When listening to recorded jazz music it's easy to take for granted the dynamics of what took place behind the scenes in the recording studio. The final listening experience is the culmination of meticulous skill, creativity, and hard work, of not only the performing musicians but also skilled technicians who work diligently to capture the essence of the music that we hear.
Technology has changed both the playing and recording field. All genres of music have been affected to varying degrees by technology and the changing nature of the industry. Whether in the performance, the recording, the mixing, or the mastering stage, the process of realizing the final product has been changed fundamentally by technology for better or worse. Even the initial creative process leading to composition has been altered by the new tools of the trade. It is not uncommon to meet a self professed "musician" that really hasn't any facility on what we once recognized as an "instrument." Almost anyone can make a musical statement by learning to manipulate technology rather than learning to actually "play" an instrument. And when you combine this new paradigm with some of the now industry-standard recording platforms, the creation of music can exist totally in the virtual world.
With technology easily at the musician's fingertips, why is a recording studio even needed? Think about it. What can't you do with a top of the line VST plug-in, a great sounding "modeling" reverb, a few carefully edited loops, and a lap-top computer?
Well thankfully there are indeed some things that can't be done in the virtual world. A few of the tangible factors that exist in creating Jazz music are things such as interplay, improvisation, human error, and expression in the moment. They are all accounted for in real time
in real studios such as Walkerecordings Jazz.
In what is likely the most competitive city in the world, New York, and with the present confused state of the music industry, trying to survive as a recording studio is a constant battle to say the least. Some say that the days of the "Big Studio" are obsolete. With home studios, hard disc recording, loops, and plug-ins, the business of recording music has changed profoundly. Many say that the secret to survival in this environment is to specialize -to do what you do best and carve out a niche. That is precisely what the Walkerecordings studio is doing by exclusively recording jazz music.
Walkerecordings opened in 2001 by producer/engineer/musician George Walker Petit on 21st street in Manhattan. The studio comprises two live rooms and a spacious control room all designed by an award-winning acoustician. Petit made careful decisions when buying top of the line recording gear with names such as Neve, Amek, Neumann, AKG, Lexicon, Slingerland, Sennheiser, Royer, and Martech. Petit's technical insight led him to acquire "signal paths" as opposed to "pieces" of gear which help to answer musician questions such as What is the best microphone, preamp, and compressor to use when taping an instrument? The end results are recordings that sound great.
What makes Walkerecordings different is Petit. Petit picked up his engineering chops over the last 25 years working in and/or owning recording facilities in New York, L.A., and even in northern Vermont. He has learned over the years that each player is different and has a sound that might not be recorded as well as one would expect by using the "normal" gear or approach. He states "For example, every drummer has a different touch and method of expression'if the drummer has a light, traditional approach to brushes the music being performed is subtle. Microphone choices and placements must be made to correctly translate this player's performance to recorded sound, right? Well of course, but there are a lot of engineer/producers out there that setup the same old snare microphone every time'and are used to tracking R&B sounds, not Jazz." Petit has studied and been exposed to the music and has accumulated thousands of hours of sessions over the years ranging from producing for Columbia records in the 1980's to writing music for commercial television advertising. It's his passion, his hobby, his job, and he loves his work.
As Petit's name gets around and the jazz community hears his approach he is getting a lot more calls to book his studio or bring his engineer skills to other facilities by bringing his sound and sensibilities (not to mention microphones) with him. "Yeah, everyone has their own thing, right? You hire a certain horn player because of the way he sounds." It's the same for an engineer and it should be. Listen to the top guys like Van Gelder, Farber, Schmidt, Scheiner, and Baker' they all have a sound that is identifiably their own and that is why people use them. "I guess I have developed a sound that seems to work for a lot of people" states Petit. Some of the New York players that have been either recorded or mixed by Petit recently are: Seamus Blake, Donny McCaslin, Eric McPhearson, Eric Rasmussen, Mark Ferber, Jamie Fox, Dafnis Prieto, Johannes Weidenmuller, Justin Flynn, Tom Guarna, Don Falzone, Scott Neumann, Scott Lee, Jason Wildman, Brad Shepick, Tim Luntzel, Jon Davis, Sunny Jain, Carlo Derosa, Dave Ambrosio, Khabu Young, Steve Hass, Yosvany Cabrera, Mark Dodge, Brian Drye, Allison Miller and Dave Allen'and literally dozens more. And these musicians are getting released.
As Petit wisely states "Hell, if you are about to part with a lot of money to do a CD you'd better trust your recording team and not just your players." So what are the 'other' factors that should be considered when making a studio choice? Well for a start, as in most service industries; it's the studio's personnel and related experience, the familiarity of the engineer with the sound of the genre, and perhaps most important: understanding and trust.
What about the studio vibe? "It's laid-back'you don't feel as though you are right on Fifth Avenue across from the Flatiron building in Manhattan' it feels more like a comfortable hang with aesthetics such as a comfortable atmosphere and amenities for the musician, which is what you would expect from a professional New York studio.
Finally, Petit owns the studio and only takes projects that he believes in. "Why break your neck doing stuff you don't dig? That is also the stuff you won't do well, and won't want to put your name on." If Petit is a part of the team on a project, you can expect him to give it his all and perhaps even to bring some creativity to the project, and some fun. He states that since it's his studio, he has been known to undercut his own budget to do a fun project.
Petit's states his own bottom line: "Yeah, well this is what I do, and I like what I do, and it seems that others also like what I do'I've been pretty lucky."