C L A R K  S O R L E Y

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I'd imagined a new type of musicmaker, one that would emerge exclusively around the recorded work, one that might allow studio guys like me to reach the status associated with artistry. I saw analogies in the relationship between the theatre and the movies. Although similar talents were employed in both, the two were culturally distinct with their decided champions. An average fan understood, if roughly, the difference between an Olivier and a Hitchcock despite the skills of each being readily transferable between stage and screen.

The same discrete relationships are not so evident in popular music which is still seen as a performance art with the most successful performers calling the tune. Producers, songwriters, engineers, arrangers, session players, programmers et al are perceived to be in service to the “artists” like officials at a royal court. There are virtually no Hitchcock equivalents in pop, rock or soul. Even the great Quincy Jones was known before anything else as Michael Jackson's producer. Hitch by contrast was never tagged as Jimmy Stewart’s director. It would’ve been an insult to his artistry. Thus his contemptuous remark that actors were to be treated like cattle.

Still, there were many records made where the back-roomers were as integral to the work as the performers themselves who, from Bowie to Britney, from Ga-Ga to Elton John, are essentially brands. This is not to take away from their majesty. It's to say that their recordings were collaborations involving teams of other often equally gifted individuals, but who could find themselves reduced to supplicants, sometimes barely even name-checked for their essential contributions.

I quoted previously from Edward Kealey's piece “From Craft To Art”. He suggested that recording engineers historically had a defensive ideology, that they were locked into a narrow role with limited expectations and responsibilities. I've long made the case for a redressing of that still outstanding imbalance, the case for the studio guy, that we might transcend conventional tags and become fully-fledged, standalone creatives, players that an audience can relate to in our musicmaking capacities. It’s a case for the auteur of the music studio and recognition of the many Spielberg and Scorsese equivalents who are unsung.

Starting out in the 1970s, when Kealey was writing his article, I'd pictured such a possibility and imagined we'd be there by now, but as my professional life comes to a close, it seems it will have to be a development for a future generation.

many records were made where

the back-roomers were integral to the work



music • 11.08.18