I always associate you with WHITFIELD STREET STUDIOS, I remember you being there on the Silva Screen re-recording sessions and also on TOMBSTONE with Bruce Broughton, who actually books the sessions for a film score recording, is it the composer the studio or the composers assistant?
It depends there are no rules and in most cases the composer will appoint people and a musical contractor is taken on board
first who will then book the studio and the orchestra on behalf of the composer, in other cases the film company will
book the studio and then appoint a musical contractor.
When did you start in the business and what made you decide to take this path?
I started in the recording business in 1962 as a runner but I was quick to learn as I had studied electronics and tape recording
and Hi-Fi was an interest of mine so I wasn’t exactly in the dark as far as recording and sound was concerned I knew what was going on in the business and I made a study of all the studios and record labels.
How much time does it take to set up the studio for a session of 100 musicians, and does every musician have his or her own microphone, and do you record synthesisers separately or do they perform at the same time as the orchestra?
It can take between 6 and 10 hours to set up for a full film session and can in some cases take longer everything has to be set up and tested as there will be no time to make major changes once the orchestra is seated and ready to record.
We use the Decca Tree system which comprises of three omni direction microphones in a triangle arrangement for the main overall sound then there are a series of spot microphones for the string sections and most other elements of the orchestra will also have spot microphones but these will be closer for spotlighting solos and featured parts. In the early days of Synthesisers they were recorded live with the orchestra but this caused many problems as time was spent perfecting sounds while the orchestra were waiting which was not a cost effective way of recording, today the keyboard parts are pre-recorded on to a pro-tools hard drive system and played back while the orchestra is recorded at the same time.
What equipment would you normally utilise for the recording of a film score?
These days the standard is a pro-tools system or similar which is a computer with a very large hard drive the pre-records like the keyboards, rhythm tracks etc and the film will be on the pro-tools system ready for playback while recording the orchestra in sync on the many other empty tracks available. The front end of the recording chain is very much the same as it’s always been we still have musicians playing in a room with microphones and a mixing console where the balances and sounds are achieved, magnetic tape is largely a thing of the past and hard drive digital recording has given everybody more options to change things after the event and it’s a lot easier to solve problems thanks to computer technology.
If there is a choir involved are these recorded separately, I ask this because when I went to the sessions of a Trevor Jones score at abbey road he recorded the boy’s choir then recorded the music and they were then mixed together?
In most cases and in my experience the choir is recorded after the orchestra Jerry Goldsmith would always record the choir after the orchestral sessions, recording the choir first is very unusual and can cause timing problems.
When I started there were no schools to teach you recording you either had a feel for it or you didn’t, most of the fifties and sixties engineers started as runners and learnt fast from the older engineers who in fact started in disc recording, once you found yourself on the board it was down to your gained knowledge and natural skills when I started it was not as technical as it is today recording was much simpler but we had to be more inventive because of the lack of advanced equipment we have today it was more of a practical job rather than a technical one.
Today we have schools and universities where you can learn all about recording and music and in fact today a top recording studio would only be interested in taking on a graduate so it’s really a closed shop now unless you’ve gone through some kind of advanced training.
The industry must have changed a great deal in the past thirty or so years, would you say the job of a recording engineer has been made easier by developing technology etc?
Yes there have been major changes and it’s far more technical and complicated today but in many ways the job is easier because you can correct many problems and repair bad performances but I do feel at times that the technology has taken over and I feel that more time is spent on sorting out the technology and the concentration of recording the music has become secondary when I started all I had to do was mix music, today I have to worry about so many other technical things so my concentration is split but I have to live with that because that’s the way it is now.
When you started out in the business did you want to specialize in the recording of scores for films and television, or was this something that you began to become more involved with as your career progressed?
When I first started I was more into recording pop music of the day and then with the emergence of the Beatles the music business changed and rock bands were everywhere and record companies were signing them up and many of the older engineers were not interested in recording rock bands and working unsocial hours so the younger guys like myself were given our chance so after a decade of being a rock engineer I decided I wanted to branch out and become an all round engineer capable of recording everything I started to work on many classical sessions and cast recordings and through this medium I met Sydney Sax the leader of the National Philharmonic Orchestra and he was impressed with my work and recommended me to Jerry Goldsmith and that’s when my film score recording career started and through working with Jerry it opened up many doors for me.
Can you tell us what being a recording engineer actually entails?
Basically my job is to faithfully record the music being played by a performer or orchestra and to fulfil my clients wishes and requests I am responsible for positioning the microphones and mixing and balancing them using a multi channel mixing console I will also be involved in the final mix down process which will be used for a CD or film.
When I started I had no musical education but I obviously had a good musical ear as I was able to mix music very easily, over the years I have picked up enough musical experience working with musicians and producers. Its different today as so much is placed on engineers and assistants musically that an advanced knowledge of music is essential in fact all the recording training courses include a musical study course as well.
Music in a film always seems to left to the last minute, I presume that recording sessions are always the last thing to be done on a movie, how long after the actual recording of the music is the final mix done?
Yes before the music can be recorded you need a completed and edited film so the music really is the last stage, in my experience the final film sound dub is made directly after the music scoring sessions have been completed in fact I have worked on films where the final dub is going on at the same as the music scoring sessions and after each day I’ve sent the mixed music cues after my day to the scoring stage for the final dub the next day.
How far in advance do composers/film companies book the studio for a session?
Major large room studios are normally fully booked for months so as soon as the film goes into production a studio is booked in advance which can be several months ahead of the scoring sessions but as so often happens the filming will over run and then the scoring sessions have to moved back.
When a score is recorded onto a movie and then is rejected for what ever reason, is the music still the property of the production company or does this get returned to the composer and have you ever recorded a score that has then been rejected and then asked to record the replacement score?
The rejected score is the property of the film company as they have paid for the score to be composed and recorded if the composer wants the rejected score for a CD release an agreement would have to be negotiated with the film company but it’s very rare for an original rejected score to be released on a CD. I have a couple of times recorded a new score after the first one was rejected but not recorded by me and I have also recorded a couple of scores that were rejected and then recorded by somebody else in the case of a re-recording it is normally with a new composer.
Is it helpful for you to have the composer in the recording booth with you when recording a score?
It’s not essential but it can be a great help to me because the composer can ask for balance changes without having to listen to a playback so it saves a great deal of time, if the composer is in the room conducting every take will then have to be listened to before moving to the next cue.
When I was at the sessions for 3 10 TO YUMA, Marco Beltrami had already recorded certain sections of the score in the States and recorded the remaining sections at Abbey road with a small string section and also a guitar, is this something that happens more regularly now?
Yes this can happen and it’s becoming more regular now because film dubbing stages want more options and this type of recording can separate all the various major parts which would give the film dubbing engineer more control mixing the music around the dialogue and effects it’s known as stems so we refer to a string stem a brass stem a percussion stem and so on in fact the dubbing engineer has much more control over the music mix now then they ever had before and the new digital technology has made this possible.
The musicians union allows you to record thirty minutes of music per four hour session so you could say an hour’s music would take just two sessions to record if you were working on a tight budget this would be the case but in reality a major high budget film with a top composer you would expect at least ten sessions to achieve ultimate perfection and performance but if the director wants changes in the writing this would involve booking extra sessions to allow for that.
When you are recording the score for the movie do you also make a tape for the purpose of a soundtrack CD release?
Yes a stereo tape for CD release would normally be created at the same time as the film score mix but in some cases a new stereo mix can be made after the film score mix, it really depends on the composer and whether he wants the CD mix to be different sometimes film score mixing requirements don’t work for CD listening so a separate mix is made afterwards.
What scores would you say hold a special affection for you and why?
I’m a big fan of Bernard Hermann’s work as I find his scores very atmospheric and are an integral part of the action, I’m also a great fan of Jerry Goldsmith’s work and having worked with him on a number of occasions my particular favourite is ‘Medicine Man’ I think he captured the South American feel superbly weaving the orchestra keyboards and percussion I know he was very pleased with the result. Bruce Broughton is another favourite and I have a great fondness for ‘Tombstone‘ Bruce had only twelve days to compose the score and we made a live final mix on that one as we had to meet a very close dubbing and release date.
Many Thanks to Mike for his time and patience….