TRIBECA/CHINATOWN, MANHATTAN: Rich Lamb is a studio nomad. He’s an NYC audio hired gun who works in studios and recording situations that span the region – turns out, Lamb has a lot of favorite local places to work, and he’s going to share them with us right here.
Based in TriBeCa/Chinatown, Lamb ([email protected]) is a professional audio engineer – period. His freelance recording and mixing practice can take him clear across NY state or to the next door down, and the flexibility has paid off: Today Lamb’s discography includes The Brecker Brothers, They Might Be Giants, John Cale, Antony and the Johnsons, The Asylum Street Spankers, Debbie Deane, Ian Hunter, Willie Nile, Cherish the Ladies, and Joan Osborne. Allmusic.com has more.
Lamb was 18, living at home on Long Island and driving to college one day, when he saw a life-changing sign for an audio school. “Eventually I dropped out of college and pursued a 30-week program with complete dedication,” he recalls. “After some time out of college, which included interning at a local studio in a basement with quite a bit of impressive gear — Ampex 2, API board, etc… I got a degree at Berklee College of Music, taking their Music Production and Engineering major.”
Shiny new diploma in hand, Lamb started by assisting at Skyline Studios, followed by the Power Station [now Avatar] before forging out on his own. He scored his first semi-steady gig doing house audio for Blue Man Group, and “My career has been a combination of studio, live, and corporate audio ever since.”
When we met at the Massey Plugins mixer at Lakeside Lounge, I enjoyed hearing your philosophy on how you work as an engineer. What do you find so fulfilling about a freelance career where you’re on call to go anyplace and record or mix?
Not that it was intentional, but I guess the most stimulating thing about freelancing in audio is that there’s rarely a dull moment if you’re always in different rooms. You have to remember different layouts, different patch bays, what mics are available, what drawbacks and strengths there are to each room, and how to adjust your ears to different monitoring situations — from control rooms to large venues, different PAs, indoor or outdoor. Either way, you have to mix differently when you have an outdoor gig and you’re used to the studio, and vice versa.
For example, you begin to understand EQ as something to enhance or sculpt — like in the studio — versus it being used more for damage control or feedback attenuation, when working live. Same with compression. Being able to juggle different types of gigs really enhances your troubleshooting reflexes too, though someone who works just one room could argue that he’s fast because his knows his room cold.
But my approach to my career is about doing whatever it takes to advance myself through great projects that I get to record and mix. Ideally each great album gets me recommended to someone new, or hired back. If it pays the bills and I enjoy it, I’m not too worried about whether it’s going to “go anywhere.” I don’t work on spec. Even if it’s a close friend, which can be a blast, I have to charge something fair, otherwise I’ll put off working on their stuff.
When it comes to projects that are dear to me, including projects where I have a say on where we track or what musicians we should use, even if I’m not technically producing, my first choice is to do a large chunk of work in any of the studios where I work at the most. If they can’t afford the expensive one, we go to a more affordable place, work within our limitations, forego the real piano and the awesome acoustics, and get the job done well either way. I’m drawn to producers and studios that generally make music I’m into. How else can you improve at your craft than get to practice on the styles you like? The more work feels like play the more aligned you are with your purpose, and you’ll probably live a longer and healthier life.