Review: Alan Parsons' Art & Science of Sound Recording: The Book

If there’s a drawback to The Art & Science of Sound Recording, I would have liked to have read more on the postproduction end of modern recording. Software such as Celemony’s brilliant Melodyne program can dramatically transform a recording after the band and the singer have gone home, making it possible to fine-tune individual vocal and instrument parts, and even rebuild and restructure an arrangement. Fortunately, books such as Paul White’s  The Producer's Manual, and Sound on Sound columnist Mike Senior’s Mixing Secrets have this aspect of recording production well covered.

However, as awesome as programs such as Melodyne and Izotope’s RX “digital repair kit” are, Parsons'  book is a reminder that if you get the intonation, performance and audio quality right while recording the live musicians,  the less postproduction feels like a salvage job, and instead the opportunity to add the final ear candy and sparkle over a well-produced base of ingredients.

While Parsons can’t supply the inspiration, his book is an excellent, highly readable guide to recording a group, and then adding overdubbed details such as backing vocals, lead guitar solos, all the way to recording a full orchestra, as Parsons’ early clients the Beatles and Pink Floyd were certainly wont to do from time to time. Not to mention details on how to record a live concert, both to capture the moment with clarity, and bring back tracks with enough separation that overdubbing and correcting any minor (hopefully minor!) mistakes can be achieved.

The 21st Century: In Search of Talent Worthy of Their Producers

There is one slightly melancholy aspect to both Parson’s highly technical book, and fellow super-producer Glyn Johns’ memoirs, also recently published (a fun read in its own right, though few technical details emerge). Both producers began their careers in the 1960s as young men engineering for the Beatles, and other legendary groups inspired by the Fab Four’s success. (Pink Floyd in Parsons’ case, the Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin for Glyn Johns.) Their technical knowledge is likely much greater today than it was in the 1970s when they were making their bones. Unfortunately, for the most part, comparable pop musicians don’t bring the same history of the craft to their side of the equation, sad to say. It’s unfortunate for both producers – and for the rest of us as listeners – that there isn’t a successor crop of talent to live up to the musicians they produced as young men.

On the flipside, as Parsons’ book spotlights, the tools to make an effective recording have become much more democratized, and are much more advanced, than what even the best studios owned during the Beatles’ heyday. And The Art & Science of Recording will help anyone who applies himself make the most of both aspects of recording.

(Artwork created using a modified image.)