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9 books you need to read about the most famous and influential music producers

9 must read books about the lives of famous music producers

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Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles by Geoff Emerick

Here There and Everywhere My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles by Geoff Emerick -- 9 books about the most famous and influential music producers

Whether or not you’re a fan of the Beatles, if you’re into audio or music production, you need to appreciate the groundbreaking recording and production techniques used at Abbey Road. Geoff Emerick is the audio engineer who was behind the console while the Beatles were recording many of their most famous tracks. His memoir gives a first-hand account of what it was like to work with the four mop tops in the heyday of their popularity. His life story is fascinating, having begun working at EMI studios when he was just 15. By 19, he was tasked with recording the biggest band in the world, eventually becoming one of the most influential audio engineers of all time.

Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust: Off the Record with The Beatles, Bowie, Elton & So Much More, Hardcover Book by Ken Scott with Bobby Owsinski

Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust by Ken Scott and Bobby Owsinski

Ken Scott was another one of five people that had the privilege of standing behind the desk for the Beatles. He also was responsible for engineering David Bowie’s famous Ziggy Stardust and has worked with artists like Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Elton John, Supertramp, The Rolling Stones, Harry Nilson, Kansas, Lou Reed, America, and many more. Like Emerick, Scott rose to prominence as a staff engineer at Abbey Road and was displeased with Emerick’s portrayal of The Beatles and their producer George Martin which led to him refuting some of his stories in this book.

Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, the Faces. . . by Glyn Johns

Glyn Johns was one of if not the most sought after audio engineers in London during the 1960s. Johns specialized in working with the original artists and finding a sonic character that complemented their music. He was also a pioneer in creating new techniques and, most notably, for his drum mic technique, which many engineers still use today. This book is as close as it gets to be a fly on the wall in some of the most famous and monumental recording sessions there ever was. 

Are We Still Rolling? Studios, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll ‑ One Man’s Journey Recording Classic Albums By Phill Brown

Are We Still Rolling? Phill Brown

Phil Brown might not be as well known as some of the others on this list. Still, his story is not any less impressive. Brown started his career as a junior technician in 1967 and learned by working under such audio geniuses as Glyn Johns and Eddie Kramer. Eventually, he was recording some of the most prominent artists such as Mott the Hoople, Bob Marley, David Bowie, Talk Talk, Steve Winwood, Dido, and Robert Plant. The book covers much of Brown’s time spent in the studio, including techniques and gear that he used. The reader is also given an intimate look into an audio engineer’s life during this time period. Brown talks very candidly about his struggles with balancing his home life, drug abuse, and dealing with the industry’s challenging social and political aspects.

Al Schmitt on the Record: The Magic Behind the Music by Al Schmitt

Al Schmitt is a living legend in every sense of the word. A true master of the craft that is respected by every single person in the industry.  His incredible story begins in New York City as a young kid visiting and eventually working at his Uncle Harry’s studio. He went on to apprentice under the godfather of audio engineering, Tom Dowd. His first real session was with Bing Crosby when he serendipitously was the only engineer available to run the session. You can only imagine everything else this man has seen and been a part of– He has worked with Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Madonna, Paul McCartney, to name a few. Schmitt has engineered over 150 albums and has over 20 Grammy awards, more than any other engineer or producer. He was also the first person to win both the Grammy and Latin Grammy for Album of the Year.

Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music By Phil Ramone with Charles L. Granata

Phil Ramone has worked with everyone. Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Billy Joel, Paull McCartney, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder. He established one of the earliest independent recording studios, A & R Recording, with Chief Engineer Bill Schwartau in 1959. He was sought after for his impeccable sounding records and innovative use of technology. Ramone has been nominated for 34 Grammys and won 14 of those, including a Technical Grammy for a lifetime of innovative contributions to the recording industry, Best Engineered Recording, he’s produced the Album of the Year, the Record of the Year, and in 1981 won Producer of the Year. In his later years, he transitioned into an executive role for The Recording Academy.

Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album by Ken Caillat with Steven Stiefel

Ken Caillat Making Rumours The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album

Ken Calliet was the man behind the glass and turning the knobs when recording some of the most significant songs ever produced. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors sold over 45 million copies and went 20 times platinum. Making Rumours gives you an insider look at what it was like to work in Los Angeles with the Mac in 1976. On top of the musical significance, there was no shortage of drama, as sex and drugs were aplenty. There was also some drama stemming from multiple romantic relationships between band members ending shortly before the recording of the album started. Calliet tells his side of the story and gets into the more technical information about the recording and mixing process. If you’re a fan of this album (and you’d be crazy not to be), you’ll enjoy the read.

Tony Visconti: The Autobiography: Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy by Tony Visconti

Tony Visconti The Autobiography Bowie Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

Learn about how a young kid from Brooklyn moved to the UK and becoming a pivotal part in launching an entire genre known as Glam Rock. Visconti was one of the most influential music producers of the 1970s. Most famously is known as the producers behind David Bowie’s records, he has also worked with other famous artists such as T. Rex, Moody Blues, Joe Cocker, Thin Lizzy, Morrisey, Paul McCartney and Wings, and many more. Visconti’s nonjudgemental, honest and straightforward storytelling makes this one of the most readable memoirs on this list.

The Latin Hit Maker: My Journey from Cuban Refugee to World-Renowned Record Producer and Songwriter by Rudy Pérez

Rudy Perez The Latin Hit Maker

If you’re not familiar with Rudy Perez’s name, you’ve without a doubt heard some of his music. Perz has produced over 70 albums and written over 1000 songs, of which over 300 have reached the top 10 charts. He has worked with world renowned Latin artists such as Julio Iglesias, Marc Anthony, Luis Fonsi, and mainstream artists such as Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and many more. His music accolades aside, he has a fascinating and true rags to riches story. He was born in Cuba and fled the country to escape the political regime. His family eventually made it to Miami, where they were forced to live in a refugee camp before they were able to settle in Florida. He quit school at 15 and worked his way up to working with some of the most prominent artists of all time. This is one that you’re guaranteed to enjoy, and it will be difficult to put down.

Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music Paperback by Templeman

Ted Templema A Platinum Producers Life in Music

Ted Templeman, who is most famously known for working with Van Halen, The Doobie Brothers, and Aerosmith, was a hitmaker for Warner Brothers in the late 1970s and 1980s. Templeman generated worldwide sales approaching 100 million albums. Templeman’s story has an appropriate amount of sex, drugs, and of course, rock and roll; he’s also able to sprinkle in plenty of the technical information of the recording process.


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Classic recording consoles: SSL, Neve, and REDD

Recording console

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Classic recording consoles SSL, Neve, and REDD

Classic recording consoles are extremely sought after for the hands-on workflow and larger than life sound quality. There’s nothing like riding the volume of a vocal, having your fingers on a real fader while being able to easily reach to an immaculate sounding equalizer and compressor on every channel. With all good comes some bad, and using a console has its fair share of cons. For starters, they are huge. It requires a lot of space, energy, and patience to run and maintain such an enormous piece of gear properly.  Still, the ability to touch a console with your fingers and express your sonic desires physically, moving faders, twisting knobs, and pushing buttons, cannot be emulated with a computer or touch screen.

Everything started with analog gear and recording consoles, and today’s DAWs take direct influence from the past. Large format consoles have thousands of switches, transistors, capacitors, relays, and other components that make the elaborate device work. These large intricate, and complicated tools are true marvels of electrical engineering. Today it’s easy to take for granted just how remarkable consoles are. Techniques previously only accomplished with a console, tape machine, and meticulous editing are now easily done within a computer.

I’m not here to debate if analog or digital is better, I’ll leave that to Gearslutz and Facebook groups (spoiler alert: it doesn’t matter, and you should use whatever works for you), but I am here to honor the great recording consoles that paved the way for modern recording techniques. I made a list of some classic consoles that have been heard on countless hit records (and even more that weren’t hits) and decided to write about their history and what makes them unique. Some people like to experience the nostalgia of classic cars, clothing, toys, or art; well, I like consoles and audio gear.

SSL 4000-E/G

Classic recording console SSL 4000B

Solid State Logic, better known as SSL, was founded in 1969 by Colin Sanders. The company’s first products were switching systems for pipe organs that used FET switches to communicate between the keyboard and the electromechanics of the pipes. These switches replaced older unreliable relays, solenoids, and thick interconnecting cables.

Colin began designing and making consoles for his studio in his home village of Stonesfield, Oxfordshire, England. The first console he made was called the “A” series, and it was continually improved upon until he decided to build six to sell to other studios and institutions. These became the 4000 B series, and he eventually sold them to studios around the world, including Townhouse Studios in London, where it was used to record the famous drum fill (and the rest of the song) for Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight. The B Series was the first desk to integrate a studio computer system with a console.

They continued to revise the 4000 series and, in 1979, changed the game with the breakthrough 4000 E series, which was unlike anything the industry had seen before. It was the first console to have a dedicated dynamics section, which added a compressor/gate/expander on every channel. It also included the company’s famous fully parametric equalizer, which allowed engineers to boost and cut frequencies with incredible detail and accuracy. These two things, coupled with the console’s flexible routing was the catalyst for what I consider a renaissance in the art of mixing during the ’80s. These feature-packed consoles allowed engineers to explore new creative techniques to hone in on more modern, polished sounding productions. Gated toms, reverbs, scooped mids, a ton of compression, and layering were all new techniques that were only possible because of SSL consoles new features. This flexibility gave access to a whole new palette of colors for engineers to paint with and changed the way music would be heard forever.

In 1987, the company introduced the 4000 G Series console, which had a slightly different EQ section. The G Series equalizer used steeper filter slopes and incorporated a variable proportional-Q design, which automatically adjusts the Q value as you boost or cut.

In this video, Tony Masteri compares the Waves version of the two types and describes the G to be more midrange forward and better for rock and roll and the E to be rounder sounding and better for Pop, R&B, and Hip Hop.

Over the years, the company has gone through multiple owners and now resides as part of the Audiotonix Group along with Digico, Calrec, Allen & Heath, and Digigrid brands. They continue to make consoles, although they have put more effort into live and smaller hybrid analog/digital consoles.

Neve 80’s series

Very few people have had as great of an impact on music technology as Rupert Neve. Every single recording studio has some form of Neve clone, plugin, or original preamp or compressor. The name alone has become synonymous with high quality, extremely musical sounding pieces of recording gear. Their consoles have something unique about them. Whatever the magic is, there’s no arguing that Rupert Neve had an incredible ear and genius for designing audio gear. Preamps, equalizers, and compressors designed by him have lasted the test of time and are still extremely sought after.

Rupert Neve learned how to build and sell radios from a very early age. During WWII, while serving with the Royal Signals, he was able to hone his skills building radios and pa systems further. He went on to build a mobile recording studio in a US Army Dodge ambulance where he was able to record hours of opera concerts, music festivals, and public events directly to 78 RPM lacquer discs.

Classic recording console the first ever Neve desk
The first Neve console

After working for a few small radio and transformer manufacturers, he started making bookshelf loudspeakers and selling them. In the mid-1950s, he was commissioned to build a console for Desmond Leslie, a professional composer of Musique Concrete. This new experimental style of music required the use of multiple tape recorders that were playing loops with different pre-recorded sound effects. Leslie needed a way to mix his tape machines, thus giving a reason to commission the first-ever Neve console.

Pictured is German Musique Concrete composer Karlheinz Stockhausen
Pictured is German Musique Concrete composer Karlheinz Stockhausen

In the 1970’s Sir Rupert Neve entered his golden years where he was designing and producing some of his finest consoles. The 80’s series consoles are what most consider when referencing a vintage Neve console. There were many iterations of 80 series consoles through the 1970s and 1980s; each console was custom made to order, specifically for their buyer.

The majority of the 80 series consoles included entirely class A mic preamps; the 8028 included the famous 1073b while the 8058 and 8068 included 31102 mic/pre EQ modules, which are very similar to the 1073 with a few design differences and some additional hi-frequency EQ points.  Many of these consoles included the very sought after 32264a compressor/limiter. Like all Neve compressors, these use a diode bridge circuit based design, which outputs a very desirable thick, warm, smacking tone.

The 8058 and 8068 are almost the same except for an additional four channels on the latter. Another key feature that sets these desks apart from earlier consoles the company made is having eight aux sends, allowing for more flexible routing. These consoles were staples of some of the best studios in the 70s and 80s.

Classic Recording Console Neve 8058
Neve 8058

1978 saw the first 8078, which their first large format console and featured up to 72 channels. The 8078 is the last hand-wired analog console to be produced in the 80’s Series. These consoles usually come loaded with varying numbers of 31105 microphone/line preamp and EQ modules.

If you want that Neve sound and don’t have $5,000 to shell out for a single channel of the original, you can buy one of the bazillion clones that vary drastically in price and quality. If the price is not an issue, the BAE 1073’s are some of the best around. If you’re on a little bit of a smaller budget, check out the Vintech X73i. And if you’re on an even smaller budget and have a Universal Audio interface, check out the UAD unison plugin version.

REDD.17, REDD.37, and REDD.51

Beatles Abbey Road Classic recording console REDD.17
REDD.17

The Record Engineering Development Department (REDD) was established in 1955 by Abbey Road Studios’ technical engineer Lenn Page. Within a year, they had produced the REDD.1 console, which was their first dedicated stereo mixing system. At the time, EMI/Abbey Road made just about everything in house. Mass-produced consoles didn’t exist yet, so everything was designed and built for their specific needs.

The REDD.17 console was developed in 1958 and was one of the first modern-style consoles. Interestingly, this was also around the same time that Tom Dowd was in America at Atlantic Records, wiring up his first modern style recording desk. It’s up for debate as to which one came first, but the consensus is they both created these desks around the same time independently. Therefore, both should be credited.

The REDD.17 was designed by Peter Burkotwitz, who was based in EMI Electrola in Germany. This console was created in sections and pioneered modular designed systems that just about all large format consoles use today. The entire console could be broken down and shipped in five individual pieces.

The REDD 37 was the second version of the console, and only two were ever made. This new model added outputs needed to accommodate the studio’s new four-track tape machines. There were 8 inputs, 4 outputs, and treble and bass EQ adjustments on each channel.

All REDD consoles are vacuum tube-based, and the 17 and 37 models used Siemens V72S preamps. The V72S is a tube preamp that has a fixed gain level of 40 dB. Suppose you need less gain than you’ll have to move the microphone or use an attenuator. The REDD 37 is commonly known as the Beatles board; however, it was only used until 1964 and then again on their Let It Be album (when Magic Alex conned the band into commissioning him to build a console that was never completed).

EMI originally wanted eight of these desks built, but only three were actually completed. One console wound up as a prototype and found a home at Kingsway Hall, another EMI recording facility. The other two were slightly upgraded models of the prototype and became actual production models. Those both landed at Abbey Road in Studio One and Two.

REDD.17 Beatles Abbey Road Recording Console
REDD.51

In January of 1964, EMI replaced the REDD.37 console in Studio Two with the brand new REDD.51. The main difference between the 51 and previous models is the amps used; instead of using the V72s like the 17 and 37, this console used REDD 47 amps. These new amps were built in house and offered lower distortion and more headroom than the V72s. Only four REDD.51 desks were made, and they were eventually phased out in the late ’60s for the transistor-based TG series. Today there is only one known REDD.51 in existence, and it is located at British Grove Studios in London.

Both the 37 and 51 featured 14 painton quadrant faders (and yes, those are the ones that look like space ship levers). The levers controlled the eight mic channels, two aux channels, and the four central faders controlled the master outputs to the 4-track tape machine.

Also found on the console are dedicated echo sends and returns, different styles of pan pots, and a unique spreader control, which allows for adjustment of the stereo image.

If you’re looking for that vintage REDD sound, you’re in luck, Chandler Limited has cloned the preamps very well. A-Designs also makes the super fat sounding REDDI tube DI box, and Kush has a great plugin version of it.

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