Parsons stands with an array of speaker monitors—two sets of nearfields and wall-mounted mains—that help him optimize mixing adjustments.
Are the sounds that you were capturing
pretty much what we hear on the final
mix, or was there a lot of processing done
Yes, David tracked with his effects. He had
a pretty advanced pedalboard for the period.
I mean, I don’t know if it was actually
a “pedalboard,” but he had pedals. He had
phasing pedals and wah-wah pedals and all
kinds of things. And there was also a thing
made by EMS called the HiFli, which was
a sort of console device that had an early
form of chorusing on it and some other
effects. It was an interesting box.
You’ve said in the past that you’re not a
big fan of compression, except for managing
out-of-control dynamics. Did you
use much compression on the Dark Side
of the Moon mixdown?
What generally tended to happen was
either no compression or compression on
everything except the drums, because I
totally hate—with a vengeance—compressing
drums. So, although [producer] Chris
Thomas wanted to compress everything, I
talked him into compressing just the instruments
and vocals, but not the drums.
You created some pretty cool sounds with
very little studio gear on Dark Side—
basically, an EMI console, a 16-track tape
machine, Fairchild limiters, and an EMT
Every sort of time-based process was done
with tape—there were no digital boxes
then. We might have had as many as five
or six tape machines doing various delays,
reverb delays, and so on. I distinctly
remember on the mix having to borrow
tape machines from other rooms to get
delays and stuff.
There were a lot of tape loops, too.
Did you do a lot of actual tape editing
Oh, plenty. The 16-track was an edited
tape. You’d think that all the connecting of
the songs was done at the mix stage, but it
wasn’t. It was all there on the master tracks.
There was a break between side one and
side two, just as there was on the vinyl, but
you could play the whole multitrack as a
continuous piece, so everything was there.
You actually did the edits right on the
master recording, the master multitrack?
Yeah. That was a challenge for getting tracks
well played, getting the right instruments in
the right places and not having any problems
at the crossovers [tape splice points].
To do a new take, you had to erase the
old take. So the new one always had to
be better—because you couldn’t click
undo like we do digitally today, and you
didn’t have a bunch of tracks to spare
like we have now with digital audio
Well, we ended up second generation in order
to make more tracks available. [Ed. Note:
“Second generation” refers to a bounce or submix
from one multitrack tape machine to a second
multitrack tape machine to free up tracks for
additional overdubs.] There were even some
songs, I can’t remember which ones specifically,
where the bass and all drums were reduced
to two tracks on the second-generation tape.
It must’ve been a pretty big challenge to
balance the drums and bass and still have
them sound good when everything else
was laid on top later.
That was definitely a challenge [laughs].
It was, “Oh my God, I hope I’ve got this
right—because I can’t go back!”
Sometimes having limited options is
better than having too many options.
Looking back, do you think those limitations
were somehow an advantage?
Oh, I agree with that totally. There are far
too many decisions that can be made later
now. I’m all for committing at the earliest
Parsons’ advice for going into the studio is to “do the processing at the front end,” focusing on the playing and composition of the music rather
than the equipment.
About Dark Side
Pink Floyd had already released
seven albums and was a major success
by the time their magnum opus,
Dark Side of the Moon, debuted in
early 1973. They’d begun working
on the new songs in 1971, and the
suite—which was originally known as
Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for
Assorted Lunatics—was performed
live for the press in early ’72. Floyd
entered the studio in May of that year,
with Alan Parsons manning the console
and Chris Thomas (Roxy Music,
Badfinger, Sex Pistols, Pretenders)
producing. They spent nearly a year
recording what would become one of
the biggest albums of all time.
Dark Side was an immediate hit
upon its release in March 1973. It
shot to the top of the charts within a
week, and remained on them for an
amazing 741 weeks. It is one of the
best-selling albums of all time (50 million
copies and counting), surpassed
only by Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It
has been remastered and rereleased
several times, most recently as part
of the exhaustive Why Pink Floyd…?
set released in September 2011.
It’s been almost 40 years since Dark Side
came out, but it’s still regarded by many
as an audiophile master recording. What
do you attribute that to?
I don’t take all the credit. I mean, the band
members were experienced in the studio.
They arguably were the most technically
minded band out there. They knew what
a recording studio was capable of, and they
took full advantage. And they worked me
hard—they always worked their engineers
hard to push the barriers. There’s no better
band for an engineer to cut his teeth on,
What’s your advice for musicians wanting
to capture that quality of sounds in a
home studio or a project studio?
Just get the band playing. Use good mics and
good mic preamps and so on, and then leave it
alone. Do the processing at the front end—in
the playing and in the composition. For the Art
and Science of Sound Recording, we did a master
class at the Village Studios and we got the top
guys: Nathan East [Eric Clapton, Four Play,
Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock] on bass, Rami
Jaffee [Wallflowers, Foo Fighters] on keyboards,
Vinnie Coliauta [Sting, Allan Holdsworth,
Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck] on drums, and Michael
Thompson [master L.A. session guitarist] on
guitar. We laid down a track, and it sounded
great with no plug-ins, no special sound processing.
Everybody was just making their own
good sounds. Nathan had his own little pedal
box and Michael had a rack full of gear, so they
made it sound good at the source and then
we just committed it to disk—and it sounded
great. There’s another general attitude that the
more time you spend experimenting and turning
sounds inside out, the better it will get. But
it’s often the reverse that is true.
Any tips for guitarists recording at home?
The technology has evolved. You’ve got all
these Line 6 Pods and SansAmp devices
to get nice distortion out of. But you
know, there’s no substitute for a great lead
sound—like a vintage Les Paul through a
Marshall amplifier. I still think that’s a great
guitar sound—and hard to get any other
way. So much of it is in the playing, as well.
I’m not an electric guitar player—I’ve got a
rig here at home, and when I play it sounds
like utter crap—but when I get a guitarist
in here, he makes it absolutely sing [laughs].
So that makes a huge difference. The standard
of musicianship, quite apart from the
other stuff, is such a huge contribution to
the way a guitar sounds.
Any final thoughts you’d like to add?
I’d just like to add one thing: Never be
frightened to add bottom end if you’re a
guitarist. I often do that. Electric guitars can
sound hard and thin, and rather than try
and remove that hardness, I add some bottom
end on the console to smooth it out.