It’s the age-old dilemma about how to re-create or capture the magic of your live sound when in the relatively sterile studio environment. In several cases during my recording career I have benefitted from incredible recording “spaces”, where this has been less of a problem for sure. Most recently, recording my “Toolin’Around Woodstock” album with the late, great Levon Helm was a true joy, as we recorded in his famous “barn” studio, also the home of his legendary “Midnight Ramble” concerts. This is a room designed more primarily for live concerts, and when we finally went to record actual tracks there, it proved to be really great in terms of preserving the “live” aspects and nuances of my music.
This studio was also a great one for my guitar and other overdubs, as the bigness of the room really also helped lend a live quality to those tracks. What was good was the engineer was incredibly comfortable with the particular setting we were in, and was very used to getting the best out of this particular room. Then again, there were other overdubs I did for this album later that were handled by my usual engineer, and he was able to get just as big a sound from the right microphones in a tiny little studio in a cabin. It’s hard to ever know if those overdubs would have had the same integrity if I had used the first engineer who was tracking at Levon’s.
It really boils down to the skill of the engineer and his comfort level with the particular room, and of course your own ears! After all, you still have to be the one to make the final decisions, and that can be at times, a very perplexing thing for sure. In my case, I first want to make sure that the performance itself that I have recorded is the actual one I want to live with. If that is the case, then we must “hunt down” the right sounds and the right overall “vibe” that we really need for that particular recording. Many times, a good part of what you’re looking for may already be there in the “grooves”, but you still may need to give the track a little more ”TLC” to make it totally right. The sounds available to us today in this digital age are just incredible, and basically anything can be re-created. Say, for example, the piano you want is an 1860 Steinway played in a church in Spain….well, odds are you can find that one and dial it up! There are an incredible amount of wonderful and natural-sounding echo and reverbs as well, from all kinds of sources! The possibilities are so endless that we must always be careful to simultaneously stay “focused” on what we want, while keeping an open mind to new creative sound ideas. That is truly the greatest benefit of all that is available to us these days for sure, and if you can have your music well-honed enough so that you can come in the studio and maximize all that is available to you, you’ll already be well ahead of the game! Remember to keep it “live” and “fresh” sounding to begin with, and then be sure to maintain that musical and sonic integrity!