In this case my heroes are recording engineers that have helped make recording history and shape and define the technology. And also have set the standard of recorded sound that we still strive for to this day. Below are three of my favorite engineers.
The first is Rudy Van Gelder. Rudy engineered some of the most iconic recordings in jazz history and was one of the most respected recording engineers. I had the opportunity to meet and briefly speak with Rudy. A gracious unassuming man! The musicians he recorded trusted and loved him. Here’s a great story told by drummer Charlie Persip about Rudy recording Thelonious Monk. The piano solo Charli talks about is still studied as part of Monk’s genius, as a result of a kicked over beer! Van Gelder not only recorded for the Blue Note label but for many of the independant jazz labels as well. His influence on the process and technology cannot be overstated.
The second is Al Schmitt. While Van Gelder recorded primarily jazz music, Schmitt recorded many genres. Some of my favorite recordings of his were, of course, Sinatra and Bennett and his big band recordings. Schmitt has a unique sense of space and mic placement second to none! Two of the most important components of recording. One of my favorite stories about Schmitt was in his early years he was recording an orchestra which included french horns. At that time he had little experience recording the sometimes difficult instrument. He learned very early that all he needed to do was simply ask the players where they prefer the mic be placed and went from there. Yet another example of the best still being students and still learning their craft. And not afraid to engage the very people he was recording. Yet another secret to a great recording — make friends with the musicians and they will play for you.
My third choice is the great Andrew Scheps. Scheps has an incredible sense of communication and is very articulate and straight forward in his explanations. A great teacher and never talks down to anyone. I have a sense that everyone he recorded also realized that and much like Van Gelder enjoyed the trust of the musicians he worked with. He’s one individual I’d love to just hang with and observe. Check out this video from 6:34 – 8:30 he explains why it’s not so much the gear being used on a recording but the process and knowing why certain decisions are made. To watch him work is pure magic! Here’s another video where Scheps explains what happens to the sound when mp3s are created. It’s lengthy but a must watch for anyone aspiring to be a recording engineer. (The above picture is Andrew’s outboard effects wall. He explains almost every piece.)
What all three of these engineers have in common is a passion for capturing the musician and the music. And realizing the needs of the musician and sound they want to get. And then knowing how to get that sound. It wasn’t about gear or equipment as much about capturing the essence of the music.