Leeds School of Arts

Creativity in the Recording Studio: Alternative Takes

Leeds Beckett academic and professional recording engineer Dr Paul Thompson talks about his new book ‘Creativity in the Recording Studio: Alternative Takes’.

Paul Thompson Book

As a professional recording engineer one of my research areas is the culture of the recording studio. The central idea for the book grew out of the findings from my doctoral thesis, which was an ethnographic study of a rock band from Liverpool making their latest album. As music listeners we often only focus on the artist and the musicians but making a record involves the knowledge and expertise of others such as the recording engineer and the record producer and so, part of the motivations for writing the book were to uncover some of the common myths of music making and creativity more generally.

The book offers an alternative take on the romanticized and mythologized process of record-making and is split into two distinct parts like a record. Side A illustrates how creativity arises out of a system in action, and introduces the history, culture, traditions and institutions that contribute to the process of commercial record production.  Side B demonstrates this system in action during commercial record production’s central tasks of songwriting, performing, engineering and producing. Each chapter takes the reader inside a different part of the commercial record production process and uncovers the interactive and interrelated multitude of factors involved in each creative task using examples from John Lennon, David Bowie, Tupac Shakur, Björk, Marta Salogni, Sylvia Massy and Rick Rubin,

Working in the studio

The book broadly fits with my current British Academy Leverhulme funded research on Charanga, a form of Cuban dance music, in Collaboration Dr Sue Miller here at Leeds Beckett. We’re combining traditional academic research (ethnography, music history, performance studies and analysis) with methods that are used in the areas of experimental and experiential archaeology. This involves conducting historically informed recording experiments which will give us a better understanding of the culture and tradition of recorded Cuban music and the ways this culture informed some of the logistic, creative and aesthetic decisions to produce its distinctive sound. The book also relates to my practice as an engineer in which I’ve just finished mixing Ian Prowse’s new album ‘Here I Lie’ with record producer Tony Kiley to be released in March.

The book has already received praise from leading academics such as Albin Zak, Richard James Burgess, Phillip McIntyre and Paula Wolfe but my hope is that this book will be read by students, scholars and popular music fans around the world and add to the fledging knowledge in the area of commercial record production and popular music practice.

The book is published by Palgrave and can be found on Amazon.

Learn more about Leeds School of Arts.

Dr Paul Thompson

Reader / Leeds School Of Arts

Paul is a professional recording engineer with over ten years of experience working in the music industry. He currently teaches music technology in the community, studio production and acoustics on the Music Technology, Audio Engineering and Music Production programmes.

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