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June 2024
Vol. 23, No. 9

Smoke Signals

Recording Matters, Part 1

by Jeff BerkleyFebruary 2024

Hi! My name is Jeff Berkley. I’m from San Diego California; I am a musician and songwriter and engineer and producer. I spend four or five days a week at Satellite studio in San Diego, producing records. I’ve made lots and lots of them. I’m very lucky to be able to find magic in all sorts of different types of musical situations. All levels, styles, and vibes. Somehow, I can focus on what’s authentic and draw it out. I have no idea how I got here, but I sure did luck out!

Lately, I’ve been speaking to different groups of people who are just beginning on their path as producers, musicians, engineers, songwriters. Studio West and The Recording Arts Center, in the north part of San Diego County has an amazing educational experience for folks who want to learn the ropes. I’m really honored to be a small part of it. If you’re looking to get your toes wet in that world, you can’t go wrong with Studio West’s program!

Anyway, in those classes and elsewhere, I’ve been having lots of conversations about my recording method. I’ve always been in studios by myself until the last few years. I’ve never actually been asked to locate my method before and I wasn’t actually sure how to answer. So, I really paid attention over the last few months while working on projects. I started to compile notes and learn about how to put words to what I’m looking for and doing in the studio. And how I’m guiding folks through the process and helping to keep the ship on course. I was surprised to find that I do indeed have a method and it’s pretty tried and true. The times I’ve failed the most have been when we’ve strayed too far from my instincts/guides. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not open to trying things. I love to skew off in weird directions. It’s easy to know if those paths are going to be fruitful pretty quickly. This is where my instincts seem to serve me well. After all, one of the things I’m hired for is to keep things on track and not waste vibe and time. There is an awful lot to juggle when making records the “ancient way,” which I love to work. Having a syllabus or some kind of loose map to follow helps keep things organized and manageable for me. Not everybody is like this.

When I say I still love to work in the ancient way it’s sort of tongue and cheek. Records are still pretty much made the same way you’re using your laptop or iPhone or coming to a state-of-the-art facility like Satellite. There is no invalid way to make a record. This is just my way. I’m lucky to have a studio that was built from the ground up for magic, both tangible and intangible. We use all sorts of really groovy gadgets and microphones to capture whatever God is. That’s all. I’ve simply never had more luck capturing those vibes that I have at this place. It was built for this exact purpose and method.

Over the next few columns, I will spend some time laying out my way of recording an album project. There are different considerations for singles and other types of projects. I would like to talk about the art of recording a record. I love nearly every single day I get to help artists achieve their dreams, but my favorite thing to do is produce full albums.

I’m gonna start at the very beginning of the process with writing and demos and move all the way through the rehearsals and playing live, as well as a deep dive into each step of my process. I’ll try and comment on as much nuance as I can. Every project is different and therefore the method changes as needed.

In my close to 30 years as a record producer, I’d like to think that I’ve pretty much seen it all. I say that knowing it’s not true. I still am surprised and astounded all the time by something exciting and new. I still learn new things almost every day about music or people. All of that is wrapped into how I relate to musicians and their art as well as how I try and help them achieve their goals. I can’t really teach any kind of bedside manner, but I can show the path that I use and hope that it helps in some way. I really do believe I have something to offer every performer who is reaching around in the dark, looking for some kind of path, some way of knowing whether they’re heading in the right direction or not. Maybe you have the passion it takes to learn the ropes of producing and engineering on your laptop or even a studio facility. I think a lot of folks make the mistake of thinking that recording doesn’t matter. I’m not talking about the difference between doing it on your cell phone or doing the recording in a studio. I mean there’s an art to this. It’s a thing. It’s not a small part of what it takes to be a successful artist these days. Recordings may not sell the way they used to, but they still drive the industry. It’s still a way to reach out and grab people’s souls. Recording matters! Over the next few months, we will explore why! Stay tuned!


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