Unquestionably, one of the most renowned and well-respected producer/engineers in all of rock history, Eddie Kramer’s credits list is indeed staggering. From rock icons such as Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Traffic and The Kinks, to pop stars Sammy Davis Jr. and Petula Clark, as well as the seminal rock movie Woodstock, Eddie is clearly responsible for recording some of the most enjoyable and influential music ever made. Here's an excerpt from the interview section of the The Recording Engineer's Handbook where he talks about his setups, technique and even a little Jimi Hendrix.
"When you started you were pretty limited by the number of tracks and channels available.
Definitely. You have to use your imagination and think really hard about how to plan it out. For instance, on Hendrix’s stuff, which is the classic example, it was done on four track. On Are You Experienced we used mono drums and mono guitars and so forth. We would fill a four track up then dump it down to another four track, leaving two tracks open, then you may have to do that again. On Axis: Bold As Love, I was recording stereo drums which made a big difference.
Was your approach different when you went to stereo?
Yes. When it was mono I just used a single overhead, a snare mic and bass drum mic. There might be one or two tom mics but that would be it. When I went to stereo I probably used a pair of 251’s or 67’s, I can’t remember which. I was just trying to get that left to right image when the toms would go left to right. I always record from the drummers perspective and not from the listeners perspective.
Has your approach to tracking changed when you do it today?
Yes, it has been modified in the sense that you don’t have to use an enormous room to record the drums anymore. In fact, bands today don’t want that huge reverberant drum sound that we used to love, so you can record drums in a smaller deader space and still get a big fat sound. Obviously I’m using more mics, multiple mics on the bass drum, multiple mics (top and bottom) on the snare, which I didn’t do before. I use a lot of mics on the guitar and then pick the ones that I like.
Is your setup the same all the time?
Pretty much. I will experiment with different microphones as they come in. The [Shure] KSM-27 is a great guitar amp mic. I love the new KSM141, which is a cross between a 451 and a KM84, on hat, percussion, acoustic guitar and underneath the snare. The SM91 and SM 52 are my bass drum mics of choice, and I use KSM44 on overheads, but I still use vintage mics like 47’s, and the new Neumann TLM 103’s, 147’s and 149’s. To me a microphone is like a color that a painter selects from his palette. You pick the colors that you want to use, so the mics are my palette. In the end it doesn’t matter to me too much. Whatever is available, I’ll just look at it and think, “I wonder what this will sound like on the guitar, or bass or whatever instrument.” I know what my standard stuff is and if I need to do something really fast I’ll always go back it, but I’ll often experiment with whatever happens to be in the studio.
Do you tailor the mic preamp to the microphone? Do you have certain combinations that you like?
No, just blanket it with vintage Neve modules, either 1033’s or 1081’s. I like the 1081’s because of the four band EQ so I can carve things out particularly when I’m recording bass drum. Lately I’ve been using the new Vintech X81, which is a copy of the 1081.
So you’re EQing during recording?
I always do. I have done so my whole life. If I hear a sound that I like then it immediately goes to tape. If it’s a guitar, then I’ll print the reverb as well on a separate track so the sound is there and locked in. I usually have an idea of what it’s going to sound like in the final analysis so the EQ and compression is done right then and there. I think if you bugger around with it afterwards you have too many choices. This isn’t rocket science, it’s music. Just record the thing the way you hear it! After all, it is the song that we’re trying to get and the guy’s emotion. We’re becoming so anal and self-analytical and protracted with our views on recording, I think it’s destructive and anti-creative. It’s bad enough that we have to be locked into a bloody room with sweaty musician (laughs).
Recording music should be a fun filled day. To me, making a record should be about having a ball because it makes the day go quickly and yet you’re still getting what you want on tape. There’s a friend of mine that has a bar in his studio and after the session is finished everybody has a beer and relaxes. What a wonderful thing! I think artists today have a tendency not to do this. You cut to a bloody click track, go to Beat Detective, do a lot of overdubs in Pro Tools, and then spend a lot of time searching for the right plugins to make it sound cool.
But the track has to move and breathe. Listen to all the great songs and albums that have been recorded the last 30 years. The ones that really stand out are the ones that breathe and move. With human beings, their tempo varies. I do admire what can be done in Pro Tools, but if there’s something that wrong, you should have done another take and maybe chop things together.
What’s the hardest thing for you to record?
The toughest thing to record is a full orchestra. Getting the right room and properly placing the microphones is really tough, but it’s also so rewarding. The other thing that’s tough is the artist that can’t get the right feel so you have to go through a lot, changing microphones and instruments and placement, to make it work. That can be boring.
I like to think that going into the studio is a challenge. What usually happens is that the artist, unbeknownst to himself, has done a brilliant job on the first take and it all goes down-hill very rapidly after that. The reverse can also be true in that the first take is weak because the person is just getting used to it and they build up gradually to point where it “is” great.
Didn’t you tell me once that “All Along The Watchtower” was take #27?
That’s a great example of an artist of Jimi’s stature starting from square one with a very difficult arrangement. He’s yelling at Mitch [Mitchell, drummer for the Experience], “C’mon. Here’s how you do the rhythm part,” then Mitch eventually gets it. Then he yells at Dave Mason because he can’t get the secondary rhythm guitar part. Eventually he gets it and Jimi keeps going at it and going at it. At one point Brian Jones walks into the studio drunk out of his mind and starts to play piano. Jimi politely lets him play, I think on take 20 or 21, and then excuses him by saying “No, I don’t think so, Brian.” Then by take 25 it’s a 4 star, take 26 is good but take 27 is the master, you can just tell. Everything is perfectly placed and has the intensity that Jimi wanted, so the song evolved because it had to. There was no time for rehearsal, this was something that had to be learned in the studio. It’s not the way you want to do it, but because he’s a musician of that stature, you don’t mind if it takes 30 takes."
To read additional excerpts from The Recording Engineer's Handbook and my other books, go to the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.
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