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Tony Visconti: the Autobiography

Reviewing the autobiography of record producer Tony Visconti - a master of the production craft.


It has been Tony Visconti week all week in Audio Masterclass. Actually, somehow it spread over two weeks, but you can read the earlier installments here...

It's Tony Visconti week in Audio Masterclass!

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Equipping Your Home Recording Studio

The audio machine that warps the fabric of time

It's not often that a book comes out about record production, and autobiographies are even more rare.

It is interesting though to gain insights into actual production practice and compare the finished results with the descriptions of how the recordings were made.

There is one repeated feature, not just in Visconti's book 'Tony Visconti: the Autobiography' but in almost all accounts of record production at the highest level...

And that is strife.

Great recordings seem mostly to be born out of conflict. Conflict between the members of the band, the artist/band and their management, management and the record label... everyone involved has their own set of priorities, and clearly everyone wants to make as much money for themselves as possible.

But the one person who does not get involved in conflict is... the producer.

It is the producer's job to make the best, most marketable recording possible. And generally that means getting people to work together effectively.

Other than in the case where the artist is the hired hand of the producer, there are few situations where the producer would ever need to be argumentative or aggressive.

This theme runs all the way through the book. That the various tensions that arise have to be resolved in the studio. And whatever tensions arise between the producer and the other participants have to be smoothed out so that work can progress.

Another theme that runs throughout the book is technology. Visconti is a 'hands on' producer who understands the recording process. Many producers of this era would concentrate solely on the music and leave the knob-twiddling to the engineer.

But although Visconti plainly loves technology, he doesn't come across as a 'gear junkie' of any kind. I doubt if the differences between the Neumann U87 i and the Neumann U87 Ai would matter to him. He would, I strongly imagine, pick whichever mic sounded right for the artist and not worry beyond that.

Visconti also makes the point that he had a certain 'era' as a producer. He had a heyday, after which people started to view him as old school.

He tells us that he owned the ninth SSL mixing console ever to be manufactured, and he could charge £2000 a day for it ($4000). That was in 1983. But by 1989 people were making whole albums in their bedrooms on Akai S900 samplers, and his world-class console could only get him £500 a day ($1000).

However, Visconti has hardly gone away and is still active as a producer. One could speculate that the home studio boom has had its day too by now. Everyone is doing it so it's nothing special.

So the era of the big-studio schooled producer could quite possibly return.

In conclusion, I found this a highly interesting book. I'd find any book about record production interesting, but this was very readable and entertaining too.


By David Mellor Thursday November 30, 2006