Guitarist/producer John March shares his perspectives on Audio, Technology, and Mixing for Jazz.
I have been working in studios as a musician and audio technologist for most of my life. I started as a Guitarist, became a Synclavier Operator and was trained as a Mixer, and have explored a lot of aspects of how audio and technology and guitar work together. Currently, I still play and I am mixing CDs and producing and mixing documentaries about musicians. My most recent project has been mixing a collaborative CD with Colorado Pianist Bob Schlesinger with Mike Stern and producing/recording a Ted Greene Tribute CD.
I started playing piano when I was 3 or 4 years old, almost 55 years ago. My grandmother had been an opera singer in NYC in the early 1900’s. When I was growing up she used to house various Juilliard students, usually the visiting Russian piano students or competition participants. So some of my earliest memories are of amazing virtuosic piano music filling the house. As a child I used to sit at the piano for hours with my forehead touching the piano, and letting the sounds of the struck strings vibrate through me, the evolving sound wash around me, like an ocean of possibility.
I have had a lifelong love affair with the topography of sound. (to·pog·ra·phytəˈpäɡrəfē/noun 1.the arrangement of the natural and artificial physical features of an area.)
I experience sound as the sum and difference of the layers of detailed vibration in 3-dimensional space. I have a physical response to phase coherence that starts in my teeth. My brain and my ears seem to register detail at extremely fine levels. Pitch and intonation, heterodyne and dynamics, all register with me as a kind of flavor and what “feels” right.
When I teach about audio and mixing, I always talk about hearing the “intuitive correctness” of the Mix, the sense of proportion and detail with color and dynamics.
This comes from listening on a deeper level, and also having heard many different approaches to a wide variety of styles and mixes. I talk about hearing completed mixes before even beginning the process. Michelangelo described his process as: seeing a block of stone and then removing everything that was NOT what he was seeing already buried in the stone. I feel the same about Mixing and Sound Design and Music. To really hear the essential piece, and then remove everything that is NOT the best possible presentation, to make every effort to move towards a completed sound.
I also love the exploration of psychoacoustics and sound.
I am always curious
When I was in my early 20’s I studied and trained under a Master Audio Craftsman, Bruce Nazarian, who passed away recently. He was an extraordinary talent. He had perfect pitch and
When I was working for Michael Jackson he would often ask us for something that was seemingly impossible to achieve.
At that time serious ‘digital’ manipulation was still in its infancy. We were tasked with finding solutions that were both creative and
These early experiences served to shape my perspective, and instilled in me a sense of wonder and a passion for exploration and problem solving at the highest possible levels. A deep desire to immerse myself in the evolving project of becoming a true craftsman through training, study, experience and curiosity.
I am also lucky that I started out as a musician, and continue that discipline to this day. I hear things in terms of rhythm and connectivity and dynamic flow, layers and subtleties, respiration and inspiration. There is a compositional element to any mix or sound design, and I believe that, as a musician, I can hear that layered interaction in clear and important ways.
Craftsmanship cannot and should not be replaced by expedience.
Digital era media has a certain need for immediate gratification, and a tendency towards thinking that the tools of the trade define the craft. Technology has become a means to itself, and its inherent methodology of planned obsolescence, and a forward press towards ever more powerful and complex tools tends to marginalize the process of iterative learning and slow and patient acquisition of deep skill. This incessant forward march negates in some ways the need for real Craftsmanship by presenting expedient solutions, but without the fundamental foundation of Craft and methodological experience. Then these tools just become pretty lights and fun buttons to push, and then they form the foundation prevalent in modern production process of: “option anxiety”.
I also talk to my students and apprentices about “two tin cans and a wire”. Meaning: it is never the tool that determines the solution, but rather the person using the tools at hand.
Too often these days Mastery is thought of as knowing a particular Software tool or DAW, or which button to push, but in
As a freelance audio professional and human being, I am also always looking for deeper connections in terms of purpose and service.
Mixing for Jazz is challenging because Jazz is a music of the moment.
I see the challenges for the future of Audio Craft in terms of finding balance, (an apt metaphor I believe), between Technology and the creative human experience, by integrating tools with training and experience, and an innate sense of commitment to the path of true craftsmanship as a lifetime practice. I believe this applies to all aspects of the creative and recording process and especially to those of us also committed to the path of playing music. To remember that music allows us to express our own unique view of the world through a language that connects us all at the deepest levels.
I look forward to hearing any and all thoughts and comments. You can reach me HERE.
John March – February 2020