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Producer Fran Ashcroft explains how in recording less can be more

I've been recording for about 30 years now, which is a frightening thought. Very early in my career I discovered recording with less than state of the art equipment didn't need to be an obstacle to success. When I started out, the only 'real' studios were in London, and I had to make do with a 3 3/4 i.p.s Ferguson mono tape recorder...

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Producer Fran Ashcroft has credits diverse as Damon Albarn (Blur) and Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds. He recently returned to the UK after 15 years in the USA.

I've been recording for about 30 years now, which is a frightening thought. Very early in my career I discovered recording with less than state-of-the-art equipment didn't need to be an obstacle to success. When I started out, the only 'real' studios were in London, and I had to make do with a 3 3/4 i.p.s Ferguson mono tape recorder (which, interestingly, had a built in limiter that was quite good).

One of the most enduring lessons I learned was how to balance the sound of several different instruments and a vocal using only one mic - basically by trial and error until it sounded about right. When you listen properly, you're thinking musically, not technically, and can visualize the complete recording in your mind. Each component of a recording affects the other, and fussing over the individual parts in isolation is never very productive. I still cannot understand why anyone would want to mic every drum and cymbal in a kit - then try to reconstruct a natural balance afterwards. It makes much more sense to capture the kit as a whole, at the time, unless you're looking for a deliberately unnatural sound.

The one mic/mono demos secured me a publishing deal when I was 18 and led to the usual band/record deal/tour/album scenario, until I ditched being an artist and went into production, which was far more interesting. It was necessary to work in relatively high end environments then, as hiss/noise in the analog days was a real problem, and only overcome by high quality, expensive gear. With the advent of sequencing and the Fostex 8/16 track recorders and portastudios, things began to change a little, and it became affordable to set up a very modest home studio - though you still had to go somewhere decent to mix, and have the budget to do it.

Digital media have changed everything, and liberated us all from the prohibitive costs of recording - but at a price. Modern recording can feel more like assembling sounds rather than creating them, and often makes for a paint-by-numbers mind set which grows with every additional track and plug-in used. Yes, the technology offers fantastic tools, but no expensive or sophisticated gear makesany difference unless the fundamental material and skills have substance.

What constitutes a 'good' record is very subjective, but it's never down to frequency response; it's about listener response. Any old 'classic' record - which would be technically lo-fi today - will make just as an effective emotional connection with the listener as it ever did. Evoking that emotional response in the listener is the secret of successful recording. With that in mind, it doesn't make that much difference whether you have a humble cassette recorder of 48 tracks of Pro Tools. Personally, I'm working my way back to mono.

Contact Fran Ashcroft for recording, mixing, mentoring foraspiring recordists, and A&R input on new projects.

Email: happybeatstudios@yahoo.co.uk
Website: www.happybeat.net

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By David Mellor Thursday May 12, 2005
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