Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ken Scott Answers Your Questions

Ken Scott and Bobby Owsinski at Total Access Recording from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Ken Scott and yours truly at Total Access Recording last week
You may remember that I asked for questions for the legendary producer/engineer Ken Scott last week for our presentation at the Alfred Music Publishing booth at NAMM. Of course, Ken worked with everyone from The Beatles, David Bowie, Supertramp, Mahavishnu Orchestra, America, Devo, Kansas, The Tubes, Missing Persons, Duran Duran and many many more, so whenever he speaks about the studio you find some pearls of wisdom. As promised, here are the questions and  along with the answers, as well as a little bonus towards the end.


Bob from Vancouver asked: How do you ensure that you have a balanced frequency spectrum in your mix? As in the right balance between lows, mids, and highs...
First of all, what is a balanced frequency spectrum? It should sound the way you want it to sound, and sometimes that means there’s going to me more high end and sometimes more low end. Take Reggae records, for example. It would seem they’re completely out of wack frequency-wise, but that’s exactly what people loved about them. As long as you’re using good monitors and get it sounding the way you want it, it's cool.


Fred Decker asked: What suggestions would you offer to a band to make their pre-production efforts most effective? Any comments on arrangement, song-structure or how to make the music groove? 
How to make it groove is don’t use Pro Tools to put everything on the bloody grid. I don’t like a click track that’s the same tempo from beginning to end because musicians frequently speed up when it comes to the chorus. I’ve always felt that you get things to groove more when using a click if I nudge it up slightly for the choruses and bring it back down again afterwards.

In preproduction you're just getting to know the material, but not to the point where when you go in the studio and something doesn’t quite work, you don't have the ability to move on and change what doesn’t work. You’re not stuck trying and trying to make it work because sometimes it doesn’t work when you get into the studio and listen under a microscope.

Also go through and make sure that everyone is playing the same thing. Listen to the parts and make sure they work together.


Bruce Alger asked: I would like an overview of how KS mixed Supertramp's Crime of the Century (and his methods of doing the vocals on that one).
We weren’t afraid to try things on that album. Different vocal effects were things like having them sing from different distances away from the mics. That was important especially with the two vocalists when they were answering each other. We experimented with different planes where one was right in your face while the other one had some distance on it. We weren’t afraid to experiment is the easiest way to explain the overview.


David King's question was: From your experience working with The Beatles. Do you believe they would have achieved success without the involvement of George Martin in their career?  (I tend to believe that he played as critical a role in their success as did any individual member of the band.)
Probably not, because in the early stages he was exceedingly important in guiding them in song structure and arrangements and that kind of thing. It eventually reached the point where they were going full-tilt on their own and he was less important, but in the early stages he was definitely needed, so there is a strong chance that they wouldn’t have done it without him.


Chuck Sims wanted to know: Ringo had left the band when they recorded "Back in the USSR." It's often been reported that the drums are a composite track, with John, Paul and George all contributing. Do you have any recollections about the sessions for that song? (There's a bass VI and a lot of debate about various instrumental roles on that selection). 
To answer this question, Ken asked me to use an excerpt from his upcoming book Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust (it will be out in May).
“By the time “Back In The USSR” was recorded, Ringo had temporarily quit the band. It wasn’t that he was in the studio and stormed out, it was more like he just didn’t turn up one day. The sessions were undisciplined enough that whatever any of the others felt like doing at any given time is what they did, so he never knew if he was going to be playing or not. He didn’t feel needed or wanted and he was tired of waiting around, so he just decided not to show up anymore.
I don’t remember the incident being spoken about too much at the time, and the whole thing was treated just as a “Ringo’s not here today” kind of thing, so we just carried on as usual. We recorded the basic track of “Back In The USSR” first with Paul playing drums, George on lead guitar, and John on bass, but there were parts of Paul’s drum track that just weren’t good enough, so we recorded a second drum track. This time the drums were played by both George and John at the same time on the same kit, one of them playing kick and snare while the other played the cymbals and toms, or something like that. Between the two tracks, we got one solid drum track, so we mixed them all together and that’s the drum track that you hear on the record. I never got a chance to record Paul playing drums well, although I know he did do it on a few of the songs on the album that were recorded outside of EMI.
In the end, Ringo returned a week or so later, and George H had the entire Number 2 studio decked out with flowers and a banner that said, “Welcome Back, Ringo.” He was happy to be back, and they were extremely happy to have him back.”


Chuck asked another: David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust is one of the greatest rock LPs ever... when working on it did you or the band have any idea that it would be such a defining moment, or was it just 'another' album? 
They’re never just “another album.” Hopefully they’re not, anyway. We never knew that we’d be talking about it in 40 years time; absolutely not. We were making records that if people were still talking about them 6 months later, then we’d done our jobs properly. 40 years later we had no idea whatsoever.


Chuck asked still another: Are there any favourite moments or tracks on Ziggy for you?
"Moonage Daydream" is my favourite.


Stay tuned for more info and excerpts on Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust as they become available.

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1 comment:

Rand Bliss said...

Brilliant! Love the inside info on these legendary recordings. Must get the book as soon as it's available. Many thanks Bobby & Ken...

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