Monday, August 1, 2011

Tape Op Magazine

I've been reading Tape Op for years, and have always respected editor Larry Crane for his skills and his opinions. This current issue, #84 has both opening and closing statements which I would like to publicly applaud, and if I may dare, add a thought to.

On the contents page Mr. Crane always writes an intro, and in this issue he writes of the joy of working with good musicians; "Getting to work with players that intuitively understand and support a song with their abilities is a treat. At times I've felt privy to the best 'private performances' I'll ever see from my favorite artists". He closes the intro saying "I feel lucky." Yeah, Larry, I'll bet you do! Having polished more than a few turds myself, I certainly share your affinity for recording real talent!

He also closes every issue with a column he calls Larry's End Rant, and in this issue, in a piece titled The Big Misconception he rails on journalists who espouse the view that "anyone can make a record on their computer at home nowadays." He explains how a laptop and cheap audio interface are hardly all the tools actually needed to make a great record, which is largely true. The quality of the audio interface's digital converters has a huge impact on the quality of your recordings, as does all the elements of the front end (i.e. the mics, microphone preamps, etc). He goes on to talk about the room acoustics, monitoring, and so on, and also mentions having the skills to use these tools. He almost forgets to mention the importance of having "some amazing material" and "players and singers that can perform it."

This brings me to the thought I would like to add.  I understand the point of this article is to say that you  can't actually do everything on your little computer that it used to take a whole studio to do, so don't believe it when you read that in some other trade publication. Agreed. Ultimately, however, performance trumps it all in my opinion. In light of Mr. Cranes opening statements in the intro I would like to emphasize that at the heart of it all, what we're really in this for is great music, and great music does not require a $10,000.00 Telefunken microphone or the worlds most expensive digital converters, what it requires is great writing and great musicians.

Case in point: The Complete Recording Of Robert Johnson. The only recordings of Robert Johnson's music come from two sessions: three days in a hotel room in San Antonio in November of 1936 and two days in the back of a Dallas office building in June of 1937, using the most minimal of equipment, which was all that was available at the time. Eric Clapton has called Johnson "the most important blues singer that ever lived." These recordings are not technically stellar by any stretch of the imagination, in fact they sound awful. There is even some debate if the speed and pitch are correct. These facts not withstanding this is considered by many to be the greatest Mississippi Delta Blues ever recorded.

My point: performance transcends the recording. Period.

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