coffee and pastries.
  • 10.00–10.45 Alan introduces the artist(s) for the session and plays the demo or demos.
  • 10.45–12.00.00 Routining and arrangement with the artists.
  • 12.00–1.00 Setting up the tracking session .
  • 1.00–2.00 Catered lunch with Alan and team on the patio
  • 2.00–4.00 Recording
  • 4.00–4.30 Tea Break!.
  • 4.30.00–6.30 Instrumental overdubs / vocals
  • 6.30–7.00 Drinks and Q&A
  • Saturday August 14th, 2021

    • 09.30–10.00 Coffee and pastries.
    • 10.00–10.45 A review of yesterday's recording. Possibly some repairs.
    • 10.45–1.00 5.1 Surround Mix.
    • 1.00–2.00 Lunch with Alan and the team.
    • 2.00–4.15 Stereo Mix
    • 4.15–4.30 Tea Break.
    • 4.30–6.30 Mixing + Q&A.
    • 6.30–7.30 Drinks with Alan in the Green Room. Certificates.

    All enquiries to or to KEYFAX NewMedia on 1-800-752-2780