It’s something you’ll hear over and over again, and it’s great advice:
“Get it right at the source”
It’s easy to understand why – you need a great mix to get a great master, you need a great recording to get a great mix, you need great musicians and great performances to get a great recording, and also great microphones.
And there aren’t many places in the world where you get to choose from such a great selection of mics as at Abbey Road – there are over 800 in their collection !
(Which isn’t to say that you need 800 mics to make great recordings, by the way – see below)
There’s far more to maintaining and preserving a collection like this than simply putting them in a large cupboard, though – as I discovered when I got the chance to interview Lester Smith last year, during the RecordProduction.com meetup.
(I’ve talked about the RecordProduction.com site before – if you haven’t checked it out already, you don’t know what you’re missing ! Make sure you have a few days to spare, though…)
Lester is a true legend – he’s been working at Abbey Road for over 50 years now, and as you’ll see in the interview, has no intention of stopping any time soon ! But his responsibilities include far more than just looking after the microphones, as I discovered. There are so many great snippets of information and insights in the video, including who Lester’s own personal hero is (and why), plus what he thinks about modern plugin emulations of classic Abbey Road gear… I strongly recommend you brew yourself a fresh cup of really strong tea, settle back and enjoy !
Here’s another great video from the same event, with Russell Cottier getting a guided tour of Andy Dudman‘s Studio 3 recording session. And this is where my comment above about not needing 800 microphones in your collection comes in. Of course the studio and gear in these videos is second to none – that’s just one reason why saving up for a day’s recording at Abbey Road rather than spending it on your own recording might be worth every penny !
It doesn’t have anything like the clarity or accuracy that even a budget modern mic has – but Andy uses it regularly, because sometimes that’s exactly what you want. He uses it to add flavour, and character, a “certain something” that other mics might not have. Silvia Massey, who I interviewed on the podcast, does exactly the same thing, collecting unusual and esoteric microphones just for the sheer love of it.
I find that inspiring, because it means we can do something similar. OK, we may not have access to a studio like Abbey Road or 800+ mics to choose from, but we can still make use of what we do have. At the end of the day, it ain’t what you use, it’s the way that you use it – and with care and experimentation, even quite humble mics can be used to maximum effect. Some of the best recordings I’ve ever mastered were made in this way, in bedrooms and living rooms – maybe yours can be, too.
But in the meantime, sit back and give way to the gear lust !
On a personal note, this was a real “bucket list” moment for me – I’ve wanted to visit Abbey Road ever since I first discovered the Beatles and the incredible stories behind their albums back in 1990 (-ish) so I want to say a huge Thanks to Mike Banks from RecordProduction.com for organising the event and asking me along, plus Mike Sinnott from the Abbey Road Institute. Finally standing on the famous steps in Studio 2 was really special – I was worried it would be an anti-climax after all those years, but it really wasn’t ! And getting the chance to interview Lester and hear what he had to say was the icing on the cake. It was a day I’ll never forget.