Engineer Jim Scott Interview

Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Mr. Bonzai

BUILDING SUCCESS THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY

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Scott at his custom Neve 8048 made in 1976. The console was originally built for RCA Recording Studios and was owned for a time by Kitaro.

Scott at his custom Neve 8048 made in 1976. The console was originally built for RCA Recording Studios and was owned for a time by Kitaro.
Photo: Mr. Bonzai

Engineer Jim Scott may be one of the best examples of a disappearing breed. He started his career in the analog days as a gofer at Los Angeles' Record Plant and worked his way up through the traditional tiers from janitor to assistant engineer and eventually “super-assistant.” His first gig as a fledgling solo engineer was for Sting's The Dream of the Blue Turtles, an album that earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Engineered Album. During the past 25 years, Scott has distinguished himself with stunning work for the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wilco, Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, Tom Petty and the Rolling Stones. Along the way he has continued to work with debut artists and has earned a worldwide fan club for his direct approach to making records.

Origins of an Engineer

Long before he became an engineer, Scott wanted to be a musician, asking for a guitar at age 6 and playing trumpet in the high school band. “When The Beatles arrived, I decided I wanted to play the drums,” he says. “My dad took me to a famous music store, Mel Bay Music in Kirkwood, Missouri, and we bought that blue-sparkle Ludwig set that is now here in my studio.”

All of this childhood musicianship had a major effect on Scott's later career. “I got into some rock 'n' roll bands in high school, and we played at a club called Rainy Daze in St. Louis, where underage kids could perform. You learned how to put on a show and how to work with a P.A. and mics for each musician. I really grew to love that life.”

And that's where he first got the engineering bug. “Then when I went to college, I thought I could study to be a drummer, but I discovered I wasn't a very good one. I fell in with some other students who had a folk-rock band. They were very good musicians, but they didn't sound good in the clubs and coffeehouses because you couldn't hear them properly. I bought another P.A., some mics, and I engineered their shows. I didn't think of it as a job; I just wanted my friends to sound good.

“I was studying geology at USC and having fun hanging out with the band,” Scott continues. “Then when I got out of college, I had a career in geology and became depressed. I wanted to find a job that I really enjoyed, and realized that working with the band was what I wanted to do.”

At that point, Scott began pursuing his dream. “I had a friend who worked at the Record Plant recording studio as a temporary bookkeeper and she said that kids come in and intern, and they learn how to engineer, record and make records. I was 28 years old and was hired to be a gofer — with a college degree and six years as a professional geologist. Then I became the nighttime guy who answered the phone. Then I moved up to being a janitor, and along the way I was actually trained to do what you need to do in a recording studio.”

Scott's training at the Record Plant paved the way for his first recording job. “Then I got to work in the remote recording trucks for a couple of years,” he says. “MTV had just begun in 1981 and every band in the country needed a video immediately. The quickest way to get one was to film the gig. We worked and worked all over the country.

“I met my wife and decided to quit the road life and get married. I was back in the studio [Record Plant L.A.] as the top assistant engineer. Finally, I needed more money and I went in to get it and [Record Plant co-founder] Chris Stone wouldn't give it to me. I wanted 25 cents more an hour, but he said $5 an hour was the top for an assistant. I said I needed more money and just quit. He said, ‘Great. Now you are a recording engineer and you can go out and bring me a client. Congratulations.’

“I was unemployed for a while, did some demo work for friends,” Scott continues. “But studios were expensive. I didn't have any money, and the Record Plant called me because they had a job called the super-assistant. You got paid double — $10 an hour — if you would come back to help out on complicated jobs when the client wasn't happy with the staff guys.”

A turning point came when Scott was called back as a super-assistant for a session with Sting and an English engineer, Pete Smith. “We were doing a mix of The Police's Synchronicity tour for cinema release,” he recalls. “The English engineer was not hip to that technology. He just wanted to be a rock 'n' roll mixer. I knew how to run a session, and figured it all out with the studio tech team and everyone was happy.






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