Stevie Wonder Archives - Recording Studio Rockstars

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Bob Olhsson

RSR023 – Bob Olhsson – Motown Records

RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR023 - Bob Ohlsson - Motown Records

My guest today is Bob Olhsson a master audio engineer and producer with 50 years of experience. Bob has a truly remarkable career path that has led him from Detroit to San Francisco to Space and finally back to Nashville.

He was one of only two people to ever hold every engineering position at Motown Records in Detroit during which he recorded and mastered 100 top ten singles 42 of which were #1 hits. He even recorded Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Stevie Wonder, and Motown’s first successful rock act, Rare Earth.

Then in San Francisco he mixed dozens of live jazz, folk, and classical broadcasts from Van Morrison to Weather Report at KPFA radio. And built a 24 track recording studio that he managed for over a decade which led to co-producing The Band’s final album for Capitol Records.

Bob also Built the first Pro Tools motion picture post audio system in Northern California and while working as an editor at AW Audio did all of his mixing at Skywalker Ranch (ever heard of the movie Star Wars?).

His freelancing credits in San Francisco included the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Band, Graham Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Percy Mayfield, Ron Thompson, Harmonia Mundi Records and many others.He also worked with Hearts of Space Records. He mastered their catalog of ambient, electronic and world music. A number of these titles were acclaimed as audiophile reference recordings.

I totally remember loving to hear those recordings on public radio during late night drives!Finally Bob’s career led him to Nashville where he continues to engineer and master records working with clients like Keb’ Mo’, Funk Brothers, Ray Manzarek, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Ian McLagan, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Beth Neilson Chapman, Freedy Johnston, BR 549, Old Crow Medicine Show, Suzy Bogguss, Bettye Lavette, many others.


Motown Records

The Motown Control Room

                           BOB ON MOTOWN

"Motown was the first really successful black owned record management company in the world. The two most successful labels ever were Motown and A&M owned by Herb Alpert."

"Prior to the early 1950s, major label studios used 4 mics, a selection of RCA 44s and 77s (typically figure8) used as overall pickup and spot mics. The pick up mic typically on the floor in front of everyone, one for soloist, one for rhythm section, vocalist, etc. Glen Miller & Duke Ellington Orchestras, Andrew Sisters, all recorded this way."

"We invented 'Punching in' or 'dropping in'. On an analog machine you couldn’t punch out We were the first place that had multiple sends on the console, used them for three different kinds of echo. It was never called reverb until Lexicon came out, that was a Lexiconism."

"Motown was a photo studio before it was a recording studio. It had a soft pine floor, that turned out to sound freaking incredible."

Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A - Confidence. like everybody.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?
A - Keep the session moving. Don’t let the musicians get bored, that came from one of my main teachers Cal Harris who came from Goldstar.

Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A -
Avoid headphones. If you’re overdubbing set up a speaker and a mic. That's how everything was done prior to 1965. Play the track back out in the studio and have the cardioid mic face the singer facing away from the speaker. There was really no risk (of bleed) of playing something that was going to taken out of the mix.

"We used RCA 44s and 77s for everything." - Bob Ohlsson

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Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
The first piece of outboard gear I bought was the UREI-LA3A. It has a switch between compression and limiting. 

Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A - I use protools for recording and mixing. I use Samplitude for mastering. I use Samplitude because it lets you set up a processing chain in each song file. It's very convenient for recalls. Plugins are like a drawing of an old piece of gear, some of work fantastic on some things and awful on others.

“There's a lot of dumbed down music out there that doesn't have a lot of human interaction that communicates emotion.” - Bob Ohlsson

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Q - Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - Couple basic things to understand, first off the only thing you have to sell is your audience, it's not about selling the music. The music is what you do for the audience but from a financial standpoint the ears are what is for sale. The relationship with the audience is everything. The other thing to understand is the artist is a brand. The artist that has it figured out the best that I’ve seen is Jimmy Buffet

“Human beings make great music” 

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Q - If you had to start over what gear would you need? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet while you got started?
A - I have no idea. I bumbled into it when I was 16 and I kinda started at the top. It’s been just trying to figure on what the hell is going on since then.

Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

 A - Always be the dumbest person in the room. That means go find people who are really talented and find a way to work with them.