A Clash of Values? Letters part 2

Don't bash engineers
Editor: I am writing to express my annoyance with the unwarranted and misinformed bashing of recording engineers by some audiophiles. In a recent issue of Stereophile, a letter from a reader described recording engineers as "featherbedders," sonically ignorant cretins who deliver "only 4% of the sound." The example of recording ignorance given by the reader was a microphone placed close in front of an electric guitar amp. The reader felt that this would deliver only a small percentage (4%!) of the total sound coming from the instrument. The reader didn't say whether this technique was observed in a studio or on a stage, and did not mention whether or not he had any experience in mike technique for amplified guitar. If the reader has no experience in recording or sound reinforcement, then questioning such close mike placement is understandable. Insulting us is not.

The close mike is placed there because the sound is brighter at that position and we want some of that brightness for the final sound. In a studio, the close mike would usually be augmented by another (preferably stereo) mike for the room sound. If the instrument is acoustic, then a mike would usually be placed in front of it, about 1' to 3' away. The artist or producer will choose some combination of the mikes as the desired sound. The decision is artistic, not technical. In a sound-reinforcement situation the close position is dictated by the necessity of avoiding feedback and, to a lesser extent, the need to avoid leakage of other sounds into that mike. These mike techniques are the result of many years' experience. The reader's remarks about recording engineers suggest that the reader has little or no experience in music recording and is hurling insults based on misinformation.

Most of the artistic decisions for a recording are made by the producer or the record company executives, not the recording engineer. We are usually told what kind of sound the producer wants and then expected to deliver it NOW! Some producers encourage creative input from the engineer and some do not. If the producer wants something that I don't like or makes my work difficult, I still have to deliver what they want.

One of the aspects of recording which is usually left to the recording engineer is the selection and placement of the microphones. Of all the elements that go into recording and reproducing sound, few have an effect as significant as moving or changing a microphone. If you enjoy tweaking a sound system and listening to the results, try moving mikes around a drum set! Try putting up different stereo pairs in front of an orchestra! I encourage the reader to purchase his own recording equipment and enlighten us all with his unprecedented recording quality.

To be honest with you, I started out to write an angry letter on behalf of recording engineers everywhere. You have no idea of the expense and hard work that go into running a recording studio. My normal work day is at least 12 hours; and if you think stereo gear is expensive, try buying premium recording equipment! Although you may find this hard to believe, most recording engineers are rabid hyperlisteners like you. If you want the recording community to become more sensitive to the interests of audiophiles, then try some intelligent and open-minded dialogue with us. Misinformed insults will only add to the problem.

May I suggest that Stereophile make contact with some recording studios in your area and make arrangements to visit some of them during sessions. I'm sure you'll find a few who would enjoy being part of an ongoing series of dialogue and listening experiments with your magazine. The studios will become more connected to the opinions of your readers and Stereophile readers will gain insight not only into how recordings are made but why things are done the way they are. Hopefully this would help to clear up the misunderstandings which currently exist.

Toward this end, we are talking with John Spelt of Quintessence Audio in Naperville, IL about making a series of recordings of several kinds of music using a variety of recording equipment and techniques. We hope to produce a series of radio shows focusing on how recording technology and techniques affect and enhance our enjoyment of music. We'll keep you posted on our progress. In the meantime, I would like to request that your readers refrain from bashing recording engineers and instead try to learn more about the process which allows them to enjoy music whenever they like.—John McCortney, President, AirWave Recording Studios, Chicago, IL

Robert Harley responds to Mr. McCortney's letter in this month's "As We See It."JA