Quincy jones is a legendary producer who has worked with Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand and more. He is considered to be the most powerful producer alive today, being behind the biggest hits in the music industry such as “Thriller”, “Billie Jean”, “Bad”, “We Are The World” and more.
He grew up initially as a jazz musician, touring with a band as a trumpeter. He developed his skills in arrangement in his spare time and eventually ended up becoming a producer. His time as a musician surely influenced his style of playing music and producing. After touring with that band, he formed his own after being signed to ABC Paramount Records as leader and toured with them. That didn’t support him financially so he worked with Doug Moody who eventually founded Mystic Records. It was here that he branched out to composing film scores and working with other artists.
Quincy had a philosophy of hard work and repeating tasks until they were done right:
“Q loves to say that creativity is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.”
– Bill Gibson (http://www.voicecouncil.com/quincy-jones-on-producing)
Another quote from Bill Gibson on Quincy’s prerequisites for an effective production session:
“He speaks about working in the “alpha state”, which is that stage just between sleep and consciousness. Children live in an alpha state; their minds are open and can move in ways that aren’t inhibited.”
In a video about Q’s work ethic it was mentioned by a fellow producer that Quincy always wanted to hear the result on as many different outlets as possible to get the best possible version of a track possible (“He (Q) would come in with Michael and listen to the track on these huge speakers and he would listen to the track and it would sound huge and spacious and everything and then he would say, “put it on the radio.””)
Q wanted to capture the vibe and atmosphere of the records he produced so he cross referenced his tracks on different sound systems to see if the track still brought itself out on the different speakers he played it from.
Quincy was renowned for experimentation, and he himself said that every time he went into the studio to record or produce he would encourage others and push himself to try different techniques to achieve different results. here is another quote from an interview detailing this:
“Every album we did we experimented on. That’s the fun part. Bruce is a creative guy and I am, too, and so is Michael, of course. He was always up for trying new things. I remember Michael sang through these long cardboard tubes to get a particular sound — that’s something Michael came up with, I believe. But then you have Bruce there, too, knowing what every piece of equipment could do and being willing to push the limits. Everybody who was involved in those records had a hand in it. If someone had an idea, we’d try it.”
In this excerpt Q details testing out different scenarios with instruments and other analogue equipment with the artists, which no doubt contributed to his analogue style and sound:
“…Other times, like The Brothers Johnson, we used to go in with just a rhythm machine, guitar and bass, and do it that way. We did the Donna Summers album with a drum machine and synthesizer, so that I could really focus on just the material. But with Bruce Springsteen everyone played live, as in a concert. For George Benson’s album, Lee Ritenour came over and helped us with different guitar equipment to get some new sounds. At the same time that Lee was there dealing with the equipment, and George was trying it out, Bruce Swedien came over for a whole week to just listen to George with his instrumentals and vocals, like a screen test.”
Following this shortly after he mentions by name the specific equipment he used on a few occasions:
“Each tune is different. “State of Independence” for the Donna Summer’s album is a good example of a particular process I might use. We started with a Linn Drum Machine, and created the patterns for different sections. Then we created the blueprint, with all the fills and percussion throughout the whole song. From the Linn, we went through a Roland MicroComposer, and then through a pair of Roland Jupiter 8 synthesizers that we lock to. The patterns were pads in sequencer-type elements. Then we program the Minimoog to play the bass line.
The programs were all linked together and driven by the Roland MicroComposer using sync codes. The program information is stored in the Linn’s memory, and on the MicroComposer’s cassette. At this point all we had to do was push the button, and the song would play. Once it sounds right we record the structured tune on tape, which saves time since you don’t have to record these elements singly on tape with cutting and editing. This blueprinting method works great when you’re not sure of the final arrangement of the tune. “It’s the song itself that’s the most important element we are dealing with.”
We can deal with between three and five types of codes, including SMPTE on the multitrack. With all these codes, we have to watch the record level to make sure it triggers the instrument properly. Sometimes we had to change EQ and level differences to make sure we got it right.”
In this interview Q goes into great detail describing techniques he would use in his “system” of production which he would implement whenever he was working on a project. His approach of using live instruments in tandem with synthesizers was what probably gave the modern classic “feel” to his records or the records he produced for others. He gave this excerpt an example for what he had been working with at the time. However his records always had a musicians warmth which is probably a result of the love, care and effort he put in, in an attempt to make his records stick out from the rest. Putting a heavy importance on using a lot of analogue equipment and working closely with other musicians to bring the tracks to life. Being a jazz musician himself, he understood the importance of the soul of the music which was to be played or performed, and didn’t want to take the essence away from it, which was the human being playing the instrument or singing. He worked closely with sound engineer Bruce Swedien and they both shared the philosophy which is evident here:
“Bruce is very careful with the bass and vocals, and we try to put the signal through with as little electronics as possible. In some cases, we may bypass the console altogether and go direct to the tape machine. Any processing, in effect, is some form of signal degradation, but you are making up for it by adding some other quality you feel is necessary – we always think of these considerations.
Bruce has some special direct boxes for feeding a signal direct to the multitrack, and which minimally affect the signal. With a synthesizer we very often can go line-level directly to the machine, while with the bass you need a pre-amp to bring it up to a hot level.
Lots of times we will avoid using voltage-controlled amplifiers, because there will be less signal coloration. Also, if possible we avoid using equalization. Our rules are to be careful, and pay close attention to the signal quality.”
He likes to work with clean analogue signals a lot, which contribute to his ‘classic’ sound, but isn’t afraid to venture into synthesizer territory if he wants to. However, he and Bruce make sure that whatever signal they do use gets as little coloration or distortion as possible by sending it straight to the multitrack if they can, thus preserving the original ‘soul’ of the music, even going so far as to avoid using EQ if it isn’t absolutely necessary.