Tim Palmer is one of those music industry pros whose name you might not have heard, but you have almost certainly heard his handiwork. His career as a music producer, mixer and audio engineer spans over three decades, and his album credits include U2, Ozzy Osbourne, Faith Hill, INXS, Pearl Jam, Goo Goo Dolls, Tears for Fears, Ryan Cabrera, Switchfoot, and a host of others. Remember the Cutting Crew hit from the ‘80s, “Died In Your Arms Tonight?” Tim Palmer mixed it. How about David Bowie’s album Tin Machine? Palmer produced it. In fact, if you were to check the record credits on the favorite records in your collection, chances are good you’ll find Tim Palmer’s name several times.
Tim started his career in the UK, but these days he operates out of Austin, TX. Tim was gracious enough to answer a few interview questions for us. In fact, his answers to our questions were so insightful, we decided to do as little editing as possible, and let you read his words for yourself. For that reason, this interview is broken up into to two parts.
MIMO: How did you wind up having a career in the music industry? Specifically, how did you learn to produce?
TP: At about 16, all I loved was music and playing guitar. I was also avidly collecting punk records, and forming a band. It was an amazing time for music, I got to see some amazing shows, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Gang of Four, The Damned, The Psychedelic Furs, Teardrop Explodes just to name a few. When I headed into a local studio to cut our first demo, it was the first time that I witnessed what goes on inside a recording studio and from that moment on I knew that making music was what I wanted to do. As it turned out, my destiny became more about helping others, rather than playing the music myself, but it has been just as rewarding.
I got my first job at a studio called Utopia, right in the center of London. It was back in the glory days of recording, when artists of the caliber of Sting or Stevie Wonder would just book in and were happy to use the engineer that was assigned to the session. There was a degree of luck involved, but I was fortunate enough to be put on some great sessions and get the opportunity to make an impression. I slowly began to work with, and build a roster of, some great clients.
A good assistant had to be keen, enthusiastic, happy to make tea/coffee/get the food orders and efficient at operating the tape machine. Being fast and good at ‘dropping in’ on that tape machine was enough to get you requested on sessions. (‘Dropping in’ or ‘punching in’ is putting the tape machine into and out of record at a specific place in a song.) Sometimes a producer may request that you ‘drop in’ on a single syllable of a word or tiny section of a guitar part, so if you were not quick enough, you could potentially screw up and erase important parts of a song. This gave a sense of excitement to a session that I feel is lost today.
So ultimately I learnt my craft more as an apprentice, than as a student in a recording school (I don’t even think they had them back then). I got to learn from some amazing engineers who passed through the studio. You could decide what you liked, and what you didn’t like, about the way they made records. It’s a great way to learn. Basically, ‘mentor-based’ recording schools like The Recording Connection are now using this method.
MIMO: What would you say is your favorite part of your job? What do you like most about it?
TP: I guess my favorite part of the job changes according to the gig. Sometimes getting a mix sounding great and then the band loving it is very rewarding. Watching a great player lay down a great guitar part or a drum track is incredible. Just hanging out with the band and having a laugh is pretty fun, too. I have a different experience with every project I tackle. I learn something new from every situation that I get involved in. It’s very rewarding when you succeed in helping an artist reach his vision, and seeing the music soar high in the chart is an obvious bonus.