Interview with Sylvia Massy
Sylvia Massy, author of Recording Unhinged, was recently interviewed by Mike Levine a contributor of AudioFanzine. AudioFanzine is an online magazine that caters to musicians as well as sound engineers, home-studio recording enthusiasts, and audio and lighting engineers. They spoke about her book and some of the unconventional techniques it offers up. Read an excerpt of the interview below!
The book is really impressive. Not only did you write it but you also illustrated it, including the very colorful cover. Why did you decide to do the book in the first place?
The book came out of just having all these weird things that I would do that other people wouldn’t do, and I noticed that when I went into sessions, I was building interesting things, so I thought I’d share that. And then talking to different engineers that I’m associated with at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and at trade shows, I realized that they also had some interesting techniques that nobody had really documented. And there were about 35 different people that I interviewed, and I collected their stories and some of their techniques. And then I illustrated some of their techniques, because I’m better at drawing it out than trying to explain it. It’s much easier for me. And that turned into doing much larger illustrations and caricatures of these people that I was interviewing. So I just went on with it. And with the help of Chris, my manager, and the co-writer of the book, we created all of these different panels. The Producer Pods and Engineering Marvels and the people in the industry that are heroes.
The book is kind of modular. Little short pieces all organized by type of instrument to record or type of recording technique.
It’s like tapas. You’re going to take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and put it on a plate and enjoy it.
It makes it really easy to read because you can just jump into any chapter, grab a few things, go somewhere else, etc.
And that’s what I was hoping, that it would become a coffee-table type book, where you could open up one page and get inspired. Especially if it was just on the corner of your console or on top of a speaker. Then you just open a page and it should help unstick you.
The book offers lots of unique ways to get results in the studio. For example, I love the part about distracting singers.
It’s something that I’m really good at. I worked on my techniques over the years on how to get a great performance, and a lot of it has to do with distracting the musician or the singer so that they stop thinking about themselves. You can be really goofy in the studio. You can adjust the temperature to get an effect. If you want the singer to be angry, because you have an aggressive part, then you make it uncomfortable for them. Or, I read something about John Lennon hanging upside down once, and I thought I’d try that. It was a disaster, actually, I wouldn’t do it again. The poor guy almost had an aneurysm. That was actually Serj Tankian, the singer from System of a Down.
You had more success with Serj when you set up a tent in the studio for him to use as a vocal booth.
That worked out, really well. If you’re in a studio where you don’t have an isolation booth, and there’s too much reflection from the walls coming back into your vocal mic, a tent works great.
So the tent was there for sonic reasons, but it also gave him give him his own space to be in while singing?
The initial reason was to calm down the reflections. But it turned into his special place, and was even better.
Was it a canvas tent?
It was just a regular camping tent. It was tall enough that you could stand up in it and you could stand up a mic in it. And also, it didn’t require stakes, because we were in someone’s house — Rick Rubin’s basement, actually.
Read the article in its entirety here!