An album-by-album account of working with iconic artists such as Anthony Kiedis, Michael Stipe, Gord Downie, and Bono, from a leader in the field
Mark Howard, a record producer/engineer/mixer and a trailblazer in the industry, will take you through the star-studded world of recording and producing Grammy Award–winning artists. Listen Up! is an essential read for anyone interested in music and its making. Along with the inside stories, each chapter gives recording and producing information and tips with expert understanding of the equipment used in making the world’s most unforgettable records and explanations of the methods used to get the very best sound.
Listen Up! is both production guide and exclusive backstage pass into the lives of some of the planet’s most iconic musicians. Writing with his brother Chris Howard, Mark Howard provides a rare glimpse into the normally invisible, almost secretive side of the music story: that of the producer and recording engineer.
|Product dimensions:||7.00(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Born in Manchester, England, Mark Howard is a Canadian record producer, engineer, and mixer. He has worked with Neil Young, R.E.M., Willie Nelson, Peter Gabriel, U2, the Neville Brothers, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Marianne Faithfull, and the Tragically Hip, among many others. He currently lives in Burlington, Ontario. Chris Howard is an author and painter.
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The Neville Brothers at Emlah Court
The recording engineer, supervised by a producer, operates the recording console and other equipment. The engineer also sets up the studio and recording equipment. I started as a recording engineer and worked my way up to the producer's chair.
In 1988 I was asked to work on an album with the Neville Brothers. Before leaving Canada for New Orleans, I was asked to bring a couple of microphones with me. I picked up a Neumann U47 and a Sony C-37A, both vintage tube mics. Customs at the U.S. border hassled me about why I was carrying them, and I said I was a big fan of jazz music and was taking them so I could record at a jazz festival. They let me go: I passed my first importing test.
Once I arrived in New Orleans, I met Dan — Daniel Lanois — the producer, in the enormous apartment he had rented in the French Quarter, at 626 Royal Street.
"I got you a nice place to stay over on St. Ann Street," he told me, adding that he was only staying a couple more days and that once he left, I would move over to his place. He gave me the address of my accommodations on St. Ann and asked me to meet him back at his apartment in the morning.
Walking through the French Quarter, passing Bourbon Street, the swarms of drunken people and even a brass band made the experience a bit surreal. I grew up in a steel city that was a tough place full of blue-collar workers, and I'd never met anyone openly gay in my life. Suddenly, I found myself in the midst of men in assless chaps, and large hairy guys kissing young white boys in their underwear.
Still reeling from the antics of the French Quarter, once inside the house on St. Ann, I rang the bell and was greeted by a nice, old British man named John; he and his friendly wife were a welcome sight. He showed me my beautiful guesthouse, where I spent my first night alone in a strange city full of the most bizarre people I'd ever met, wondering what I'd just fallen into.
The next day Royal Street was blocked off and full of street musicians and tarot card readers. Dan and I went out for breakfast to a cool English place called The Cheshire Cat. He told me that he was leaving the next day for England to work with Brian Eno in a place called Woodbridge, a beautiful market town in the county of Suffolk. He informed me that I was responsible for finding a place to make the Neville Brothers' record, and that I'd need to buy and import all the gear from Canada, England, and New York. I'd have to set up the studio, buy a car, and furnish the place so we could sleep there. I also had to open a bank account. I basically had to be a real-estate agent, an international gear importer, and an accountant — all in an age with no cell phones or computers. To top it off, I looked really young for my age, more like a fifteen-year-old than a twenty-two-year-old; I still didn't even need to shave.
I met with Lucy Burnett, a New Orleans socialite with old money from a southern family — a real southern belle. She had the corner balcony apartment at Royal and St. Philip Streets, the best location for Mardi Gras parties. She was likely in her forties at the time and loved any reason to throw a party.
I explained my situation and she said, "I have just the guy for you, a real-estate guy who knows all the best properties."
First, I had to find a car so I could start looking for locations, and I bought a black 1965 Cadillac Calais — a huge boat in amazing shape, with low miles, electric windows, and white-wall tires. It could fit four people on the front bench seat and was the perfect people mover.
Dan had given me a ridiculous budget of only $1,200 per month to find a place to make the record. I met with the agent uptown at the Columns Hotel. The first location he showed me was an old children's asylum, and frankly, it was scary. It still had old beds and cribs in which the children used to sleep, and the vibe made it feel as though the kids had been prisoners.
He then showed me an old Mardi Gras float hanger. In one of the buildings I opened a janitor's closet, and through the darkness I could see a sink that was moving. I flicked on the light and discovered the sink was overflowing with huge cockroaches that immediately flew at me.
After not having much luck finding a place, I remembered a building beside the Columns Hotel, on St. Charles Avenue, that was for sale. I asked the agent if we could see the building, and he arranged an appointment. It was a five-story place called Emlah Court. A Louisianan oil baron had built it for his five daughters, each one getting a floor, and he'd used the first letter of each of their names to create the name Emlah. The entrance was two large glass doors framed with wrought iron, and inside was a cage elevator with mirrors on the walls. Each floor had a single huge apartment — each with three large bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a huge living area and separate dining room — and all the rooms had fifteen-foot ceilings and beautiful French windows from floor to ceiling. The place was perfect for making the record.
One of the most important things to think about when choosing a place to record is something called "magnetic field." If a person has a single coil pickup in their guitar running through a tube amp, it causes a problematic hum. Often, a quiet spot can be found by facing the guitar in a different direction, but if there is a big power transformer outside the building or somewhere close by, you might not get a clean signal. I had developed a test for this and carried a Lawrence pickup for an acoustic guitar and a little Peavey battery powered amp. I trolled the pickup along the floors to see if there was any noise. Occasionally, fluorescent light fixtures would cause a huge noise even though they were on the ceiling below.
An old man owned Emlah Court. He had bought it cheap and thought he could flip it for a high price, however the real-estate market was at an all-time low and he'd had it up for sale for two years with no offers. I told the agent to offer the owner six months' rent at $1,500 a month, a total of $9,000, all up front if he'd let me have it. I didn't think anyone would buy the building in the next six months, and the rental would make the owner a bit of money. The owner considered the idea but countered with $10,000 for six months. I agreed.
With the location and car in place, I still had the task of getting all the gear and installing it at Emlah Court. I bought an Amek Matchless 32-channel console from England, a console known for its ruggedness. We chose this console because U2 had used an Amek Angela console on their last record and Dan and I liked the sound of it. I discovered I could import it into the United States without paying duties and tax if I brought it in on a temporary import bond.
We already had a high-quality Studer A80 mk2 24-track tape recorder to be used as a master tape recorder, although it was the size of a huge industrial fridge and was sitting in Canada. I got the same temporary import bond I'd used in England to have it shipped down, but I had to have road cases made to ship it in. I also needed to have racks made for holding all the outboard gear, as well as cases for them, so I called one of my old bosses, Lou Furlanetto from the Guitar Clinic in Hamilton. Because they made guitars there, they made me wooden racks with a sunburst finish, like on a Fender Stratocaster.
The Studer tape recorder had to be broken down into two cases; they removed the huge meter bridge and put that in one case, and the body went in another. I hired Rock-it Cargo to ship it all to New Orleans.
A lot of the remaining gear came from New York. I bought a Dolby A XP24 noise reduction rack because Peter Gabriel's So album was recorded with one, and he'd used it as an effect on his vocals. When the Dolby is turned off on a vocal, it hypes the sound. For effects, I got an AMS (Advanced Music Systems) DMX 15 delay that had a computer-controlled digital delay with a truly unique sound. It was used by Stewart Copeland of the Police. I also bought two Lexicon PCM 70s, which boast a digital effects processor with chorus, flange, reverb, multiband delays, and resonant chords. Known for its classic sound, it was employed on every Pink Floyd album and tour.
The speakers I chose were a set of Tannoy Monitor Golds. Tannoy is an English speaker maker. The speakers were intended for radio and recording studios, yet many people installed them in their homes because of their fantastic sound. I shipped them from England and had speaker cabinets made for them based on the Lockwood speaker-cabinet design.
The rest of the gear was bought from a local music shop in New Orleans called Sound Chek. The owner cut me some great deals on cables, microphone stands, and amps.
I was still living on Royal Street when the first shipment came from Canada, so I had to store the cases in the horse carriageway of the apartment building. Once I took possession of Emlah Court, the console arrived. The console was shipped in a huge brown road case that was twelve feet long and four feet wide, along with a huge case that held two power supplies and the console stand. I hired a mammoth guy named Jimmy Mac to help me move the gear inside Emlah court. The studio was on the second floor and there was no way the console would fit in the elevator. Jimmy ran the crews at Jazz Fest, so he had a gang of guys who knew how to move gear. We had to remove the console from the case and carry it in; however, the stairs we had to take it up had three landings. The console was so long it couldn't be carried flat and had to be tilted vertically and then balanced on its end. It took six guys to get it upstairs, and we warned the crew they'd have to lose a finger before damaging or dropping the console. Luckily, neither the crew nor the console was hurt. Jimmy's guys also carried the Studer tape recorder up, along with the rest of the cases.
With the gear in, it was time to install it. I set up the main control room in one of the bedrooms, leaving the living room for the performance room. I planned to sleep in the back bedroom. The top-floor apartment I set up for Dan. I used the console road case as his bed base and bought him a futon for the mattress. I had contacted an electrician, Mike Montero, to construct an electrical box that could be tied into the main panel, so I could have clean power to run the studio. Most of Emlah Court was clean in terms of the magnetic field, but there was a bad hum once you got close to the windows. On St. Charles Avenue streetcars on electrical lines ran down the center of the boulevard, and that proved to be where the noise was coming from. I needed to find a way to knock out that noise, so I ended up covering the windows with sheets of lead. When I found some Rubbertex I used that on the windows instead: it's a black foam material normally used to line the hulls of boats to drown out the sound of the motors. Finally, I put sheets of three-quarter inch plywood over it all. This knocked out all of the street noise and solved the magnetic field problems; the single coil pickups were quiet. Over top of the plywood-covered windows, I hung beautiful Indian tapestries.
I was alone in this big building for a couple of weeks, wiring and working out any issues. Once I had the studio set up and running, Bob Lanois paid me a visit. Bob had built Hamilton's Grant Avenue Studio and was an expert. He seemed impressed by Emlah Court, although he did notice that the cables coming out of the back of the Dolby rack didn't have any strain release. He helped me come up with a way to rectify that situation so the cables couldn't pull on the connectors.
It was Bob who encouraged me to finally try the seafood in New Orleans. I'd grown up in a blue-collar town and had never been exposed to anything other than meat and potatoes and fish and chips, and I'd certainly never eaten any international cuisine. Because of Bob, I tried crawfish, gumbo, and all the local dishes — he even had me eating broccoli. Bob had once told me the only reason I'd been hired was because I was small, agile, and I had the ability to walk into a room without attracting anyone's attention. He felt that if I was big or clumsy it would steal 60 percent of people's mental energy, which would disturb the creative process.
I created a swamp vibe in the studio by literally going to the swamp and bringing back Spanish moss to hang all over the place. I also found an old stuffed bobcat and some alligator heads, which I sat on top of the tape recorder.
The studio looked psychedelic. The Neville Brothers had been the backup band for the Grateful Dead for years, so they were into tie-dye. Charles Neville turned me on to the Grateful Dead's tie-dye guy, Dirty Bart. Pigpen was the first and best keyboard player for the Dead, and Bart was his friend. Bart got me some huge tie-dyed tapestries that I used to cover the studio walls. I also got some huge kilim rugs to cover the windows. Living in the French Quarter, I'd made friends with a guy who owned an Indian boutique. His name was Kruz, and he imported beautiful tapestries from India. He gave me incredible deals, and I used the tapestries to cover all the ugly road cases in the studio that I was using as stands for gear like the Dolby rack and the Studer 24-track tape recorder. Most of the furniture I got from thrift shops on Magazine Street, and I lit the studio like a film set. I'd found an old film house, Pan American Films, in the French Quarter that was going out of business. It had been the soundstage where some '60s and '70s TV shows like Morgus the Magnificent had been filmed. The old security guy said I could fill a shopping cart for a hundred dollars, and I found lots of film lights that reminded me of the ones from the opening of Looney Tunes. I also found some cool amps at the studio that I thought could be used for guitars.
In April 1987 Dan came back from Brian Eno's place in England. This was the first time he had seen the building and the studio, and he couldn't believe the amount of work that I had done in the month he'd been gone. The stage was now set for making the Nevilles' record. We had one more month to prep, and we spent that time gathering instruments and finding cool keyboard sounds. This was also the time when Dan began working on his first solo record.
We had a housecleaner, Miss Alberta, who was always disturbing the recording sessions. She would constantly yell my name through the building, "Mr. Mark! Mr. Mark! Where's my rags?" because I'd use her rags to clean the motorcycle collection we had so far assembled.
I slept on the floor of my room on a futon, but I was freaked out by all of the giant cockroaches getting on my bed. I'd heard that putting powdered boric acid on the floor would make a barrier cockroaches wouldn't cross, so I made a circle around my bed. Suddenly, Miss Alberta would not go in my room.
"I ain't going in Mr. Mark's room 'cos he into that voodoo."
She assumed the circle around my bed was some kind of voodoo ritual.
The Jazz Fest was on and we were invited to see Stevie Ray Vaughn perform on the President, a huge paddleboat like the one in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It had an impressive ballroom in the middle of the boat, where the show was. We sat on the balcony behind the stage. Stevie was intensely loud: he had a row of double-stacked Marshall amps with clear Plexiglas sheets in front of them because they were so loud that he needed to be shielded from the immense volume. It may have been the closest thing to seeing Jimi Hendrix live. The band was nowhere near as talented as Stevie was, but they held up their end, and Stevie was sweating like no performer I'd seen before.
After the show we went backstage to a little room that had been set up as a dressing room. Stevie was a little shy and it was all a bit uncomfortable because he didn't really know Dan. No one quite knew what to say to each other. Then Stevie noticed I was wearing an Albert King shirt, and his face lit up. He told me Albert was one of his heroes and how nervous he'd been meeting him — that he'd felt like a kid meeting a superhero, he was in such awe. I told Stevie that I'd worked for Albert mixing one of his shows and that Albert had told a similar story about meeting his own hero, who'd inspired him to play guitar.
"It's funny how we all look up to someone, and it's silly to be nervous because we are all in the same place at the end of the day," Stevie said.
Through the years I've discovered backstage can be an uncomfortable scene for artists — there's something awkward about being forced to talk to people — and I think Stevie appreciated having a conversation with me, talking about things he was into and not having to deal with people who only wanted to blow smoke up his ass.
Malcolm Burn, a musician from Toronto, came down to engineer the Neville Brothers' Yellow Moon sessions. Malcolm had been in a Toronto band called the Boys Brigade but had left to start a solo career. He had come down months before to cut some demos with the Nevilles at Dan's apartment in the French Quarter. He also came to New Orleans a couple of weeks before we started the Nevilles' record in order to get settled in, and we ended up spending a lot of time working on Dan's own record. I engineered a couple of songs because Malcolm was busy playing on Dan's record.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Listen Up!"
Copyright © 2019 Mark Howard and Chris Howard.
Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. The Neville Brothers at Emila Court
2. Bob Dylan
3. New Orleans with Brian Eno
4. Soniat Street
5. Dylan’s Oh Mercy
6. The Start of Kingsway Studio
7. Back in New Orleans
9. Iggy Pop and REM
10. The Birdhouse
11. The Tragically Hip
12. Casa Dracula
13. Emmy Lou Harris and Billy Bob Thornton
14. Dylan at the Teatro
15. Dylan’s Time Out of Mind
16. Iggy Pop
17. Willie Nelson
18. Marianne Faithfull
19. The Red Hot Chili Peppers
21. All the Pretty Horses
22. The Paramour Studio
23. Lucinda Williams
24. Sheryl Crow, Eddie Vedder, and The Waifs at Paramour
25. Tom Waits
26. Sam Roberts in Australia
27. Recording Around the World
28. Mumford and Sons
29. Robert Plant
30. Neil Young
31. Joni Mitchell
32. Ricki Lee Jones