Adam Moseley on Recording in Men’s Toilets and Growing Your Ears
After spending a year studying law in London, Adam Moseley (Beck, Rush, Nikka Costa/Lenny Kravitz, Wolfmother, Spike Jonze, U2) got his foot in at Trident Studios in 1978, where he quickly became established as an innovative engineer, mixer, and producer.
The home of dozens of seminal albums throughout the rock spectrum, Trident is widely regarded as one source of “the London sound” along with Abbey Road. It’s where Bowie brought his many alter-egos to life, recording his first 3 albums there, and where Elton John cut Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Blue Moves, and A Single Man. Queen unleashed Queen, Queen II, and Sheer Heart Attack there, and even The Beatles got in on the action, cutting Hey Jude and The White Album within its walls.
It’s also where the men’s toilet served as an echo chamber.
We recently caught up with Adam Moseley himself to hear all about it firsthand and to pick his brain on how newbies to audio and music producing can educate their ears. Here’s what Adam had to say, in his own words. Enjoy!
“At The Village in the Fleetwood Mac Studio D they actually have a physical echo chamber room where you open the door and it actually sounds like a huge, vast cavernous space and it’s phenomenal. At Trident we only had one EMT plate for the recording room and one for the mix room so we had to be imaginative and create the spaces. In the tracking room which was downstairs at the basement level, the control room looked down into the tracking room, just like at Abbey Road Studio 2, looks down into the Beatles’ room. So the control room would look down into the musicians playing. Alongside it, as you look down on the left side, there was a little door and a passage way which was a corridor that ran pretty much the length of the studio which had been the men’s toilet…
As we didn’t have isolation areas, we had one piano booth with sliding doors where we would sometimes do drums. Otherwise, we had no isolation in the tracking room. There were velvet curtains which we could pull across the room at the far end and they were set at the exact height to meet the top of the Gobos, so that would screen off a bit but obviously, any guitar amps would blast through the spaces. So, what we had to do was use the outside toilet…
What we would do is put the guitar amp in this room. We’d open the toilet (bathroom) door put the guitar amp in, put some microphones in there, and then adjust the length of the reverb of the guitar by moving the microphone closer to the amp or further away. But it was a very narrow passageway. I’d be surprised if it was more than 3 or 4 feet wide and was just the usual height, maybe 7 foot high or 8 foot high, and as long as the tracking room. It was just concrete and the floor was tiled, so it had a very midrange kind of sound, a very harsh high-mid sound quality to the space that it created. And, after I got to know the sound of it, even today when I listen to Mick Ronson’s guitars on Ziggy Stardust, or I listen to any of the Queen albums that were done at Trident, the first five were done in whole or in part at Trident, I can hear the sound of that room in Brian May’s guitars or in Mick Ronson’s guitars. It had such a clear characteristic…
Basically we used it because there was nowhere else to isolate a guitar amp but it had a harsh boost in the mids and high mids. If you had a bathroom that was the same width with tiled floors and you went in and sang, you’d have a harsh, high-mid sound…
Teaching the kids how the old stuff was done but teaching it in the box. If you find out what it is people did back then, if you educate yourself then you can figure out how to redo it now.”
RRFC: Yes. And that’s what you’ve been doing with Fay and Uriel in The Fender Experience.
RRFC: Fantastic Adam. Thanks so much. So how can newbies grow a pair of ears? How can they attune themselves to listening like a pro?
“It’s important to educate your ears and educate your instincts and your emotional responses to music, because that’s the purpose of music–to make us feel an emotion.
When an artist is writing a song they’re trying to share something they felt or experienced. Or, they’re trying to project an emotion or an experience, not just through the lyrics and the vocal performance, but through the sound of the track. Whether the track is really warm and feels and sounds like a warm blanket or it’s really harsh and aggressive and piercing and the midrange is compressed and distorted and is hitting you in the face, the sound of the tune creates the feeling of the tune.
For newbies that haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed every day to working with different artists and different styles of music, it’s important to be pushed out of their comfort zone. Do things they haven’t had to do before. They should work on music that maybe initially they don’t like, but then they’ll realize that in all successful music there’s some magic and greatness in it. Generally, anything that’s successful there’s a reason for it being successful. That’s because it’s been crafted; people making it understand the craft of making music and conveying emotion through sound.
Just educate yourself. Learn your tools. If you’re working in-the-box, learn your plugins, learn how they sound, learn how different sounds on the same instrument can make it sound warmer or more aggressive. If you’re working in-the-box all the time and you haven’t got access to studios but you love an old sound or there’s a pop record that you love and it’s Rihanna or Taylor Swift or Bieber or whatever, find out how they did what they did.
Have a curiosity and then act on it. Look it up, research it, and find out how they created the vocal sound or who it was [that engineered the track]. Just listen and absorb all these different references that make you feel a certain way. Absorb them into your musical soul because when it comes to making music, all you have to go on is your feelings and your reaction. It’s not just the notes that you play on a guitar or any instrument, it’s the sound of the notes that create the emotion that you intend to share. And if you don’t listen and absorb and educate your instincts, you won’t even be able to start to create music that sounds the way you intended it to.”