Making Records: The Scenes Behind The Music


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Making Records: The Scenes Behind The Music
Phil Ramone with Charles L. Granata
Hardcover; 320 pages
ISBN: 9780786868599

For an artist, there can be few human presences in a recording studio as reassuring as that of Phil Ramone—as his collaborations with some of the biggest stars in the business attest. Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra, both of whom Ramone produced on their last recordings, together with Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett, are but a handful of those who have accepted stewardship and guidance from the producer/engineer.

The superstars who have successfully entrusted Ramone with their voices bear witness to his ability to cater tactfully to and—crucially—steer large egos with aplomb. As Ramone puts it: "If I can stretch my brain, heart, and soul to bring them something new, I'm doing my job—as a producer and friend."

Throughout Ramone's distinguished career (he has won fourteen Grammy awards), it is this "good uncle" demeanour—combined with an irreproachable work ethic, and expertise in acoustics and sound engineering—that has earned him his enviable position as a producer trusted by the biggest stars.

At least, this is the impression that surfaces in Making Records: The Scenes Behind The Music, a collection of Ramone's anecdotes on historic recording sessions, and his opinions on the broad technical and human aspects of his trade. The tone of the book provides a good sense of the man's character: rigorous, methodical, passionate, perceptive, considerate, poised, hard-working and humble—and laudatory to collaborators (especially Quincy Jones, fellow engineer Tom Dowd, Andre Previn and Burt Bacharach.)

Between the "behind the glass" looks into such classic sessions as Dylan's Blood On The Tracks (Columbia, 1975) or Charles' Genius Loves Company (Concord, 2004) and digressions on the development of his own career and studio, Ramone shares his views on the art of record production in addition to explaining the attitudes/behaviours he deems important in running a smooth enterprise. Excerpts from artists' interviews are quoted as discursive reinforcements.

Two elements stand out in Ramone's approach to making better records: the importance of pre-production planning, and having a working understanding of the songwriting process. The former is abundantly detailed in his pre-session preparation cursus, while the latter's importance is supported by a chapter on Billy Joel's spontaneous songsmithery.

As a matter of fact, Ramone takes delight throughout the work not only in reminiscing about Joel's artistry, frequently and perhaps overproportionally, but also in stating the demanding process songwriters endure in their craft (offering some funny stories about his piano-playing friend along the way.)

Enamored with jazz and its practitioners since his days as a young violin pupil at Juilliard, Ramone peppers his book with jazz-related anecdotes. His recollections of Astrud Gilberto's Grammy award-winning "Girl From Ipanema" session for Verve, and about a talkback system wired from his studio to a popular jazz musicians' hangout, are particularly welcome and worth reading.

Notwithstanding some less gripping sections about microphones, mastering, echo and engineering internship/training, which are too superficial to appeal to professional engineers, Making Records: The Scenes Behind The Music remains a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in music production.

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