I met Prince a couple of times in a recording studio (Sound 80?) when I lived in St. Paul. Or rather, I should say, I saw him, waved and he nodded in my general direction.
He and I are… er ‘were’ about the same age so it was notable to me that basically a kid was working behind the huge, spaceship-like recording desk. And the adults were actually paying attention to him; he wasn’t just playing around.
Other than that, I paid no attention to him because at the time he was still not the guy we would come to revere. He was just a kid R&B singer with a sexy poster but not much else to distinguish him. But I do remember this:
When I asked the head recording engineer why they were all watching, he said that Prince was the only guy they had seen who could mix himself. I had no idea what he was on about, but now I know.
Almost all musicians hear the sound we want to get inside our heads. And that vision clouds the reality of how we really sound. It’s like how when you look in a mirror you see one thing, but when you see a photo of yerself and go YUCK, THAT’S NOT ME! Well, it is you. The ‘you’ you see in the mirror is being filtered by yer brain to fit how you’d like to imagine that the world sees you.
So when a musician tries to record and mix him/her-self it usually is not a great thing. Most of us simply don’t have the objectivity to hear ourselves as we really sound. So our mixes sound a lot better to us than they really are. Most of us just can’t get past that internal filter which makes us seem so much more handsome. That’s why God invented Producers. Almost all of us need that objective second set of ears.
But Prince was different. He could write and play and sing like no one else. But then he could walk over to the other side of the glass, sit down at the desk and do a mix with the complete objectivity almost none of us have about our own work.
To this day, after all these years, I usually mix other people’s songs far better than I can do my own–in the same way that you can give everyone else great advice that you yourself can’t heed. To cope, I still have to wait a while after recording myself before I mix, just because I need to ‘cleanse the palate’ in order to mix the song with any sense of objectivity. But apparently Prince could mix himself like a pro immediately. And at the age of twenty.
You’ll hear a zillion anecdotes about Prince over the next few days, but if yer a serious musician and a wannabee recordist, I think this stands out as much as any of his other achievements. You can sing, play and dance just as good as you wants to, but how many of us ever gain that objectivity and self-awareness, let alone at such a young age. Objectivity is a big part of genius if you ask me.