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Andre Jacquemin: Music Technology Advances

Opinion | Music Production (Production Lines)
Published July 1994

ANDRÉ JACQUEMIN is best known for his production work on all the Monty Python albums, but he is also a rock music producer, a composer and an expert at putting sound to picture. Here he reflects on the advances of technology which have allowed him to streamline his working environment, and the support that is necessary to maintain it.

In December, I sold my studio facility because I felt that it had become too expensive for one person and wanted to free myself to work more efficiently. My studio was based in Camden and handled all sorts of projects, from film scores to straightforward music recording — one day we would have Motorhead in, the next a voice‑over for a commercial! For a number of reasons, I decided that running a two‑studio facility was no longer what I wanted to do, so I decided to set up a single‑room facility and put in the type of post‑production equipment I needed to continue doing sound to picture work as well as composing and music recording.

My new studio has no recording area — I hire another studio when I need one — but it has a small DDA 24‑channel Interface desk, a Dawn II 8‑track hard disk system with six hours of memory, a Fostex RD8 ADAT, an Emulator 3 — which is probably the best machine in the world — a few Proteus modules, a D110 and a keyboard sampler. Now I tend to hire a studio for my voice‑overs, take them back to my room on DAT, transfer the sound to hard disk and sort it out there — and I can run to picture with house synchronisation. It's small but very functional and affordable — and, more importantly, it's fun. I'm doing lots of commercials, post‑production to picture, composing — I'm writing music with David Howman for a cartoon series called Rubbish, which has been commissioned by HTV and, in between all that, I'm still producing rock music projects. At the moment we're working on a track with Baywatch's David Hasselhoff which is very accessible, rock‑orientated, and something that I'm enjoying very much.

The way I work has really only been made possible by the advances that have taken place in recording technology. Sometimes I feel as though I have my head constantly stuck in a manual because there is just so much to keep up to date with. The danger in trying to diversify — and it's something a lot of studios have discovered to their cost — is that all this technology is very complex and you have to do your homework if you want to avoid coming unstuck. In many ways I count myself lucky that I have always been involved in lots of different types of work — thanks to my initial break with the Pythons which opened up a lot of doors — so I do have a good general grounding, which has proved to be a valuable asset.

The first studio I ever built — nearly 20 years ago now — cost a total of £5000 and was in my Dad's greenhouse. When I consider how much it has cost to build my current studio the contrast seems ridiculous. My present facility cost nearer to £70,0000, and it was all money I had to spend in order to work professionally.

Of course, studios can be put together for less than this, but if you are a stickler for getting things right — as I am — and you want reliable equipment that includes things like patchbays, good routing, house synchronisation, and so on, you have to pay more. If I am to compete in a professional environment I have to use equipment that is accurate. With so much sophisticated technology in use, things will occasionally go wrong. Not even the most expensive studio can avoid that. But if you are working professionally you can't afford to have that happen too often.

This is why it is so important to get the service and back‑up you need from the distributor or dealer. This really is vital if you are working with the latest technology. I have a good relationship with all the companies I deal with because I've been in this business long enough to know the good from the bad. But for a newcomer I cannot stress enough the importance of checking out your supplier before you even think about parting with your money. The best way to vet them is to ask other clients about the service they have received. What is the company's back‑up like? Do they return phone calls when you have a problem — or are they too busy selling more boxes?

The other thing to be aware of is that a lot of equipment arrives on the market in an underdeveloped state because the manufacturers are so desperate to be the first with something that they don't beta test it properly. If you end up with new equipment that goes wrong and no back‑up you may as well just give up because the frustration is enough to drive you crazy! But in theory this new technology should make my job quicker, easier and more cost effective — and already that is what I am finding. I couldn't do what I'm doing now in one room if those changes had not happened, so I welcome them. But even with 20 years experience I'm still learning how to tie all these new elements in and find out what works best with what. It's a learning curve, but if you are dealing with new technology you do need plenty of back‑up for those inevitable occasions when you come unstuck.

André's production credits include music for the Monty Python movies, Time Bandits, Brazil, Personal Services, and numerous other movies and TV productions. His pop work includes Geordie, Steve Harley and Girls School.