David Briggs on How to Make Records

In the Neil Young biography Shakey, written by Jimmy McDonough, there’s a long quote from David Briggs on how to make records, and a little bit about what he thought of Neil Young:

I can teach you everything I know in an hour. Everything. That’s how simple it is to make records. Nowadays, buddy, the technician is in control of the medium. They try to make out like it’s black magic, or flyin’ a spaceship. I can teach anybody on this planet how to fly the spaceship. If you look at the modern console, there’ll be thirty knobs – high frequency, low frequency, midfrequency, all notched in little tiny, tiny, teeny tiny degrees – and it’s all bullshit. All this stuff doesn’t matter, and you can’t be intimidated. You just ignore it – all of it.

I walk into studios with the biggest console known to mankind, and I ask for the schematic and say, “Can you patch from here to here and eliminate the ENTIRE board?” I just run it right into the tape machines. All the modern consoles, they’re all made by hacks, they’re not worth a shit, they sound terrible. None of it touches the old tube stuff – like the green board from Heider’s. It has two tone controls – high end, low end and a pan knob – and that’s it. I had great good fortune when I was a kid and started makin’ records. I made ‘em at Wally Heider’s, Gold Star, so all the people that taught me were Frank Dimidio, Dave Gold, Stan Ross, Dean Jensen – these guys were the geniuses of the music business, still are.

They taught me more about sound and how sound is made and the principles of doing it, and it’s unshakably correct what they said to me: You  get a great sound at the source. Put the correct mike in front of the source, get it to the tape the shortest possible route – that’s how you get a great sound. That’s how you do it. All other ways are work. The biggest moment of my life – the one I haven’t been able to get past every, really – is 1961, when I first got to L.A. I got invited to Radio Recorders to see Ray Charles, and I walk into the studio, and Ray’s playin’ all the piano parts with his left hand, reading a braille score with his right hand, singing the vocal live while a full orchestra played behind him. So I sat there and I watched. And I went, “This is how records are made. Put everybody in the fuckin’ room and off we go.” In those days everybody knew they had to go in, get their dick hard at the same time and deliver. And three hours later they walked out the fuckin’ door with a record in their pocket, man.

Of course, in those days they didn’t have eight- , sixteen- , twenty-four- , forty-eight- , sixty-four-track, ad nauseum, to fuck people up, and that is what fucked up the recording business and the musicians of today, by the way – fucked ‘em all up to where they’ll never be the same, in my opinion. People realized they could do their part…later. Play their part and fix it later. And with rock and roll, the more you think, the more you stink.

It’s very easy for people to forget what rock and roll really is. Look man, I’m forty-seven years old, and I grew up in Wyoming, and I stole cars and drove five hundred miles to watch Little Richard, and I wanna tell you somethin’ – when I saw this nigger come out in a gold suit, fuckin’ hair flyin’, and leap up onstage and come down on his piano bangin’ and goin’ fuckin’ nuts in Salt Lake City, I went, “Hey man, I wanna be like him. This is what I want.” Even today he’s a scary dude. He’s the real thing. Rock and roll is not sedate, not safe, has truly nothin’ to do with money or anything. It’s like wind, rain fire – it’s elemental. Fourteen-year-old kids, they don’t think, they feel. Rock and roll is fire, man, FIRE. It’s the attitude. It’s thumbing you nose at the world.

It’s a load. It’s such a load that it burns people out after a few years. Even the best of ‘em burn out. People get old – they forget what it’s like to be a kid, they’re responsible, they’re this and they’re that…. You can’t have it both ways. You’re a rock and roller. Or you’re not.

I wanna tell you something’: Neil’s never been insecure about anything in his fuckin’ life. First among equals is Neil Young, and it’s always been that way. When Neil’s got his ax in hand, it’s like the Hulk. His aura becomes solid – he becomes eight feet tall, six feet wide. The only guy other than John Lennon who can actually go from folk to country to full orchestra. The only guy. I think when it’s all written down, he will unquestionably stand in the top five that ever made rock and roll [pp. 263 – 264].

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One Response to “David Briggs on How to Make Records”

  1. Henry Saskowski Says:

    There are many ways to get a good recording from quality microphones and equiptment, The signal path that the mike signal goes through does not limit the preformance, the artist is the limiting factor in making music. I have used all types of recording equiptment. Do not think that the brand of wire, tubes, transistors, or opamps, transformer or not has that much effect on the quality of sound, it’s the preformance that makes great music.
    I have recorded some of the best and have worked with the best in the industry, including Neil Young.
    Henry Saskowski

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