5 Questions:

With Sylvia Massy

Sylvia Massy is renowned for her work with Tool, Johnny Cash, Prince, and more. The recipient of over 25 gold and platinum records, she’s been making classic albums for decades! Having built a reputation as a risk taker, she uses unconventional methods when needed to bring the best out of the artist. Her book “Recording Unhinged: Creative and Unconventional Music Recording Techniques” has been embraced and celebrated by many in the audio community, and features original artwork by Sylvia throughout. For a chance to sit in on a session with Sylvia, check out her class on Learn more about Sylvia at her website,

Recording Unhinged: Illustrated By Sylvia Massy

Recording Unhinged: Illustrated By Sylvia Massy

1 – You’ve been in the industry for a while, back before the internet age changed the way we all interact. From your perspective, what advice would you give to up and comers trying to build a name for themselves in the age of Facebook?

Sylvia: Get a laptop, load the computer with Pro Tools and plug-ins, and learn to record. Then record as much music as possible. Connect with bands via Facebook. Get permission to record shows. Buy a collection of mics and a multi-input interface, enough to record a small band, then record as many as you can (not just your own band.) Compare your mixes to the commercial music you love. Keep working on those recordings and mixes until they compete with commercial releases. You can do it! The more you record, the more opportunity will come your way. Build that discography.

If you move to a city to work in a commercial recording studio, plan on sticking around for two years. It will take that long for you to make enough solid connections for people to start trusting you with their projects. You will most likely be starting from the bottom whenever you move to a new area, no matter what type of discography you have, but accept that. Know when it is okay to have opinions, be careful not to crowd the primary people in a session you are attending. However, you might step to the front of the line if you find a band that wants to record in a big studio (and they have the budget.) If you can bring the project to a big studio, the studio may actually train you to run the equipment. Then you are flying on your own. This however does not work for your own projects as well, so meet and gain the trust and respect of as many musicians as you can.

I think it is difficult for anyone, man or woman, to get a foothold in the recording industry. It takes absolute determination and concentration, 14-hour workdays, compromised personal and social relationships, little financial reward to start, and postponement of family building. It gets to be a bummer hanging out in a dark cave with a bunch of stinky musicians while the world is buzzing outside. But don’t get me wrong, I have THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD.

Recording Sarah Brendel At The Merkers Show Mine

Recording Sarah Brendel At The Merkers Show Mine

2 – You’re known for taking chances and experimenting, but I’m sure there are artists who are less open to experimentation than others. What are some ways you’ve broken through a log jam to get the artist to let loose and trust you?

Sylvia: If they don’t want to experiment, I don’t push. We sometimes don’t have time to fool around when budgets are tight, and I insist on recording foundation parts before wasting time on ideas that may not work. Luckily, most musicians that seek me out to record have the budget and want to build time into their projects for blowing shit up… Haha!

Recording Unhinged by Sylvia Massy

3 – Recently you recorded horns in a bucket of water using an SM-57 that was wrapped in a condom and tossed into the bucket. You’ve suspended singers upside down to distract them from themselves and get them to focus. While not everything works, you’re not afraid to just try stuff. What’s one thing you’ve tried that you’re still surprised actually worked?

Sylvia: I was really surprised that recording bass guitar in a torpedo tube on a Norwegian submarine actually sounded great! Go figure!!! That was for a project called One Hundred And First.

4 – On The Mastering Show with Ian Shepherd, you mentioned using a really old broadcast compressor to sum drums because you just loved the graininess of it. Meanwhile you’ve also praised products from Slate Digital for sounding like your “favorite rack of crusty knobs (without the crusty pots)!”. With the quality of plugins today being what they are, and the amount of access you have to it all, what do you look for in hardware that you’re not getting in the box?

Sylvia: Of the plug-in offerings that I have used, I wish more had wilder effects. More completely out-of-control things that pan and phase and delay all over the place and filter and distort and dive bomb…. maybe I’ll make some… stay tuned!!!!

5 – What is the most valuable lesson you had to learn the hard way?

Sylvia: I had to learn how to carefully spell someone’s name… like this… Sylvia Massy… (no e).


[Editors Note: Yes, I screwed up the spelling of her last name by accident when I emailed Sylvia the questions, so I deserve the jab. Thanks Sylvia for being a good sport about it!]

No, really, it is just as simple as this: Never say you can’t do something when asked, and never tell anyone their ideas are stupid.

Pick up your copy of Recording Unhinged: Creative and Unconventional Music Recording Techniques on Amazon!