Academic journal article ARSC Journal

The Metamorphosis of "How Does It Sound Now?"

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

The Metamorphosis of "How Does It Sound Now?"

Article excerpt

Tom Dowd passed away in 2002. It was a terrible loss for the recording engineers, music producers and musicians who knew him and worked with him. It was more than the loss of an accomplished artist and technician. We lost a mentor that day. Everyone who came up as an engineer in New York traced his or her lineage to Tom Dowd. In my case, I was mentored by Leslie Mona-Mathus, (among others) who was mentored by Elliot Scheiner who was mentored by Phil Ramone who was mentored by Tom Dowd. I was proud to be part of this line of quality engineers, and when I heard of Tom's death I realized that we would soon be losing more of the "old guard," our mentors, the people who made the recording industry what it is today. We have lost many other mentors in the field of audio, such as Les Paul, Wally Heider, Alan Blumlein, John Eargle, Larry Levine, Bob Fine, William Hoekstra, and my personal friend Bill Porter. I mourn the loss of these great artists and technicians. I also mourn the loss of their knowledge. They brought so much to the field of audio, and they passed that knowledge on freely to so many of us. Now the source of that knowledge is gone. This sadness inspired me to interview as many of the remaining old guard audio professionals as I could, to get their methodology on paper before it was too late. This was the beginning of my research which was later published as "How Does It Sound Now?"

This was not my first research project, but it was the most personal of all the projects in which I've participated. I have seen in the past that a research project can try to take on a life of its own. Typically I will start with a clear idea of what I wish to prove or disprove, and maintain enough control to ensure that the research stays on track. I attempted to use a similar pattern in this project, but it was somehow different right from the start. Since I was interviewing my mentors, their mentors, and sometimes their mentors, I felt obligated to give them more free reign than would normally be considered appropriate.

My premise was fairly straightforward. My list of interview questions delved into the methodology that they used to function in and thrive with new technologies when they arrived, and the resulting changes in workflow. How did they figure out the first compressor or equalizer when it was put in front of them during a recording session? Did the existence and later ubiquitous nature of this equipment change the way we worked? Did it change the end product, the music that was released? Did it change the expectations of the subject's clients, the record companies, or those of the consumer?

I thought it would be a valuable contribution to the bibliography of audio to add the methodology of these industry giants. The equipment that was put in front of them changed the industry, from wire recording through tape and vinyl to digital. How did we learn to use these new technologies? Can we pass this knowledge along to students and other audio professionals to empower them to embrace new technologies and use them successfully with a minimum of time wasted on random experimentation? These uber-mentors seemed the perfect group to tell us all about the gear they encountered and how they figured it out, and then incorporated it. And who better than this group to tell us all about the impact that these changes had on the industry?


I was under the impression that we would talk a great deal about the gear, after all, us engineers are all a bunch of gear-heads. I expected that every engineer would discuss a few favorite pieces of equipment that they encountered and deconstruct the process of how they befriended that equipment. Perhaps they would discuss some least favorite pieces of gear. I expected we would then discuss the impact on the industry and on consumers of that gear and other technological changes we experienced. In fact we did talk about gear, but other topics emerged as common themes. …

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