The Bath Magazine January 2022

Page 52

Stephen W Tayler V2.qxp_Layout 1 22/12/2021 14:33 Page 1


Working in the box

Producer and sound engineer Stephen W Tayler has worked with artists from Kate Bush to Peter Gabriel and his career has spanned technological innovations from early multi-track recording to the creation of audio visual experiences. Emma Clegg goes to Real World Studios in Box to find the man behind the music

Stephen with an image from Da Capo, projected on him

Photograph by Sadia Sadia

which still used tape, but now it was the means of capturing the sound. Then there were 48-track machines that recorded on a oneinch tape digitally, and then you had the switch to recording through a digital recording workstation computer (rather than using tape), so recording on to the hard drive. Nowadays the number of inputs and outputs to your system is really as many or as few as you want. I run with eight in and eight out systems. But these days there is no upper limit as to how many tracks you can use. This is why the process of being a remix engineer does require a certain expertise.”

You might think you want to make that note more perfectly in tune, but the fact that it’s bending in and out of tune is creating emotion


have been learning about multi-track recording from an expert. Multi-track is a method of sound recording that allows for the separate recording of multiple sound sources. First developed in the mid-1950s, each ‘track’ was recorded to its own area on the tape whereby the sequence of recorded events would be preserved, and playback is synchronised. “A lot of The Beatles’ work was done on four-track, meaning that they could record the band playing on tracks one and two. Then they could add the vocals on track three and maybe some orchestral elements on track four. It was innovative during the 1950s. This was where the art of mixing came into play, because once you’ve added those parts then you have to balance the levels.” Mixer, producer, composer, sound designer and audio engineer Stephen W Tayler – who works from his studio within Real World Studios, Box (the studio converted and set up by Peter Gabriel in 1988) – was explaining to me how in his career he has seen multitrack recording and other technical innovations completely revolutionise the industry. “When I started in 1974 the industry had just started to use 16-track and it was just about to become 24-track. And the tape was getting wider – originally tape was ¼ inch, then they did eight tracks on one-inch tape and then 16 tracks on two-inch tape and then 24 tracks on two-inch tape.” As the technology grew, Stephen explains, so did the complexity of the recording. So rather than do all the rehearsal and preparation ahead of time before recording – what used to happen – musicians would go into the studio and experiment and write the music while they were in the studio and recording, with the creative ability to add more and more parts. “In 1978 they started to synchronise two 24-track machines and then a few years after that digital recording technology came in

Training and apprenticeship After studying clarinet and organ at the Royal College of Music Stephen found (fortuitously, by popping in and making an enquiry) a job as a tea boy at Trident Studios in 1974. “The whole industry has changed so much since then,” says Stephen. “When I started and for several years after, you had to use professional studio recording facilities. There wasn’t affordable equipment that people could use in their homes. What’s happened since is that the technology has become available for just about every kind of musician.” In the era when Stephen was working at Trident, many studios aimed to create their own recognisable sounds. “Traditional studios like DECCA, EMI and Abbey Road used to really try and perfect doing things with a standard method, to make things that sounded smooth and warm and clean. Studios like Trident, however, were all about trying to develop their own identity. By breaking the rules and not conforming to the proper ways of doing things they’d come up with a tougher, more aggressive sound. It was a time where you’d often listen to a record and be able to identify the studio it came from, because of the clarity or the warmth or sometimes the mushy, not very clear sound. Trident would use techniques like putting microphones a lot closer to the instruments so that element was more dominant.” In the late 1980s and 90s studios started to be competitive in having the same equipment, and as the technology developed, ‘total recall’ was built into mixing consoles, meaning that the settings could be stored and recalled. “That enabled different ways of working where if a record company were not satisfied with something they could say ‘go back and improve that aspect of it’. This was when the sound became more generic. Then later, sounds became more attached to the producer or production team rather than the studio, and people started becoming independent and freelance. That’s why over the years I moved away from being part of a particular company. So now the facilities are important but the focus is on the style of the production team. And that’s what you are trying to do when you’re an independent freelancer like myself.”

Professional collaboration Stephen has worked with artists such as Kate Bush, Howard Jones, Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks, Bob Geldof, Peter Gabriel and Suzanne Vega, as well as with more eclectic bands and musicians. One of these