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Here is one topic all drummers and indeed all musicians, can never know too much about. Having sweated it out for years learning to play your instrument, having got the gig with your current band, it's now time to commit your music to tape. No doubt many of you have been through the studio experience before, with both good and bad results. So, just what is life like in the studio?  How do you get the job done?  How much do you need to know about the technical details? The following article by percussionist Alex Pertout represent his personal view of studio recording as a performer, composer and producer.

at metropolis studios
Recording session at Metropolis Studios (the legendary former AAV Studios in South Melbourne) Studio 1 with engineer Cameron Craig

As a percussionist I have recorded on hundreds of albums, many motion picture soundtracks and commercials. In my career so far I have worked with some of the best musicians, writers, producers and engineers working in Australia. This vast musical experience in the studio has really helped my vision in recording projects carried out in my own studio, as player, writer, engineer and producer.

Since I started playing I have always enjoyed the art of recording. I feel that it is one of the most rewarding sides, as it is there forever. I grew up with a Tascam 244 Portastudio in my bedroom, making countless recordings, mastering the art of bouncing tracks. This went on for years!  My current studio consists of a couple of Adats, a brc, Yamaha NS10s, Mackie 24.8 desk, Lexicon reverb, and some other outboard gear. I have a couple of Audio Technica mics, Electra Voice RE20s, Sure 57s, and tend to hire others when required. With my Adat system I am able to record endless tracks as you can keep putting different tapes onto one of the Adats. I do rough mixes of the tracks which I constantly listen and update.

As far as techniques of recording are concerned, I like to close mic instruments, in order to achieve maximum presence, for a real upfront sound. I also make sure to spend a lot of time in what I believe to be the crucial part of recording an instrument; finding the correct spot for the mic, as I don't like to eq sounds onto tape. Of course different mics pick up different ways, so you have to know which mic is appropriate for capturing that particular instrument. Also, as I have a large room with a high ceiling at my disposal, when recording certain parts I can incorporate some overhead mics and capture the room sound. That gives me the opportunity later on, to mix the upfront sound with the sound of the room, adding a greater sense of space.

I listen to music sitting right in front of my Yamaha NS10s and always get a visual picture of the ensemble. I can 'see' the player on the right or left or at the back of the stage. That really helps when I construct and mix my pieces as I have a vision of where I want the players in the overall musical picture. I always look at my recordings as paintings. I just keep listening while adding different colors here and there. This is the procedure in terms of a production. I always ask engineers questions, and whenever I am playing on records I make sure to study what's going on as much as I can. I also often get engineer Ross Cockle to record and co-mix some of my projects, as I have the utmost respect for his abilities.

I am always inspired by the productions of artists such as Peter Gabriel and Pat Metheny and strive to achieve the highest standard. As a creative artist you want to be able to arrive anywhere in the world and show what you do, in other words it has to stand up anywhere! I feel that I am achieving this with my current recordings and productions. Composer saxophonist Brian Brown has received critical acclaim for his release Flight which I produced, and the track Salvador which I wrote was chosen for a cd compilation entitled Percussionists On Fire by American magazine Jazziz.

On my current recording project From The Heart I have written all the pieces and I am in the process of adding new instruments from my synthesizer demos up. I always challenge myself to learn and write better compositions. Tunes that are melodic and contain interesting chords, not merely rhythm parts, but rather strong lyrical components. As drummers and percussionists we are often in a difficult position when it comes to harmonic knowledge. I always make a point of telling my students to take up piano, in order to open up their musical world.

The pieces I have written for this project are instrumental, and incorporate wordless vocals. Depending on the piece I am calling different players in and I am also doing the bulk of the engineering. So far the recording features players such as guitarists Mike Stern, Tommy Emmanuel and Matt Kirsh, pianists Mark Levine, Paul Grabowsky and Colin Hopkins, vocalists Christine Sullivan, Steve Wade and Kavisha Mazzella, bassists Jeremy Alsop, Craig Newman and Ben Robertson, drummers Darryn Farrugia and David Jones and guest percussionists Raul Rekow and Hossam Ramzy. The recording will be released in the near future.

© Alex Pertout. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior written permission from the author. This article was first published in Drumscene magazine.

© Alex Pertout. All Rights Reserved.