The Sound of the Sound

May 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Eddie Ciletti



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I read in an older Mix interview (July 2003) that you like to mix without automation. Is that still the case? If so, I would assume you do a lot of editing or have a lot of hands.
That article was mainly referring to my methods up to the mid-'90s. That said, although I always use automation, now it is usually the last part of my mix. Simply put, I rehearse my mix manually and use the automation-write mode to record my manual mix. At my stage of the game, I then use the update or trim functions to replace the razor blade — get the bits I missed. Not to sound glib, but unless I — or a very short list of others — have recorded it, automation is a must.

Today, way too many projects arrive not ready for mixing, the main culprit being too many tracks containing “decisions and options” that no one seems able to make. Even when asked to send “only what you want on the record, please,” the project turns up with a comments list that reads like a fast-food menu, complete with an A&R request to “supersize it.” It's pretty pathetic to find that at all levels of the established and new labels, no one can find a volume control. Send it to them louder and they like it more, and it won't change because of this rant either.

What's the attraction of Nashville for you?
Nashville's main attraction to me is that it's not New York or L.A. Coming from a long career in London and extended periods in major cities around the world, a place as intimate as Nashville made perfect sense when I moved here in 1991.

As far as industry people go, the denizens of the Nashville area are the same blend of wonderful and dubious as found in any music-centered metropolis, with perhaps a greater bias toward the wonderful. My friends here are fantastic, talented and priceless.

Nashville enjoys the existence of Blackbird Studio (see “On the Cover,” page 38), a complex of seven [at the time of writing] unique rooms offering a choice that includes API Legacy Pluses, Neve 8078, SSL 9k and very expensive Digidesign ICON mice. Recording environments range from classic '80s (A1 and B rooms), traditional live room and conventional (A2 and D) settings, to the lush and outrageous Studio C designed by the equally 'rageous George Massenburg.

The mic locker at Blackbird has 1,000 cool and working examples from every age and an outboard list greater than any studio I have ever worked in — and it's all 50 yards from my own studio. Combine this with fabulous musicians and engineers, along with many other great places to work, and Nashville is as close to recording nirvana as it gets for me.

What mic techniques would you like to share?
Use as few [mics] as possible, placed as far away as practical. Tape a condenser and a dynamic mic together for snare — a Neumann KM 84 (or 85) with a Shure SM57. This offers the choice of either or both, using one stand and less hassle for the drummer.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear?
The SPL Transient Designer; UREI 1176 (rev A through D); Shure SM57; Neumann “KM” everything — especially the KM56 — and “U” everything — almost; [Neve] 2254, 33114; the RØDE Classic tube and many other mics. NTI EQ3d, GML — everything, although I wish I knew how to operate the compressor/limiter; I still have to twiddle till I get it right. API pre, Legacy Plus, 550As and 560s; Telefunken V76 preamps; Great River preamps; Neve 10 Series (66 to 81) modules. AKG BX20E; Cooper Time Cube; Studer C37, A800 Mk 1 to 3; Ampex ATR 102 — almost all pro tape machines. Three-head cassette decks, Aphex 11, Chandler EMI compressor and the LA-2A.

Your list includes the Blue Stripe, non-LN Version 1176?
Yes, rev A through D (in correct condition) are all great. To my understanding, LN refers to a mod created from rev B that lowered the apparent self-noise level, thus creating the “black-face” rev C.

What are some of your inspirations?
“Music is the space between the notes.” — Claude Debussy.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” — Aldous Huxley from “Music at Night,” 1931.

“Richard, it's the sound of the sound.” — Del Newman, 1972.

It took me a few good years to work out what [Del] meant. The sum of the parts and the silence?

I have always hated bad singers, those with a poor sense of pitch and time being the most awful. Our youngest daughter, Danielle, is 15. Dani — who was born with Down's syndrome — loves to sing along with her music. No pitch, no time, wrong words and sometimes very loud. It's the most beautiful sound I have ever heard.

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Richard Dodd's 10 Recording Tips


  1. Do no harm, step back and make sure that you're not getting “in the way” of a good sound.
  2. Change, don't “tweak.” No one hears tweaks.
  3. If someone asks for the vocal up 0.2 dB, laugh as if it's the funniest joke you've ever heard, burst out laughing later and quote the joke. Repeat as needed.
  4. Don't use brick wall limiting on your mix for any reason other than because you like it. Good mastering engineers can make it louder/better than you can, but they can't remove an inappropriate decision.
  5. If in doubt, don't.
  6. If it's “right,” do it.
  7. Be ready. The “wrong” gear choice that's ready beats waiting past the “best available performance window.”
  8. Share your knowledge.
  9. Keep something secret.
  10. Stop when you aren't having fun anymore.

More Tips From Richard Dodd

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