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RE/P Files: An Interview With Noted Engineer/Producer Val Garay
Circa 1983, a discussion on approaches with top artists, running a studio, and more...
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The Transition From Pre-Production To Studio Sessions

“Pre-production starts with the set-up.” Garay considers. “I let the band choose whatever makes them comfortable Their rehearsal arrangement doesn’t necessarily have to duplicate their normal stage or recording studio locations. As a rule of thumb, the drummer usually sets up in the center of the room, because everybody is listening to him. Then the bass player puts his amp near the drummer, so they can play easy, together. From there it’s pretty much up to the band members. A semi-circle seems to work, but the rehearsal room is small, so we could put anybody anywhere.

“As (ar as levels go, the band pretty much figures that out (or themselves too, because there’s an instant relationship among the members of a professional band. To hear each other in the room, there has to be a balance. If the guitar player is six times too loud, then all you hear is guitar and the other players tell him to turn down. But once you get the balance, you can stick one mike in there, open it up, and you’re ready to make a work tape.

“I like to make recordings of each arrangement as we go along. I use just one little cassette machine, with one little microphone. I could play you work cassettes of almost every song on every record I’ve made so far. You’d be amazed at how much you can hear on those tapes. It’s very close to the actual recordmg in the studio.

“The cassette tells you whether an arrangement works or not, because you can listen to it over and over. It tells you whether parts, rhythms, and everything else are the way they should be. The great test is how the song wears, and for that you have to keep listening to it over and over. The old adage is: ‘If it has legs, It will walk.’ What they mean by that is if everything about the song is comfortable, It will keep going If not, it starts to grate. And it’s either the arrangement or the song that grates on you. Once that happens, you have queries. And once you have queries, you start delving back into the song to find out why. I say that either the arrangement goes away immediately, or the song goes away in a period of time.

“When we go into the studio, I like to cut live—everything at once. I mike everything close for isolation, and also put very loud instruments, like distortion guitar parts, in separate rooms. (Record One features three acoustically treated recording areas—a main
studio, and two smaller adjacent rooms—as well as the control booth, and various live rooms throughout the complex that are pressed into service when needed.] To make the separate tracks blend back together, I run feeds to two PA speakers in the rehearsal studio, I have two Neumann U·67s that I can move anywhere in the room, or right next to the cabinets, for any desired effect. I just open the microphones up, and add them to the original sound at the board.

“I don’t really use a lot of effects other than the natural room ambiance, when I want to change something. I like to get nice, big, warm, fat, punchy sounds. If you want an effect, you can warp anything with outboard gear, but you can’t make anything sound big, fat, warm and punchy if it doesn’t start that way,

“I guess you could say I’m a purist, but don’t confuse that with traditionalism; a traditionalist I’m not. If there’s a sound out there in the studio, that’s the sound I want to get on tape. I would prefer to play with the guitar player’s amp and get the sound al his station, rather than attempt to manufacture what’s needed in the control room. All I try to do is capture what he’s got. In essence, the secret is that the studio and all the equipment must remain transparent to the overall process of recording.

“When we go into the studio, I like to cut live—everything at once. I mike everything close for isolation, and also put very loud instruments, like distortion guitar parts, in separate rooms. (Record One features three acoustically treated recording areas—a main studio, and two smaller adjacent rooms—as well as the control booth, and various live rooms throughout the complex that are pressed into service when needed.) To make the separate tracks blend back together, I run feeds to two PA speakers in the rehearsal studio, I have two Neumann U-67s that I can move anywhere in the room, or right next to the cabinets, for any desired effect. I just open the microphones up, and add them to the original sound at the board.

 

 


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