Monday, 1 August 2011


Welcome to my blog about recording and engineering. Starting this September I'll be embarking on a Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious Public Engagement Fellowship. The Ingenious funding scheme promotes public understanding and awareness of engineering and until Summer 2012 the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) will be supporting me as I attempt to answer the question "Is Recording Engineering?" This blog will record my progress, activities, thoughts throughout the project. But more than that it will be an opportunity for YOU -  whoever you may be: sound recording professionals, record collectors, music enthusiasts, performers, DJs, music/audio/technology/engineering students, hifi buffs, anyone with an interest in music and how it is recorded - to get involved, contribute to the debate, attend events and have YOUR say.

Before setting out to answer the 'big' question at the top of this page, I think I should answer some smaller ones so that you know who I am, what I do and how this project came about.

Who am I?
I'm Jez Wells (Jeremy to my mum) and I've been lucky enough to spend the last twenty years studying, researching, doing and teaching music and audio technology.  I fell in love with the sound of the Moog synthesizer at the age of five (thanks to my dad's record collection) and a fascination with sound production then grew to include sound recording. I studied Music and Sound Recording on the University of Surrey's Tonmeister course then, after some time spent in the audio industry and teaching, I returned to study at the University of York (where I now work as a lecturer) and obtained my Masters and PhD here, both of which were in music technology. In addition to the teaching and research I do in my lecturing role I also work as freelance recording engineer. I also DJ, play the piano and organ and sing with a local choir. I teach all sorts of subjects at undergraduate and postgraduate level, from audio processing techniques to psychoacoustics. One strand of my research looks at devising new methods for synthetically changing the microphone technique for a recording after it has been made. I'm also a trustee of the York-based charity Accessible Arts and Media.

Why this project?
The technology and techniques to capture sound and reproduce it in different places and at different times, are amongst the most important developments in the lives of human beings in the last century and a half. Sound recording has transformed communication, music, heritage and education and the act itself of capturing audio fascinates and inspires many. There are now a myriad of education providers producing thousands of graduates in audio and music technology per year. Universities, schools and colleges up and down the UK now have their own recording studios and the home recording studio has become increasingly cheaper yet more sophisticated, thanks to the advances in computing technology.

This all means that sound recording is no longer something which is heard by many, yet done by a tiny minority. It is now something which many will have the opportunity to engage with over the course of their lives – they can aspire to or become a ‘recording engineer’. In doing so they will hear an event, do something to capture it and then hear it reproduced. To do this they will have to engage with an understanding of physics and technology in order to create something. Using a combination of knowledge of the physical world in which we live and technology for performing certain tasks, in order to create, is something that many engineers feel that they do every day. Yet, the relationship between ‘recording engineering’ and ‘engineering’ does not seem to be clearly defined or understood.

The term recording engineer suggests an individual who records sound by applying engineering principles, but to what extent is this the case? Is ‘engineer’ (as used in many countries) the correct term or is ‘master of sound’ (Tonmeister, German) more appropriate? To what extent can the ‘recording engineer’, a role perceived by some as a glamorous one, illuminate the process and discipline of engineering? Can the recording engineer protect their often precarious and ad-hoc employment by a realisation of the extent to which they are an engineer (via their transferable skills, for example)? Or are they technicians, acousticians and/or musicians for whom the term ‘engineer’ is entirely inappropriate? To what extent should engineering feature in Music Technology syllabi? This project looks to illuminate such questions by understanding and challenging perceptions of the work of ‘recording engineers’ and by communicating these findings to a wide audience.

How is the project going to be carried out?
In the coming months, in collaboration with Dr Dave Beer who is a social scientist here at York, I'll be asking as many people as I can what they think the relationships between recording and engineering are. I'll be talking to professional bodies, both budding and experienced sound recordists and others. This will be happening at events in both the north and south of the country, at schools and universities and via online resources such as this blog. I'll also be getting myself out and about and explaining/talking to anyone who's interested, at whatever level, about what engineering is, what people do when they record sound and the overlaps between music, science and technology.

If you want to get involved in anyway then let me know, via the comments below or by emailing me at jez[dot]wells[at]york[dot]ac[dot]uk or jez[at]jezwells[dot]org. If you're interested and have something to say on this subject then hopefully I'll hear from you in person or online.

Once the project has started in September this blog will be regularly updated so let me have your thoughts and watch this space.