Tom Dowd and The Language of Music

I went to a special showing of this documentary (Tom Dowd and The Language of Music) at the Audio Engineering Society of the Pacific Northwest.

It was quite inspiring if you are any kind of engineer at all. Tom Dowd was a nuclear scientist that did some work on the Manhattan Project who ended up mixing a huge number of popular rock bands over the years.

One of the themes of the film was how mixing technology has changed, from the start, where the mix was determined by where you placed the microphones, to now, where it is all digital faders. (Tom Dowd actually invented the idea of sliders instead of big round knobs!) Dowd was mixing in eight track years before most other people.

I was reminded of a trip I made to Jamaica where I met Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. We were trying to raise some money and I told him that at that time, in 1995, we had just crossed over the boundary from 2-D/8 or 16-bit stuff, to 3-D and the start of 32-bit stuff. This was a key boundary and it was a good time to start up a new publisher, without the baggage of the past.

Remember, this was in 1995, when everything was switching to "internet time" and everything had to be done fast! fast! fast!

Chris picked up on this "sea change" immediately. He told us about how when he was running his recording studio, which is how Island Records started, he couldn't make up his mind about which 8-track machine to buy. He kept delaying the decision. Suddenly 16-track machines came out! So he bought those, and he had the most technically advanced recording studio around. Most notably, he said, there were things you could do, and that artists wanted to do, with 16 tracks that you couldn't do with eight tracks, without awkward bouncing and such like.

So everyone else in the recording business was stuck with 8 track machines while Island had 16 tracks. I learned from this that not everything has to be done fast! fast! fast!

These "sea changes", where the nature of the business you are in is changing out from under you, can make or break a company. A person I once worked for said I was paranoid because I was worrying too much about these kinds of changes. My response was to run out and buy "Only the Paranoid Survive" by Andy Grove.

I highly recommend it in these tumultuous times.

And for some more straightforward inspiration, rent or buy Tom Dowd and The Language Of Music.

This post is getting a bit long, but I have to say, for me, the movie was particularly inspiring because I have a Ph.D. in computer science and people sometimes think I am wasting my life in the software/entertainment business. So it was great to see a nuclear physicist very happy he made the career choice to engineer and produce records.