Walter Sear

Walter Sear died earlier this month:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/07/arts/music/07sear.html

I first got to know Walter through a class trip to his famed studio, Sear Sound, on 48th St in Manhattan. I would later go on to visit my mentor, Nick Sansano, as he’d mix in Studio A. In a couple years time, I got to do sessions in what I still consider the greatest recording facility in the country.

Sear Sound is great because it takes the artist and recording crew out of the hustle of New York City, and it makes you feel like your recording in the country…or at your grandparent’s house…a pretty amazing feat seeing that it is located a block away from Times Square (and an incredibly necessary “vibe” if you want to get anything done in this town)… Much of this feeling was due to Walter’s prescence, a pioneer in audio engineering and a truly kind human being.

Straight up, Walter was a genius. There was this one time he took me down into the basement, where he was just finishing an invention. Something to do with creating energy from salt water. He had been commissioned by the City of New York to make this contraption. At one point, he had me hold on to and eventually let go of this uber-powerful magnet that would shoot off and hit the closest source of metal. When I let go of the magnet, it hit a pipe 15 ft away. Oddly thrilling.

I had a hard time following Walter sometimes, because I am not the most scientifically inclined fellow, but he did teach me a few very important things about production:

1) If you’re operating a studio or producing a session, always make the artist feel like they’re at home. No matter what, there was always cake in the lobby and a pot of coffee on the hot plate… Essential!! He also had an amazing staff, headed by Chris Allen. Only one intern (or maybe two), but if you wanted to intern at Sear, you had to know your shit. I would get butterflies on my way to sessions at Sear because it is such a pleasure to be in there…

2) In studio mythology, it’s a “bad thing” to smoke tobacco around your gear. Walter showed us the opposite. The man was a chimney. I believe he used to be at a pack a day and then he eventually cut back. Now I’m not promoting smoking cigarettes. I myself am not a smoker. But arguably one of the most brilliant sound engineers smoked around some of the greatest gear in the world everyday!! I took this to mean one thing:  DON’T BE TOO PRECIOUS ABOUT YOUR CRAP! It’s only stuff…

3) Analog is better. On our first class trip to Sear, Walter A-B’ed us the CD and Vinyl versions of a record that was just cut at his studio. The band was Wilco and the record was “A Ghost Is Born.” Hearing that record on the large Studio C speakers (that Walter, I believe, built), in the studio where that record was actually concieved (one of my favorite Wilco albums too) was an amazing experience. And there was no comparison. The vocal breathed so much more on Vinyl and the snare just popped out of the speakers. I’ve done many A-Bs of this sort before, but this one still stands out to me. Digital is convenient. Analog sounds better. No questions asked. Walter has written much on the subject…

 

Everyone that had the pleasure of working at this wonderful man’s studio will sorely miss him…


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