Join Sylvia Massy for an in-depth discussion in this video Sylvia Massy: Unconventional Recording - Film, part of Sylvia Massy: Unconventional Recording.
(metronome ticks over bad warming up) - People come to me as a producer because I'll help them to realize their vision. - ♫ I'll be holding to my captains ♫ and my swords in the bargain, yeah. - Then I use my skills that I've learned in engineering, just because I love gear, and I love gadgets. (slide guitar plays) So it's their vision, but I'm going to supply the paints, and I'm going to supply the canvas.
I'm going to say, "Here, use this brush for this part." They are doing the actual painting of the image. It's their work, and it's their song, and their music, and their ideas. (country bass riff and vocals play) - ♫ Their voices shine like rhinestones ♫ and blind us to sleep at night.
- I came from a background in engineering, so I started by learning the equipment and then watching what producers do, and then having my own opinions on what they were doing. So when I had my own clients, I was ready to jump in and take that production role, so I do both in the studio. Oftentimes, I'll engineer and produce at the same time. It just is easier for me to create the sound that's in my ear's eye, and I'll be able to create the sound using the studio tools that I have.
Then I also am a mixer, because I'll take what's been recorded and then I'll do a final balance on it. It'll make it finished. I'll make it ready for consumption, basically, ready to be listened to by everyone. (driving bass, guitar, and drums play) I got my first studio job in San Francisco. I basically worked for free, and realized that if I really wanted a career as a producer, I would have to go to Los Angeles and not stay in San Francisco.
So I moved to L.A. and got a job at Tower Records because no one would give me a studio job at the time. While I was working at Tower Records, I met the people from a band called Green Jello, and part of the members of Green Jello were also in a band called Tool. When we started recording the Green Jello record, it was very easy to record Tool at the same time, so that's how we all got together to do the first Tool record.
Then it made a big splash, and one thing led to another, and here we are today. (slide guitar riff plays) I like that. - ♫ Little piggy went to the market, ♫ another piggy stayed home. - One more. - ♫ Another piggy had roast beef, ♫ another piggy had none. (slide guitar wails) - One of my first fun, creative moments was with the Tool record where I really thought about, what is the loudest sound in the world? Well, let's try to get a crane and get a couple pianos, and just drop some pianos from cranes and record that and see what that's like, but I couldn't get any company to help me with this idea, so I got the two pianos anyway.
They were cheap, 50-dollar pianos, and we brought them into the studio and miked them up, and then the drummer, Danny Carey, had a shotgun, so we loaded that up and started shooting the piano, recording the sound of the piano as it's being shot, and it was quite dramatic. It was this big, rumbling sound, and then we had purchased some sledgehammers and pickaxes, and I gave everyone safety equipment, gloves and goggles, and said, "Okay, now we've got this miked up.
"Let's destroy these pianos," and so we just completely dismantled these pianos and recorded every bit of it, and then created a song on the Undertow Album called Disgustipated. I realize that even if it hadn't worked, even if we didn't use any of it, the memory of that session, we'd have forever. So why not do that with every session? So if it's possible, I'll try to build something into every session that you'll remember forever.
To do that, I have a box full of toys that I'll bring to sessions, and then I'll pull something out when I think it'll help inspire the artist to do something different, to break out of their box that they're in. So I have some of these things here. For instance, this one, where you take an old speaker and you wire it backward, so it's actually being used as a microphone. We put that right up to the kick drum, and it sounds just like an 808-style kick, like a boom kick.
Then I'll use a hose and tape a microphone onto one end, and drape the hose underneath a drum kit, and the sound that you get is a great room sound with drums, but it doesn't have all the shrill cymbals in it, so you can use as an effect or as a replacement for a drum room mic for better drum recordings. It's really an exciting thing to do. There's times when there'll be just an inspirational moment, like I thought, well, if you take a potato and you can use the power of a potato to drive a small clock, right? I thought, well, why can't you use a potato as an audio filter? So we invented a new thing.
It's a potato filter. What does it sound like? Well, kind of okay, I guess. (laughs) It was more fun just doing it than actually using it in the track, but maybe that's all that matters. It's inspiration. So imagine this. Plug this out of an amplifier. - Okay, the speaker out? - This is the speaker out of an amplifier. - Okay. - And then plug in various kitchen appliances into this. (both laugh) You're laughing.
And then you mic up the kitchen appliance with a mic, okay? I've done this before, and if you use the right amp and hit it the right way, the appliance starts up. - Hey. - It's amazing, weird, and wonderful sound, probably totally not appropriate for this music, but what the hell? - No, it's just ... yeah. - You know? There's a lot of people that are doing very unusual things that you don't really hear about. It's not in any textbook, so I wrote a book called Recording Unhinged, and it's a book about unconventional recording.
Besides my own stories, like, 35 people all shared their little secrets, their techniques, and I got to draw diagrams of how they did things, and other panel illustrations in there too. (heavy rock music plays) When there was an opportunity to write this book, I spent a lot of time sharing these stories and writing them down, kind of as a legacy project.
And I realized, there's really a lot to share, so I started speaking in front of classrooms and doing workshops. I'll record a project, and we'll just do every wacky thing that we could possibly do, because I want to show people that come to these workshops exactly how far they could go. Just come on, let's be fearless, and let's just go all the way. Plus, when I go to these places, I also pick up a job or two.
If I want to record an album, heck yeah, you know? We look around for the best and most unusual places to record. When I was in Bergen, Norway, there was a submarine actually available, and so we got a chance to do some bass recording on a submarine. That was great. I hope to be doing a lot more of this type of recording. (band plays a country rock jam) I think the type of space that you record in is essential in being a creative producer because a perfectly tuned, soundproof studio is oftentimes really uncomfortable to be in, so why would you do it? Why would you spend time there? So there's very few walls in the studios that I like to work in.
I like to work in a big, open room where I'm sitting in the same room with the artist. We're communicating directly, not through headphones or through glass. Then, I think, things happen more comfortably and more immediate. - (strumming guitar) Twice. - Is it twice every time it comes to the whoo whoo hook? - Yeah. - Yeah. - And then... (guitar and organ play slowly) - I like to record through analog equipment, and I use a Neve 8038 console for the microphones on the way to ProTools.
Then in the computer, I'll manipulate the sound with plugins, and plugins are very important now, so I use a combination of external rack-mounted analog gear and plugins to finish the recording. It's very important to keep up with the technology so that you're on top of new ideas and digital plugins for recording. I have to keep learning every single day so that I can keep up.
I'm learning to enjoy mixing in the computer better, but I find it lacks a few things that I like to use, so I'm working with a company called Waves on creating some new plugins that will add a different flavor and a different color, my own special style, to not only my recordings, but other people's recordings, too. I think right now, the tendency is for people to be a little lazy because most of the instruments that they could use are easily accessible in ProTools or in Logic, but I want the artist to actually go out and feel the music, even if the recording is not as good as what you could get with someone else's recording, in a virtual instrument, it's worth the time to go out and make your own sounds and do your own recording.
(upbeat drum and guitar play) I'd like to see more women artists writing, producing, their own music. There's a few out there that are fantastic right now, and one is Lady Gaga, and the other is Taylor Swift, so I'd like to see more of this type of thing, because a lot of the women artists are using other people's material, and I know that they have it in them to write their own material, write their own music, so that's what I'd like to see. - [Voiceover] Host is still on 17.
- Uh-huh, and the room mics are 13 and 14. - Good. Can you get ... - Great, you want to play some more, please? - Yeah. - Same kind of thing with some tom fills. That's great. You know, being a woman in a male-dominated industry, I have not really felt discriminated against. I think it's difficult for anyone, male or female, to get started and to be successful in this business. The job is working 16-hour days in a studio, and you really just have to completely dedicate your life to this, but production is my passion.
Inspiration comes from the music, and the artists, and the emotion that they're trying to convey with their writing, because I want to follow through and help them make something special. Over the last three years now, whenever I get a chance, I'll have an easel set up in a session, and I'll be painting while I'm working with an engineer who's actually turning the knobs. And channeling the music, too, because depending on the music that's happening on this session, the paintings are completely different every time.
I think because I get to paint, I'm a better producer. Suddenly, there's much more creativity overall, and I think it inspires other people in the room, too, to be more creative, so it really enhances the sessions to be painting during the sessions. (driving country rock plays) As a producer, I want to build in extra time in the budget so that we can have some fun, make some mistakes. You never know what comes out of it.
(slide guitar wails while bass and drums thump) I think it's important for everyone who's in the recording industry or wants to be a producer to become more experimental. Being creative with audio is as much holding a paintbrush in my hand as the actual real thing with a canvas. It really is a wonderful tool for being an artist. (final song chord continues to reverberate) (guitar riff closes) (metronome ticks)