By KEN CAILLAT
AS A QUIET GUY, THE STUDIO BECAME THE PLACE WHERE I LEARNED TO express myself. It was there that I could be as loud or as talkative as I wanted, and also how to make my own personal statement in sound. Here are some tips that I still use in my recordings that I hope will help you succeed with yours.
1. Seek the Heart of the Song
Often, artists send me demos comprised of just one guitar and one vocal. They usually apologize for sending them in such a raw state, but for me, that’s where the inspiration comes from. Often, it may just be one vocal and one instrument that are the actual heartbeat of song. The goal then becomes to make sure that nothing gets in the way of those key elements.
2. Make Each Track Count
The beauty of analog tape was that it forced you use your available tracks wisely. For example, a track of grungy guitar might play throughout the whole song—a little bit in the first verse, a little more in the second, laying out in the bridge, back in for the choruses, and so on. Point being, the part told a story and had growth to it. Don’t just add tracks and instruments because you can.
3. Play with Panning
I’m a big fan of hard left/right panning. I always liked how the Beatles used it. On Rubber Soul, for example, there might be a different accented guitar part on the right side than on the left. Obviously, this isn’t right for everything, but don’t be afraid to take chances with where you position instruments in the soundscape.
4. The Ear Is Mightier than the Wallet
Most engineers think with their wallets, believing that the more expensive a mic is, the better it will sound—but that isn’t always the case. These days, I use the Shure SM27, which costs around $300, on almost all my lead vocals, over a $10,000 Neumann U47. It just grabs the personality of the singer’s voice.
5. Listen, Think, then Record
Once, an engineer was trying to get a backing vocal to sound like it was in the distance. He’d recorded the singer close to the mic, and had simply brought down the volume of the track. All it sounded like was a big voice at a low volume. So I told the singer to step back about ten feet from the mic, and that way, it felt small on the recording.
Ken Caillat co-produced Fleetwood Mac’s Grammy- winning 1977 album Rumours. Caillat revisits the album in his new book MakingRumours. Find out more at makingrumours.com.