By Clive Young.
One of the highlights of the AES Convention’s opening day was the Al Schmitt & Friends Roundtable, which featured a slew of top engineers and producers sharing their thoughts on a wide variety of subjects, as well as busting each other’s chops-and occasionally the audience’s as well.
While 21-time Grammy-winning engineer and producer Al Schmitt may have been the name on the title, also on hand to share their experiences and expertise were Elliot Scheiner (Foo Fighters, Eric Clapton), Ed Cherney (Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones), George Massenburg (Earth Wind & Fire, James Taylor), Chuck Ainlay (Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits) and Frank Filipetti (Foreigner, KISS). The event was sponsored by Sennheiser and hosted by the company’s Joe Ciaudelli.
While there was a prepared segment of the show, the highlight was the free-for-all Q&A with the audience, which covered everything from stereo mid-miking on vocals, to retaining objectivity. Perhaps the most revealing moment was when the panel was asked what was the best advice they had been given.
After Massenburg offered “Be an accountant,” Cherney jumped in to share advice he’s gotten from legendary engineer Bruce Swedien (Michael Jackson): “Run your career like a business—keep track of your hours, bill them, pay your taxes, save money when you can, because I promise you’ll hit good times and bad times, and you don’t want to be a schmuck living in your car when you hit bad times. Don’t get in trouble with the government. A lot of us neglect it, think it won’t happen to you, but guess what? It ruins your life and negates everything else you did.”
Frank Filipetti cited a fellow panel-member as he explained, “The best advice I ever got was when I’d only been engineering for two years and I had the honor of doing a panel with George Massenburg; I hadn’t gone through the ropes as others had, so I spent most of the panel trying to learn from him. He said to always remember that you don’t own the project—it doesn’t belong to you. If you get too personally involved, you’re not going to do any good for yourself or the artist you’re working with. It’s about letting it go; at the end of the day, yes, it’s creative and getting our ideas down, but it’s a service industry…we’re here to service our creativity, but more importantly, to get the best out of the artist.”