Ken Walden beat the drums, played bass, and sang in bands for years before doing the musician-gets-a-day-job switch, landing himself a gig at a recording studio in San Francisco. “We’d gotten to a point in my band where we needed to record our music, and so I got into the recording thing just because none of the other guys would,” he says. “Plus, I was studying music in college and my instructor encouraged me to get a summer job doing engineering.” Walden started working in studios south of San Francisco. Finally The Plant in Sausalito hired him, and he worked there for two years.
Before he knew it, Walden was engineering the greats of rock and roll — manhandling the knobs, faders, buttons, and switches, and finessing the cable connections as a first and second engineer for acts like Carlos Santana, Metallica, John Lee Hooker, and Sammy Hagar.
Secrets From The Pros
“I think the biggest thing you learn when you work with great producers and engineers is the stuff you hear: what tracks come in, where they take that to, and how to go about doing it,” says Walden. “You take notes and you learn because you have to if you’re expected to do recalls for these guys.”
The hands-on experience taught Walden the essentials of old school recording and engineering. “When they say, ‘I need this song up from last week,’ you have to bring it up and make it sound exactly the same as it did from last week, with a pile full of gear in the room,” he explains.
After two years at The Plant, Walden decided to launch another quest in search of a better audio education: the digital audio end of recording. He took on a gig doing tech support for Digidesign. He spent seven more years as a Product Specialist for Digidesign, training pros on how to use Pro Tools.
“While I was working in the field out at different studios, I realized that most people working on DAWs don’t have a fundamental understanding of how — when you work in big studios — you do stuff in a very similar, functional manner,” says Walden. “I realized a lot of people don’t even know how to mic a drum or set up acoustics properly.”
The Eureka Moment
After working with tons of top engineers in their studios, as well as new recordists just getting into their DAWs, Walden had his finger on the pulse of the recording process. So he decided to write, film, and cut a DVD on The Basics of Modern Recording and Mixing, which he released in 2004, through his company Secrets of The Pros.
The first batch of DVDs quickly sold out, and distributors like American Music Supply, Sweetwater, and Sam Ash agreed to distribute the DVDs for him. Now there are over 80 stores carrying his DVDs.
The Basics of Modern Recording and Mixing DVD is also now endorsed by several A-list producers and engineers: Jason Stokes, Grammy-winning engineer for OutKast; Steve Duda, engineer for Nine Inch Nails, Sugar Ray, Rob Zombie, A Perfect Circle; and Mike Clink, producer and engineer for Guns N’ Roses, Puff Daddy, and Metallica.
“With that DVD, if there are standards, I show them standards. And where there aren’t standards, I say, ‘There aren’t standards,’” says Walden. “If you set up a good monitoring environment in a studio, then all you have to do is twist the knobs until what you hear sounds right and then you’re good.”
In February 2005, Walden released a second DVD, Pro Tools DVD — Volume 1. “There are some other Pro Tools videos out, but my DVD is primarily for music production,” he says. “It’s all the stuff you need to know about Pro Tools, shown in a way that if I was to show a friend how to use Pro Tools — this is how I would show them how to do it.”
High quality gear is cheap and accessible, but the knowledge of how to use it isn’t as readily available. “So knowing acoustics and how to set up a studio right is really important,” says Walden. “Anybody could buy a DAW these days and have 32 or 100 tracks. But knowing what to do with it is a totally different game.”