Music & Recording Book Club

Books concerning the art and science of recording have become more numerous in the last few years so it falls to me to round up a few that play/record pushers may find diverting.

Perfecting Sound Forever – Greg Milner

Perfecting Sound Forever

Doorstep history of recorded music that starts at the beginning with wax and direct cutting and slogs all the way to the wonderful world of digital audio.  There were several magisterial studies of the subject published around the same time but I found this the most balanced, not dwelling on what is, let’s face it, ancient history (Edison) and worthy but dull (Alan Lomax’s field recording).  Don’t bore us get to the chorus, in this case the loudness wars and the paralysis of choice brought on by digital multitracking.  These later chapters are penetrating and not at all partisan.  The upshot is people make music, not computers, but sometimes it might seem the other way round…  Oh and what happened to the cassette – an, ahem, idiosyncratic format that really added something to the music of my youth, tape hiss mainly.

Field Guide To Recording – Jay Hodgson

Field Guide

More of a hands-on guide to making a record, this book details the science of psychoacoustics but relates it to business of capturing sound in studios.  Consequently, it is for a narrower audience but useful nonetheless.  There is a website where sound samples of the recording techniques are available to listen to, which really aids understanding.  Note to students paying £6k or more to get Pro Tools certification: read this book before you get out your debit card.

Are We Still Rolling? – Phill Brown

Are We Still Rolling

One man’s story of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and degaussing, Phill worked with all manner of artists in a long career from Robert Palmer to Talk Talk to er, Murray Head.  He gives us the human perspective of someone who spent his adult life locked in a carpeted box with capricious musicians, although his natural diplomacy makes it easier.  He cheerfully experiments with off the wall techniques such as recording along the full length of a tiled underpass, as well as outdoors at night (John Martyn).  It slightly puzzles me that he has had an autobiography published when John Leckie or Chris Thomas say, haven’t but no disrespect intended, I found his book fascinating and the story of how he squeezed his pension out of Dido’s record company is worth the price of admission alone.

Appetite For Self-Destruction – Steve Knopper

Appetite For Self Destruction

Not strictly about recording but vital to understanding the story of popular music in the 21st century, this book basically details the rise of the mp3 and internet file sharing.  These developments all but destroyed the music business.  It has clawed it’s way back from the brink but it remains in mortal peril as recorded music has lost so much monetary value.  Knopper’s book makes it clear that technology drove this process and it could not have been stopped but the big labels’ stubborn failure to see the torpedoes that were streaking through the water made the reckoning all the more painful when it arrived.  Just ask yourself, why is the biggest online music store today owned by a tech company?  The answer is here.  Even Spotify is nothing to do with the record biz which has handed over control of it’s product without a fight pretty much.  Sympathy for big music is in short supply all round but read this back to back with Frederic Dannen’s Hit Men and marvel at how the mighty are fallen.

The Daily Adventures Of Mixerman

Mixerman

Originally a blog itself, this anonymous account of life as a recording engineer features a band of complete and utter tools who make his life hell while they attempt to record a mainstream rock album at at big facility in LA.  When they aren’t demanding the impossible, they are finding fault with everything else or fighting amongst themselves, all the while remaining strangers to inspiration.  Add incompetent studio staff, avaricious label, dope-addled producer, interfering manager, PR, accountants and assorted hangers-on and burn outs and you have the cast of a nightmare turned up to 11.  There is plenty of information about the modern recording process (and how it can be abused) but you will more likely be gripped by the tortuous crafting of this musical omniclusterfuckshambles.  Exactly who were the titular zeroes on the other side of the glass?  Names flew thick and fast but they are so monstrous they had to be a composite – it seems they were dumped by the label without ever finishing their album so the mystery lingers.

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