Recording Unhinged: Creative and Unconventional Music Recording Techniques By Silvia Massy (Book Review)
Emphasising the “Creative” in the Creative Process…
by Chris Loeffler
In preparation for a road trip, most people buy a Rand McNally map (er… they did before Google Maps). A small group of creative eccentrics, however, pick up Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Most people want information, some freewheelers want inspiration. Inspiration is what Sylvia Massy’s treatise on the art of recording is all about. Rather than a primer on the nuts and bolts of where to start with recording, Recording Unhinged dives directly into the how to keep the recording process creative, break through barriers, and how to ensure the journey of recording is as important as the destination.
Author Sylvia Massy has recorded or engineered for too many bands to list, from Tool to Johnny Cash, but rest assured, if you listen to music made in the last 30 years she’s undoubtedly behind at least a few of your favorite albums. In Recording Unhinged, Massy uses her career as a rough guideline to the narration, but happy eschews chronology to build on the unorthodox recording methods she details. An oversized hardcover book, Recording Unhinged is a hefty tome that is clearly meant to look good on a coffee table and start conversations. Art-quality glossy paper stock and bold, vibrant printing provide a fitting platform for the hundreds of illustrations and photos that accompany the text.
All major instruments have dedicated chapters describing methods, orthodox or otherwise, of capturing the instruments, as well as references to tracks where the end result can be heard. Names are dropped, hit songs dissected, but Massy’s tone is so conversational and energetic that the end result is a read that involves the reader rather than simply informing.
Few entries go beyond a single page in length, typically no more than a short paragraph or two. Related anecdotes from famous engineers and musicians pepper each page, sharing about half the total word count with Massy’s contributions. Plenty of “back in the day” photos are included to further break up the text, as are copious illustrations created by Massy. Everything is very digestible, and it is an easy book to read for 30 seconds or 30 minutes.
This isn’t an overview of the best places to start with recording; these are very personal (and opinionated) musings on how to capture the best performance in specific situations. As such, readers looking for an intro to recording, or even to discover the secrets behind certain songs from Massy’s catalog, might not find exactly what they were seeking.
Not quite a direct account of Massy’s decades in the recording world, not quite a “how to” for recording engineers or artists preparing to enter the studio, Recording Unhinged manages to combine light and fluffy insider stories with uber-specific signal chain discussions to create a story that is more about breaking barriers and being creative. Colorful, passionate, and ebullient, Massy’s words, illustrations, and photos combine to make a truly inspirational and entertaining experience that any engineer or musician will find something to take away and apply to their craft.