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 possible moment.
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.
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, frankly [laughs].
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.