I wrote an article about the emotional factors in recordings that was published in the on-line magazine “Interiorisme sonor”. The original text was written in Catalan, but here is the translation into English:
Beyond the Music Recording Techniques: The Emotional and Psychological Factors
Normally, when we start preparing a new musical production at the studio, we discuss whether it would be more convenient to record live or instrument by instrument, if we will seek a particular sound, whether the arrangements will fit well each song, if the key is right for the tessitura of the voice, whether the sound must be very clean or processed, which musical references can serve as an example, etcetera. Then comes the recording itself: we will need a good room, microphones and speakers, and apply the most suitable techniques for each case. Once the recording is finished, we will begin mixing, looking for the most appropriate aesthetics for the sound, and finally, we will proceed to the much anticipated process of mastering. To sum up, the study will apply all the techniques for preparing the final dish: the recording, a sound interpretation that will define the artist(s) in that recording.
All this is fine, but it’s a cold way to approach the matter, we are too close to see clearly. We are actually not recording sound, we are recording music and what the artist wants to convey, when the musician becomes music.
Let’s make a digression. If we look at the records that we like, those we keep listening even if they are old, not only do they tend to have a good sound, but they convey us some feelings, feelings that we reinterpret our way. That is why “how it was done” is very important, because that is what leads us to the universe of the artist.
The essence of an album is magic, and even though there is not a special microphone for it, it needs to be recorded. The magic goes through the previous and the converter when it also flows through that other communication channel, be it the unconscious, the feelings, the energy or the emotions. Usually, it is something you don’t think about, but it is there, simple and evident, playing its essential role.
And how is this done? I don’t think there is a single recipe, but the mere fact of being aware of it can help. One of the most important factors is to do the recording in a comfortable and quiet environment in terms of both the place and the infrastructure. The case of Casafont studio (Barcelona) is an example of a studio which highly prioritizes all this. Another element to consider is the planning, which will mark the time devoted to the recording sessions and may accelerate the recording pace in order to go faster or simply to meet a deadline. This is counterproductive. Moreover, today, people usually tend to overuse error editing and correction tools, sometimes forgeting that besides doing a good performance and applying the necessary corrections, we need to capture the musician’s feelings, that only they can convey, and that is exactly what we seek.
Finally, another aspect of the emotional part of the recordings is the psychological factor. The musician’s (and the producer’s) role can be equalled sometimes to that of a psychologist, but we need to be careful because they are not. They are someone who is there when needed, and who is missed when they are not there. Over time I have learned that when recording it is always better to listen with full attention, that if I don’t listen, I won’t learn from the other people nor will I get to know them, and if I don’t know them, they won’t trust me.
These are some general ideas that can be applied with a greater or lesser extent to each recording, all of them are different. However, as always, the best way to learn is through experimentation. Meanwhile, nothing better than to be surrounded by the greatest number of favorable conditions and wait for the magic that emerges when both musicians and engineers forget ourselves and get carried away.