The Artistic Roles of the Recordist
The recordist must have a clear idea of their role in the creative process for each project. The project may include the composer of the music, one or many performers, a conductor of an ensemble, and/or a specific recording producer. The recordist will need to identify what is expected of them toward the final artistic product, as well as the roles, contributions, and responsibilities of the others involved.
Of the many possibilities, the recordist may be functioning to capture the music as closely dictated by the composer. They may be functioning to capture, as realistically as possible, the performance of an ensemble, as precisely directed by the conductor; they may be functioning to capture the interactions and individual nuances of a group of performers, without altering the performance through the recording process; or the recordist may be functioning to precisely execute a recording producer’s instructions (often in ways that transform performances). In all of these cases and many others, the recordist is allowing the artistic vision and decisions of others to be most accurately represented in the recording. The recordist’s role then is to facilitate and realize the artistic ideas of others, and not to directly impose their ideas onto the project.
The recordist’s role sometimes might be to offer suggestions to the creative artists or even to take an active role in the artistic decisionmaking processes. The role of the recordist might be active in shaping a performance of an existing work, or in creating a new piece of music. The recordist might be active in determining the sound qualities of the instruments of the recording, or in determining the sound sources themselves. Vastly different levels of participation in the artistic process are often required from one project to the next.
Among the things that are consistent, is that the recordist must be mindful of their place in the process. Their contributions may be needed, but are often not sought. Their ideas may be helpful, but might get in the way of the artist’s creativity. Even when the recordist is asked what they think, the client may not really want to know. It is a delicate dance.
The process of writing a piece of music for a recording is often a collaborative effort, and this process can become even more complicated. Such songwriting may take place with many people (composer, per – formers, producer) or just a few (performer/composer and recordist/ composer). When it takes place in the studio it can be a laborious process that seems never-ending, and is sometimes incredibly gratifying and exciting. The need for creativity is always present, but the spark can be illusive.
In many ways, the recordist functions as a creative artist and can serve the traditional roles of a composer, a conductor, and/or a performer. The recordist also shapes sounds in nontraditional ways. Recordists have unique controls over sound and live performances that allow for an additional musical voice. It is possible to compose with the equipment (instruments) of the recording studio, to shape sounds or performances through the use of recording and mixing techniques, or to create a new musical environment for someone else’s musical ideas and performances.
The recording studio can be thought of as a musical instrument or a collection of musical instruments. In this way, the recordist may conduct all of the available sound sources (for example, bringing sounds into and out of the musical texture through mixing); may “perform” the musical ideas through the recording process; may alter or reshape the sounds of the sources, or “interpret” the musical ideas, in ways that are not possible acoustically; and may create (compose) new musical ideas or sounds.
Excerpt from Understanding and Crafting the Mix by William Moylan © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.
About the Author
Dr. William Moylan has worked with leading artists across the full spectrum of jazz, popular, and classical genres. His recordings have been released by major and independent record labels, resulting in wide recognition, including several GRAMMY award nominations. A leading educator and an active recording engineer and producer for over 30 years, he is a Professor and Coordinator of Sound Recording Technology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.