SH Spotlight The DOORS: My interview with the legendary engineer/producer BRUCE BOTNICK

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Jun 12, 2009.

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  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    (Note: This is being published on the DOORS Official Website as well. Take a look over there, it's a great site.)

    http://www.thedoors.com/

    One of the happy byproducts of my job is that sometimes I get to spend time with the creative people who produce some of our favorite music. This is happening now with THE DOORS, as I've been mastering THE SOFT PARADE and MORRISON HOTEL for 24 Karat Gold CD release on Audio Fidelity.

    Hanging around the Doors’ office recently with Jeff Jampol (head of the Doors Management) I was struck how seriously the Doors trademark is taken. Jeff strives to keep the name DOORS in front of the public, while maintaining rigid control on those who would exploit, dilute or otherwise harm the still-relevant force that is THE DOORS. I’ve seen Jeff take great pains to fix the smallest irregularity. For example, a DOORS t-shirt that they were licensing had a modern-looking copyright line added by the manufacturer at the bottom on the prototype. Jeff told them to take it off to exactly match the design of the late ‘60s. I doubt you’ll see a barcode anywhere near it…

    At any rate, hanging with Jeff is exhausting. Everyone (legit movies/tv/music, overseas, etc.) wants to license the DOORS stuff (music, image, etc.) all the time. Sorting this mess out requires constant vigilance, and Jeff gives it all.

    In the middle of this operation, Jeff asked me if, when I got together with legendary recording engineer/producer Bruce Botnick to work on THE SOFT PARADE and MORRISON HOTEL, I’d be interested in interviewing Bruce for my Forum website I told him “sure,” and that my Forum Members would be interested, not only because of the DOORS but because Bruce’s body of work is so immense that there is something for everybody.

    Both Bruce and Jeff are avid audiophiles, and like the rest of us nutty ‘philes, they really care about originality, authenticity, sound, fidelity, and releasing things in the BEST POSSIBLE PRESENTATION. They don’t just slap packages together, or release stuff willy-nilly, or alter things for no reason. They take really great pains to be truthful and to honor the original recordings while paying great attention to detail. DOORS fans are lucky because Bruce and Jeff and the Doors care so much about this aspect of the band to which way too many other managers, engineers, producers and labels may only give a passing nod. I notice that on the Doors website, a few of the hardcore fans go nuts or imagine a perceived slight or purposeful omission (same thing happens on my website Forum as well). I discussed this with both Jeff and Bruce and I know they try very hard to do the right thing all the time, and whenever a fan is frustrated or annoyed, Jeff and Bruce tend to bear the brunt of the fans’ anger and take the blame. This is also a part of the job, but I know that Bruce and Jeff try extra-hard to keep all the fans, including the hardcore ones, uppermost in their thoughts and their plans. Jeff admits they don’t get it right 100% of the time, but I know from personal experience both in business dealings and just hanging out with the DOORS crew that they are well-intentioned and everything is carefully thought out. However sometimes they just get “got,” as Jeff likes to say. They are human just like the rest of us!

    So, on a clear Friday at Bruce’s beautiful studio in Ojai, we sat for an hour and just chatted about his career. I had no questions prepared ahead of time (I felt it would be better to be spontaneous), but the minute we started recording the interview, the questions came to me fully formed like I knew they would; I had wanted to ask Bruce many of them for years. Here is some of our talk:

    SH: How did you feel about the music industry back at the beginning? Were you a fan of music? How did you end up doing what you do?

    BB: My father was a musician who played in studio orchestras, my mother was a music copyist who worked for both Frank Sinatra and your favorite, Nat “King” Cole. I used to go to sessions with my father and immediately was attracted to the control room side of the glass. I was born with the muse in me. I’ve always been a fan of all types of music. When I grew up, radio played EVERYTHING. Even in the 1960s, local stations here in LA would play Frank Sinatra alongside the Doors, Tony Bennett and then the Jefferson Airplane. When you listened to radio you got all different styles and were exposed to everything, unlike today, which is all “narrowcasting.”

    SH: Why did that change?

    BB: Because corporations took it over. When KHJ Boss Radio happened, that was the beginning, and when they started duplicating that all over the country and got to the point when they could do it via satellite, it was unfortunate. Today, the listeners don’t get everything that they should. I talk to some kids, and I’ll ask, “Do you know who the Beatles are? Do you know their names?” “Yeah, that was some group that my father listened to. Don’t know their names…”

    So they only listen to one type of music. And you wonder why the record business is the way it is?

    I think also a big change came when FM radio came in, and for example here in LA, KRHM, a middle of the road station, became KMET, which became the lighthouse for the 60s generation of rock-n-roll. That’s when entire albums could be played. KMET was one of the first cases of narrowcasting, and at the time, I loved it. We embraced FM as the savior of radio, but it was actually one of the main causes of narrowcasting of music on the radio.

    SH: Can modern, younger engineers create the way it was done in the old days, or is it a dying art?

    BB: In the old days, we used to do everything live in the studio. The other night, there was a testimonial given to legendary engineer/producer Al Schmitt at the Grammy® Museum here in Los Angeles. He was asked if he’d ever done any “direct-to-disk recording.” Of course, that’s all we could do in the beginning - there wasn’t any tape! When I started at Liberty Records, it was live to stereo and mono with the three-track as a backup. That’s how I learned how to do live balances. Today, engineers “build things” one track at a time. Loops and samples. Not too many of them know how to record a band, which is unfortunate. Probably the only time they ever did is if they went to engineering school or tried it on a friend’s band. In the class at USC that I teach to composers who want to write for motion pictures, I’ll sit them down with a 48 track tape of full orchestra tracks broken down to individual instruments. So they have it all in front of them, and some of them would open it all up and say, “Oh, it needs a little more of this or that,” and they would get a balance right away. Others would sit there and open one track at a time and analyze them and not have a concept that this was a full orchestra. Totally the wrong approach.

    There are staff engineers at some of the studios here in town (Ocean Way, Capitol, The Record Plant, etc.) that can still record a band live.

    SH: How long do you think big operations like that will last?

    BB: I think quite a while. I don’t think they are going to go away. I think that people in their home studios with their Pro Tool rigs get to the point where they want more. They realize the limitations of how long it takes, and they want that interaction of four, or up to a hundred musicians, playing together at the same time, and getting the same groove. Those engineers are always amazed when they see how easy it is to actually get a balance right away.

    It all comes down to listening to music. It’s part of your soul, it’s part of your life, you respond to it and to the musicians playing it. It is really healthy to listen to all types of music. Steve, you do it in your mastering work. When I started in the business, I would record commercials in the morning for someone like Midas Muffler, and then after lunch record some middle of the road elevator music or a children’s album for Disney. In the evening, rock & roll or jazz. Every day, I had all these different styles of music to draw from, so I feel sympathy for a lot of the new mixers who don’t have that variety from which to draw.

    SH: Your original style of mixing in the old days (the sound that makes us think, “Bruce Botnick did that”), did you have a mentor that helped you create that style?

    BB: I had the good fortune to sit behind (as a second engineer) some really good mixers. Some of their moves I agreed with, and some I didn’t. In the off hours, I’d bring my friends in and we would record. My style is literally what I hear in my head. Anybody can have equipment, it’s what you do with your ears, how you feel that counts. It’s a palate - you add your reverb, compression, or EQ, depending on what you feel is needed. It’s like using a paintbrush with different colors. Al Schmitt doesn’t use any EQ, ever, and he’s won 19 Grammys!


    SH: In your days working at Sunset Sound, what was it like there? Was it a happy place to work?

    BB: It was a great place. I never went home. It was my woman, so why would I want to go home? I was in love with the music, they had a shower there, and lots of Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes. I’d sometimes sleep on the couch in the control room. Not all the time, but a great deal.

    SH: In those days, did the standard” recording a song an hour” union thing hinder the musicians, or help them?

    BB: It was NORMAL to cut a song an hour. Also normal was paying the musicians and the studio more after 6 PM; the idea was to discourage recording in the evening when you should be home with your family. It went from $35.00 to $45.00 an hour in the studio.

    SH: The older music engineered by you that I’ve remastered began with the artist CHRIS MONTEZ - his first album on A&M. He had a unique sound, and I can remember not being happy with the Gold Star recorded tracks (erratic levels, etc) but when the Sunset Sound tracks came up (with your name on the tape box) all I had to do was turn the four faders up evenly, and to my surprise the sound was finished. The balance was there and the tone was perfect. Just the right amount of echo and just the right amount of compression on his voice and on the instruments. How did you do that?

    BB: I don’t care if it’s a heavy metal band or an orchestra; it has to sound pretty to me. It has to sound beautiful. There is beauty in all kinds of music. My job is not so much to analyze what is coming and make my own interpretation of it, my job is to capture what is really going on and be invisible. I want to make it sound as real as possible. I don’t like muddy and dark sound, and I don’t like screechy sound. One should be able to visualize the soundscape, where things are. I love mono because you can place things in perspective, you can spread things out. But now we are in a 5:1 world.

    I was just in the studio with a friend of mine - he was producing an act, and the singer stated that he had a vocal sound in mind. He went on line to YouTube and was playing back something through his laptop through two small speakers stating that THIS was the way he wanted it to sound - really bad mp3s attached to video. So, as a starting place you are in trouble. That’s the way it is today. I think that with time, this too will change, and the really good recording engineers (the ones that are really listening) will start to strive for something better. Because God knows what the next music style is going to be like, but you can be sure that it will be music - just not your father’s.

    SH: In the old days working on things at Sunset Sound did you monitor in mono like Rudy Van Gelder says he did at his New Jersey studios?


    BB: When I was tracking I had three speakers in front of me, left/center/right, and that’s how I listened. We actually had four speakers up when four track recording came in. I remember A&M actually put eight speakers up when eight track recording came in! The logic was that you should have one speaker per track. The problem was getting the speakers to sound alike.

    We listened to mono out of the center speaker. All speakers were Altec Lansing 604s with 75 watt Altec amps. This was the industry standard. It was kind of cool because all the studios had the same playback systems and we were all striving to make something better than what the speaker was telling us. I listened in mono to get the balance and spread that sound out to get the stereo. Today when I do a 5:1 mix, I listen in stereo to get the balance.

    SH: How many mics did you use on the drums?

    BB: Three microphones. Sony C37 overhead, one underneath the snare and an Altec “salt-shaker” for the kick. This was my standard setup in the old days. I constructed a wooden platform that was suspended off the floor six inches on foam, and resonated so that it complemented the drums. If you were the drummer, it was like you were moving to and fro on the ocean. That helped develop a big, open sound to get the “Detroit Motown feel.” Sometimes I put a Telefunken U47 about 10 feet in front of the drums, compressed the hell out of it, and it sounded great. When later on I was shown the multiple mic technique coming out of England, I tried it that way as well.

    SH: On the work you did with Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, were the vocals done live or overdubbed?

    BB: All live. Lani sang in the vocal booth using a Telefunken 47, the musicians were wearing headphones - singles, not like the big cans of today. Usually WWII Air Force rejects, as the state of the art for earphones hadn’t arrived yet.

    SH: When you first heard The Doors, what did you think?

    BB: I liked them. But I liked pretty much everything that came in the door. I had already been working with Arthur Lee and Love but these guys sounded unique.

    SH: How did you get that really unique drum sound on the first Doors album, the one recorded on four-track? The left channel has a totally unique sound with raging drum echo, delay, etc.

    BB: The echo chamber still exists, it had an Altec A4 and two RCA 44s in it. I had a trick to enhance John Densmore’s amazing drum playing. I delayed the echo coming out of the chamber using an Ampex 3-track machine recording at 15 ips with the Ampex Master EQ (AME) curve, and playing it back with the NAB EQ. There was a lot of pre-emphasis on the high end and it caused the chamber to react in a certain way.

    SH: Ah ha! THAT’S what it was. Nice to know after all these years. Tricky stuff!

    Did you, in your wildest imagination, ever have the idea that all these years later the Doors’ music would still be relevant, sought after and so well-liked?


    BB: No, you never know these things. People assume we knew when they walked in the room that they were going to be a hit but no, we didn’t know. We never assume these things. You can have a good gut reaction about a song you like and only hope that other people will have that same reaction. I’m lucky that the color red I see is the same red that other people see so they will relate to what I’m doing. If I was hearing blue and they were hearing red, then they can’t relate to what I’m doing.

    SH: Can we talk about Arthur Lee and Love? That was your second major eight-track LP, your first being the Doors’ STRANGE DAYS, correct?

    BB: We started recording right after my July ’67 recording of the Turtles “Happy Together” and then a Claudine Longet album on Aug. 9th, but by August 11th I was at Western starting FOREVER CHANGES [Botnick looks at old log book]. At that time, I was already mixing down STRANGE DAYS.

    SH: The sound of STRANGE DAYS and FOREVER CHANGES are totally different from each other, yet so close in recording time. Can you talk about that a bit?

    BB: Two different acts, two different styles. When I was working with the Turtles, they gave me a mono acetate of the Beatles SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, not yet released. I played it for The Doors and Paul Rothchild. At that point, I had acquired the first 3M eight-track from Wally Heider and didn’t give it back to him for two years. We looked at SGT. PEPPER as freedom to express and explore, and we looked at the eight track machine as winning the lottery - four more tracks to play with! There was a lot of experimentation with that.

    On FOREVER CHANGES, David Angel did the string arrangements that Arthur hummed, and I brought the Tijuana Brass influence to some of the songs. This is a good example of mixing styles of music, and the freedom of radio.

    When LOVE couldn’t get its act together, I took them over to a new environment - Bill Putnam’s Western Recorders Studio One. The backing tracks were recorded in 2 ½ days and all the overdubs and mixing were completed at Sunset Sound Studio 1.

    FOREVER CHANGES is a great album, but it didn’t sell well. Arthur wouldn’t go on the road, period. He wouldn’t leave Hollywood. We even had a minor hit from the album, ALONE AGAIN OR. Oh well. But I’m very proud of that album, very proud to have been a part of the music history that was FOREVER CHANGES. There is so much happening on that record that when I listen to it, it’s just like a fan would listen. I’m hearing things for the first time. Probably because I haven’t been mixing it and mixing it over and over again for 40 years.

    SH: The “A-Bomb” sound at the end of Love’s “Seven & Seven Is”, was that your idea?

    BB: Yes, I most probably got that from the Elektra Sound Effects Library. It had no relation to what the words were about. It explodes and the song goes off into this blues (laughs). I loved Arthur, he was great.

    SH: Was the goal to make a really tough sounding record with “7 & 7 Is”?

    BB: Well, it was just the next single. In those days an act was signed for a long-term contract. The thought being you signed an act, and you did two, maybe three albums a year, they worked their way up, eventually they’d become successful, and you would make your money back. It was about the music - it wasn’t about selling.

    SH: What do you think when you read that certain modern acts take a year - or years - to record one album?

    BB: It’s crazy! It’s emotion that has to be recorded, and it’s not like building a building. I remember back in the 60s, a group like THE VENTURES would come in and record side one of an album in the morning, take a lunch break, and come back and record side two in the afternoon. I mixed the album, edited what needed to be edited, cut the lacquers that night, and the album was pressed & ready for release in two weeks. The great thing about doing film mixes is that we record totally live. I even mix the movies live. Some composers want to hear everything mixed during recording. ET was all live mixes, STAR TREK and 98% of all the Jerry Goldsmith scores I did were all live mixes - 60-70 tracks. You get the performance that way. Steve, I want to encourage all the members of your forum to think that way as well. Think LIVE. There is something about what happens when the red light goes on that makes a performer do something without thinking. That’s when the magic comes.

    SH: Thanks, Bruce for this chat. Oh, one more thing, a question from one of my forum members: Did you engineer “The Monkey’s Uncle” with Annette & The Beach Boys?

    BB: Yes, I did that. I was able to get the Beach Boys to come in to Sunset Sound because my sister was dating one of them at the time.

    SH: Thanks again, Bruce!

    Note: If you want a more detailed technical interview try this:

    http://www.musicangle.com/feat.php?id=144

    Be on the lookout for THE DOORS "THE SOFT PARADE" and "MORRISON HOTEL" - The Original Mixes, coming soon from your friends at Audio Fidelity.

    http://www.audiofidelity.net/

    Below is my favorite pic of Bruce Botnick at Sunset Sound around the time of the first Doors album in late 1966 plus two of the studio. Contrast the control room with the same room in 1989 when I worked on a Harry Chapin mix there. :laugh:
     

    Attached Files:

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  2. LeeS

    LeeS Ghost Meters

    Location:
    Atlanta
    Thanks Steve. Great info. Can't wait to hear the AF CDs.
     
  3. jacksondownunda

    jacksondownunda Forum Resident

    Terrific stuff. Those Doors albums have such a sleek but ballzy sound. The production was quite enviable then, and still is. I'd heard that Elektra Studios had some kind of suspension to minimize noise, but Botnick's take on the recording is more innovative than I'd given him credit for. Thanks for the read.
     
  4. vonwegen

    vonwegen Forum Resident

    Great interview, Steve. Thanks for posting this.
     
  5. Claus

    Claus Senior Member

    Location:
    Germany
    That was great to read.
     
  6. alexpop

    alexpop Power pop + other bad habits....

    Excellent recording anecdotes !
     
  7. Vintage Season

    Vintage Season Active Member

    Location:
    Hillsborough, NC
    :edthumbs: Single best instruction any revered producer/engineer could give the new generation!

    - M.
     
  8. Lownotes

    Lownotes Forum Resident

    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Fantastic! That is great stuff.
     
  9. leir

    leir Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    Excellent read, thanks! :cheers:
     
  10. Tim H.

    Tim H. Forum Resident

    Location:
    Cottonwood AZ
    My only compaint is that it's too short!

    Wonderful interview. Thanks Steve.
     
  11. musictappy

    musictappy Forum Resident

    Location:
    El Paso, TX USA
    I love the insider stories, thank you for posting this Steve. :righton:
     
  12. Shakey

    Shakey New Member

    Location:
    Chicago, Illinois
    Thanks Steve, I find many endeavors are best when they are spontaneous. Your interview is but another example. Funny how some of the best recordings utilized the same technique.

    Looking forward to those two AF Doors discs.
     
  13. Raunchnroll

    Raunchnroll Senior Member

    Location:
    Seattle
    When Bruce said this, it really 'stood out' for me. Truer words were never spoken - as they say. Thanks for posting! Wonderful...
     
  14. -Alan

    -Alan Senior Member

    Location:
    Connecticut, USA
    I loved reading this interview! Thanks for posting it here. It's a lot easier reading it here than on the Doors site in my browser!
     
  15. Curiosity

    Curiosity Just A Boy

    Location:
    United Kingdom
    Fascinating interview. Thanks for sharing it, Steve.
     
  16. Mike Dow

    Mike Dow I kind of like the music

    Location:
    Bangor, Maine
    That was a great read. Thank you.

    Even taking a look at the names of the bands and songs that Bruce has been involved with is a bit overwhelming. We're very lucky that he was behind the board on some of our favorite material.

    Bruce's appearance and stories are my favorite part of the recent "The Doors: Classic Albums" DVD. From watching, you sense that he genuinely loves the music but more importantly, you sense that he is a good guy...kind, "real" and with a great sense of humor. I hope he considers writing a book some day and putting all of his stories in one place.

    My next DVD purchase is going to be the recent Love documentary "Love Story" in which Bruce appears.
     
  17. Great interview, thanks Steve.
     
  18. SamS

    SamS Forum Legend

    Location:
    Texas
    Great read, thanks for sharing. Love reading about the mic'ing of the drums.
     
  19. Bob Lovely

    Bob Lovely Super Gort Staff

    Steve,

    Thank you for sharing the informative interview and thank you to Bruce as well!

    Bob-:wave:
     
  20. quarzo

    quarzo New Member

    Great interview and stories, thanks for posting it
     
  21. JA Fant

    JA Fant Well-Known Member

    Great read!
     
  22. steveharris

    steveharris Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mass
    So interesting to read from that perspective.
     
  23. Hawkman

    Hawkman Supercar Gort Staff

    Location:
    New Jersey
    VERY interesting!!! It's this type of thing that I think this forum is really made for!
     
  24. Reader

    Reader Senior Member

    Location:
    e.s.t. tenn.
    Really enjoyed reading this. Thanks!!

    Mr. Botnick has to be very happy and proud of all the fine work he has done. I hope he knows how much pleasure his work has given listeners over the years.
     
  25. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    I added a few pictures at the end of the interview in post #1. Take a look.
     
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