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RE/P Files: A Production Analysis Of Eric Clapton’s “Layla”: Part II
Part two of an in-depth interview with engineer/producer Tom Dowd.
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Tom Dowd has participated in as much recording history as maybe anyone around today. During his 28 years in the business, he has recorded and/or produced, among others;, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Herbie Mann, Ray Charles, The Coasters, The Drifters, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Otis Redding, Dusty Springfield, The Young Rascals, The Allman Brothers, Stephen Stills, and Joe Walsh

This is the second part in a multipart series. If you’ve not yet read part one, it comes highly recommended.

PL: Let’s set up a completely hypothetical situation.

Suppose that you’re the only engineer in a totally unfamiliar studio where they have every single type of hardware ever made.

What would you start out with - are you partial to Neumann or Kepex, for example?

TD: Well, first off, the musicians should position themselves where they’re comfortable. If I cannot take advantage of what the studio recommends as the best placement in the room for those people, then the house choice of microphones might have to be altered too.

Where I might have had physical separation, now I might have to use a high front lo-back rejection mike because the bass and guitar amps are six inches apart.

If the studio is accustomed to having the drums in one corner, the piano over here, and the guitar and bass in traps, and they’re using omni-directional microphones, that’s all very well and good if the musicians are comfortable.

However, if they’re not comfortable that way and end up standing on 14 square feet of a 20x40 room, I can’t use omni-directionals. Once the musicians are physically comfortable, then I can try lo give them the sound they want.

Certainly, I’ll use directional microphones where directional microphones are necessary, but I’m not too concerned with whether they’re Electro-Voice or AKG.

An instrument like a guitar, I would, for the most part, record as a mono track. In a case like this, you normally go for a very tight focal field on that source of sound, as opposed to something like drums, where the man is flailing about over a large surface area.

With drums, I want lo capture the motion and the depth, so I’d want a big spread, meaning distant miking. You don’t want them very tight, where you have to manufacture the sound he’s creating you want to be able to capture his technique and dynamics just as he did it.

PL: So you normally don’t limit, as a rule .

TD: I try not to. Often it depends on the complexity of what you’re trying to record, but I believe that you can usually gel away without limiting anything on an initial recording.

PL: What were the circumstances surrounding the making of “Layla’”/

TD: Well, Eric had this new group, and they felt that they’d better find out what they’re all about and do an album. I’d always had pleasant dealings with Eric and Ginger and Jack, and with the Stigwood Organization, and when Eric wanted to record, I was asked. At that time, the best place to do it was in Miami because that was where I was working. If 1 was in New York, it would have been done in New York.

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