Gear Inspiration from Recording Engineer Bill Malina

Recording Engineer Bill Malina spoke to a group of students this past week about the recording process and the role of an engineer. I was privileged to tag along and listen.  Bill has worked with some of the biggest names in pop. He’s an incredibly nice guy, and it was lot of fun to see him work with the students.

His comments changed my perspective on gear.

As an acoustic gutiar player, I gravitate towards simplicity.  Even minimalism. Or, as I recently realized, towards ‘elegance’ in the scientific sense. In science and engineering, and particular in software coding, practitioners look for an ‘elegant’ solution. The cleanest, easiest, simplest way to achieve the goals. Perfectly matching the solution to the problem creates a certain ‘elegance’, as they say.

Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case with music. Equipment makes a difference. And Bill has a ton of equipment. It was pretty amazing to see his collection. All that gear gives him two really important things:

1. Excellence. Bill buys good equipment and then often ‘trades up’ – selling older gear to buy a great deal that pops up. He knows the folks at the music store, so when they have some equipment they need to move out the door, they know who to call. He continually improves and refines his studio gear in this way, building a high-quality, excellent-sounding arsenal of equipment.  The students heard that quality during the teaching session.  Vintage acoustic guitars.  Top notch mics.  Great playback system.  It was pretty impressive.  And, more importantly, inspiring.  With all that great sounding gear, it makes you want to play and record even more.

2. Flexibility. Some of the students did a ‘demo’ recording, just to see how the process worked. Bill was able to pull out extra tambourines, have another student play guitar, and another piano, all at a moment’s notice. This kind of ‘improvised’ recording process happens a lot with musicians.  A tune may need to be arranged, or it´s being written on the spot.  In any case, you want to be flexible.  When someone says, “Oh, it needs a shaker part during the bridge”, you need to have a shaker hanging around.

I was reminded in Bill’s studio that it’s ok to have some extra gear hanging around.  I can use it to get the best sound possible, and to have the most options available.

What do you prefer? More gear or less?