While considering cover photos for the February 2010 issue of Pro Sound News, I ran across a shot of a friend and ace mixing engineer hamming it up for the camera during one of his recent sessions. That got me waxing nostalgic about the heyday of the commercial studio biz in the early 90’s. While there’re tales to be told of the impact of new technologies and the ever-changing business environment, so many of those memories are tied to the people I’ve met in this industry. The old adage that all businesses are people businesses seems uniquely apropos for professional audio.
The engineer in the photo (avoiding too many identifying details here) is among the best I’ve ever met. He was also as fast a mixer as I’ve seen. In those days, a day a song was the common time allotment for mixing. He’d arrive at 9AM and start his mix, often tasking the console and mix room by attacking the mix in new and innovative ways. When we had the somewhat experimental and cumbersome AT&T DisQ mixing system hooked up to our SSL, he’d try to play “Stump The Tech” and say (I’m paraphrasing), “Now, when I mix, I sometimes like to route the signal this way and use this other capability of the console, how do I do that with this digital thing?” I’d ponder signal flow for a few moments and give him a way to work how he wanted. He’d in turn ponder the awkwardness of my solution, turn around and press Play, listen to the analog console, listen to the digital mixer core that was pretending to be the console (the saving grace of the DisQ being that it sounded very good) then turn back to me and say, “Damn, it still sounds better. Tell me how that signal flow went again.” Despite his best efforts, technology rarely slowed him down. Typically by 10:30AM, the mix was nailed and he was left waiting for the producer to arrive late afternoon to bless his efforts. Perhaps a little ADD, he’d then try to come up with a way to entertain himself for the remainder of the day, cutting up and generally entertaining all around him.
Another regular guest engineer, also a great mixer as well as someone who reveled in self-entertainment during his projects, was infamous for studio antics. On one occasion, mixing a live album, a state name in the between song dialog of a Famous Artist struck his fancy and stayed in an AMS digital delay for stutter playback on demand throughout the session. The line wasn’t as funny to anyone else as it was to the mixer, but you couldn’t help but be amused by how amusing it was to him “Mass-Mass-Mass-Massachusetts” (that’s not the real state used, but we wouldn’t want to bust him with the artist). He also delighted in any excuse for calling the tech shop on the intercom to beckon me into the control room for a complaint presented with overwrought histrionics.
These engineers are representative of many who graced our facility. Folks who had fun when they worked, but also worked extremely hard, often for long hours and days without much of a break, and they have the talent and have paid the dues to earn the fun.
The audio business at large is filled with equally intriguing and entertaining individuals, from live sound pros keeping themselves amused on the road to brilliant equipment designers who chose their path primarily to build the devices they wanted to work with themselves. And part of the entertainment of knowing them all is the passion they bring to their core preferences and proclivities in the practice of their art. I used to refer to that same studio facility as “the land of no-lightly held opinions.” While that isn’t necessarily an endearing comment, it was used with affection and an atmosphere was created that kept our regular clients coming back for more, be it for the superior technical environment resulting from that single-mindedness or for the entertainment value (or a bit of both).
Pro audio is a place where ‘people of character’ (or people that are characters? You decide) thrive. In the grand view, passion for music and sound is a driving motivation for them all. Character and passion—two fundamental elements in making this a great industry.