Engineer Jim Scott Interview

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



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“Six months later, I got a call from Pete Smith. He asked me if I wanted to come down to Barbados and engineer Sting's [1985] solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Remember, Pete had never produced a record and I had never engineered a record. We made the record and I was nominated for a Grammy for Best Engineered Album.”

A New Home: Plyrz Studios

After 20-plus successful years of recording at studios in L.A. and around the world, Scott decided to build his own mammoth workshop, Plyrz Studios.

“I created the studio because Cello Studios, one of my favorite studios for many years, closed down,” he explains. “I became studio-homeless, and although I continued working at other favorites like The Village, Sunset Sound and Sound City, I still had to continually move the equipment in and out. I continued decorating my workplaces and doing the gigs, but at 4 o'clock in the morning I had to pack it all up. The logistics of moving everything around just to do an honest day's work got so tedious that I decided to build my own studio and stop commuting.”

His new studio is far removed from the Hollywood studio scene, nestled among small businesses and manufacturers in an industrial park. “I picked out a brand-new building with lots of totally clean power,” he says. “It's a giant space with 26-foot ceilings and it's up on a hill with a beautiful view. It's plenty big enough for all of my equipment; I was able to buy the equipment that I had always wanted and worshipped — the kind of vintage equipment I have been using to make my living for the last 20 years.”

Scott's pride and joy in the control room is a rare desk. “It's a Neve 8048 and the serial number is A3716, which dates it to 1976. It was commissioned and custom-built like all the Neve consoles of that era, when it took at least six months to make a console. This one was built for RCA Recording Studios in New York City and was installed in 1976. It stayed there until 1995, when it was bought by a wonderful Japanese musician named Kitaro for his private studio in Wade, Colorado. It is absolutely stunning and I consider it perhaps Smithsonian quality.”

The list goes on: “I have the two Neve sidecars, BCM-10s. One of them has 1073 equalizers; the other sidecar has 1079 equalizers, which are very similar with just a slightly different color. Those pieces of gear are the most valuable and the most charming pieces I have for the recordings.”

Scott's other most important items are his four UREI 1176 compressors. “They are very popular and have been the sound of rock 'n' roll since they were introduced in the late '60s. I also have two United Audio 175 tube compressors, which are sort of the precursor to the solid-state 1176. I rely on them for the rock 'n' roll compression that people admire.” Plyrz also features a large collection of vintage musical instruments.

Alterations within the big rooms called for some acoustic design to suit Scott's recording styles. “It started as a big warehouse and now there are rooms within rooms within rooms. I put in a drop ceiling for the main recording space and then built a nice iso room within that area. I also built an amp closet with cubbyholes for a variety of guitar amps or Leslies, or anything that would be loud enough to pollute another sound and would work best if it has its own smaller room.”

Scott's mic collection is impressive. “I really don't have enough money to compete with the great recording studio collections, but I have a nice collection, including Neumann U87s, U47s, and RCA 44s and RCA 77s. And I have a big box of common rock 'n' roll mics, like Sennheiser, Shure, AKG and others. If I need one of the really fine vintage mics that I don't own, we just rent them.”

Another advantage of having your own studio is that you can maintain a consistent monitoring environment. “Since 2003, I have been a big fan of the KRK E8T speakers,” he says. “I have three sets of those, and I rotate the ones I use for stereo so they don't get tired and I can also use them for 5.1 mixing. I also have a set of ProAcs that I have used for a long time.”

Tracking and Mixing

Scott describes how he tracks the artists and bands he typically works with: “Over the past 10 or 15 years, I have done a lot of singer/songwriter-type rock 'n' roll bands. I try to get as many people together performing the song well at the same time to create the best possible take from the most people playing the music.”

Many engineers wait until the mixing phase of a project before dialing in the processing changes essential to a finished product, but not Scott. “My goal is that when the band walks in for the first playback or the first song, they say, ‘Wow, this sounds like a record.’

“If you lose the artist at any point along the way, you are going to have to struggle to get them back because they are the ones whose reputation is on the line. They want to come in to the control room and hear something that's just fantastic. That is their goal for the day's work. If what they hear is great, they are happy, they are excited, their problems are solved and then they can just play their music.”

It's no surprise that the processing-on-the-go lends itself to an easy transition to the mix. “It is easier for me to mix the stuff I have recorded. By the time it is ready to mix, it is really ready to mix: There are no loose ends, no noises, nothing needs to be cleaned up or fixed. With any luck, I have been able to record tracks that sound good together.”

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