Milton Tasker "Bill" Putnam (February 20, 1920 – April 13, 1989) was an American audio engineer, songwriter, producer, studio designer and businessman, who has been described as "the father of modern recording". He was the inventor of the modern recording console and is recognised as a key figure in the development of the postwar commercial recording industry.
|Birth name||Milton Tasker Putnam|
|Born||February 20, 1920|
|Died||April 13, 1989 (aged 69)|
|Occupation(s)||Audio engineer, songwriter, record producer|
Former colleague Bruce Swedien described Putnam's achievements thus:
- "Bill Putnam was the father of recording as we know it today. The processes and designs which we take for granted — the design of modern recording desks, the way components are laid out and the way they function, console design, cue sends, multitrack switching — they all originated in Bill's imagination."
Putnam was the first person in the US to use artificial reverberation using echo chambers for commercial recording. He also developed the first US multi-band audio equalizer, and with his companies Universal Audio and later Universal Recording Electronics Industries (UREI), he was responsible for the development of classic recording studio equipment. This included the vacuum tube based LA-2A and 1176 compressors, and their transistor based successors, the LA-3A and 1176. He also developed the Time Align Monitor Series, and custom order Studio Electronics recordings consoles, outfitted with his 610 modular channel strips, all of which soon became standard equipment in studios all over America. Alongside his friend Les Paul, Putnam was also involved in the early development of stereophonic recording and he founded several major independent recording studios in Chicago, Las Vegas, Hollywood and San Francisco.
In 1947, Putnam made the first recording of a single artist singing more than one line on a recording made with Patti Page and George Barnes, who suggested the "duet." Page sang one vocal line of "Confess", and the second part was recorded onto a large 17.25" disc, then played back as she sang the main vocal line; the two vocals and accompaniment being wedded onto a wire recorder. Les Paul followed in short order with his own technique for multiplying guitars and vocals, using magnetic tape.
Audio recording careerEdit
In 1946, Putnam founded one of America's first independent recording studios, Universal Recording in Chicago. His reputation grew quickly thanks to his work with artists such as Patti Page, Vic Damone, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Little Walter, and Dinah Washington. His period at Universal saw a number of 'firsts' for the recording industry, including the first use of tape repeat, the first vocal booth, the first multiple voice recording, one of the first to use 8-track recording (preceded by Les Paul and Tom Dowd), the first use of delay lines in the studio, and the first release, in 1956, of half-speed mastered discs (on the Mercury label.)
By the mid-1950s, Putnam was one of the most sought-after engineer-producers in the United States. Sam Phillips sent Elvis Presley's Mystery Train and I Forgot to Remember to Forget to Putnam in August, 1955 with the instructions: "Give me 'hot' level on both 78 and 45's and as much presence peak and bass as possible!" Universal Recording had become so successful that clients including Nelson Riddle, Mitch Miller and Quincy Jones began urging him to open a facility on the west coast. In 1957, he sold his interest in Universal Recording and with support from Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, he established a new company called United Recording Corp. and moved to Hollywood, taking over and remodeling a defunct film studio at 6050 Sunset Boulevard. Putnam was determined to incorporate as many technological innovations into the new complex as possible and he constructed new facilities, including a significant modernization of studio control room concept to permit multi-track monitoring and recording, featuring Putnam's innovative Bonnet design to provide overhead forward speaker mounting and provide seating space for guests while improving the engineer's view of the studio. Until that time, control rooms were typically small booths. These new control rooms also housed new multi-channel custom consoles designed and manufactured in a second story loft area of the building (the birthplace of UREI). United's facilities included three acoustically isolated studios of varying sizes, three lacquer mastering studios (one stereo) and a stereo re-mixing room. In addition, each studio had its own stereo acoustic reverberation room. All facilities were cross connected electronically at a central location so that all facilities were available to each other as needed.
When United Recording was founded, stereo recording was still a new innovation and it was considered little more than a novelty by the major record labels. But Putnam foresaw its importance and, at his own expense, he began making simultaneous stereo mixes of recordings produced at United and stockpiled these recordings. Around 1962, when stereo was taking off as a consumer audio format, the major labels found themselves without any significant back catalog of stereo recordings, so they offered to buy the stockpile of tapes. However, the canny Putnam cleverly negotiated a far more lucrative deal, whereby he was recompensed for the (much more expensive) studio time used in mixing the stereo versions. According to Putnam's former associate, Allen Sides, at this time the studio was bringing in around US$200,000 per month in studio billing (equivalent to US$1.71 million per month today).
In 1961, he acquired the neighboring Western Recorders, located at 6000 Sunset, remodeled it and incorporated it into the complex, which was then renamed United Western Recorders. The two buildings were then tied together electronically also to provide flexibility. United Recording Electronic Industries (UREI), having outgrown the loft facilities above United moved into an area in the East wing of the Western Recorders building. It moved again a few years later to much larger headquarters in North Hollywood. Putnam finally sold UREI to Harmon Industries who also owned JBL at the time.
In 1966, Putnam sold the Nevada location of United Recording to Bill Porter.
After the United/Western merger, and at the request of several film music producers in Hollywood who were looking for a more modern sound for their films, the studios began to record film scores utilizing multi-track film recorders. Playing video cues and sync recording mono audio for quick playback in the studio was also a very popular time saver.
In 1985, Putnam sold the original studio to Allen Sides, who then renamed it Oceanway Recording.
Bill Putnam's father ran a radio program at WDZ, Tuscola, Illinois, one of Gene Autry's early radio homes. Born in Danville, Illinois, Putnam's interest in music began in this period, and his flair for electronics started when he was in the Boy Scouts working toward a 'wireless' merit badge. At thirteen, he tried and failed to become a licensed Ham operator but at fifteen he succeeded, earning a Class B Call sign W9PUK. On weekends, Putnam sang with a number of regional bands that played gigs primarily on college campuses. It was at this point that Putnam realized that musicians were his favorite people. Putnam was married four times. His first wife Grace elected to stay in Danville, Ill. with their son and daughter when Bill joined the U.S. Army Band and was stationed near the North Side of Chicago. After his discharge from the Army, he got a divorce and formed a partnership with two other like minded individuals, Bernie Clapper and Bob Weber, to make time delayed transcriptions of Network radio shows. They later started Universal Recording Corp.on the eighth floor of the old Opera Building in Chicago. After several moves, they built their newest and last Studio on the second floor of a new building on the N.E. corner of Rush and Walton Streets in the Club District on the North Side. It was here that he met a singer by the name of Belinda Richmond at one of the nearby clubs and the two were married. Belinda worked at the studios as a tape editor and part time file librarian. Bill Putnam's long hours at Universal Recording again led to divorce after moving to Hollywood. Putnam met and married Frank Sinatra's assistant Miriam (also known as 'Tookie') and fathered two more sons, Bill Jr. and Jim. Miriam died rather unexpectedly and Bill did not marry again until after he sold the company and retired. In retirement he and his last wife, Caroline moved to Ventura Keys, California.
Putnam died in Riverside, California, at the age of 69, and was laid to rest in Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, California. The service was well attended by many Hollywood personalities connected with the music business, and a group of musicians got together a band to play some of Bills favorite tunes.
In 2000, Putnam received a posthumous Special Merit/Technical Grammy Award for his contribution to the music industry.
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