Milton Tasker "Bill" Putnam (1920–1989) was a renowned 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.
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 (the BBC's broadcasting studios in Savoy Hill, London, used for both broadcasting and commercial recording, being the first anywhere to use purpose made echo chambers with both echo send and returns and cue sends and multi-band EQ, and recording to disc and tape as early as 1931.) He also developed the first US multi-band audio equalizer, and with his company Universal Recording Electronics Industries (UREI), he was responsible for the development of classic recording studio equipment including the UREI 1176LN, the UREI Time Align Monitor, and the famed Universal recordings consoles, 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, Hollywood and San Francisco.
In 1947, Putnam made the first recording of a single artist singing more than one line on a recording. Patti Page sang one vocal line of "Confess", a duet in which the second part was recorded onto a large 17.25" disc and 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 quite different technique for doubling vocals.
Audio recording career
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 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, and 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 United Studios 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 expansion of the studio control rooms, which until that time were typically small booths.
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 Western 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 partner Allen Sides, at this time the studio was bringing in around US$200,000 per month in studio billing (equivalent to perhaps US$1 million per month today).
In 1961, he acquired the neighboring Western Recorders, located at 6000 Sunset, remodeling it and incorporating it into the complex, which was then renamed United Western Recorders. In 1985, Putnam sold the studio to partner Allen Sides, who then renamed it Oceanway Recording.
In 2000, Putnam received a posthumous Special Merit/Technical Grammy Award for his contribution to the music industry.
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 13, he tried and failed to become a licensed Ham operator but at 15 he succeeded, earning a Class B Call sign WA6PUK. 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.
Bill Putnam's long hours at Universal Recording led to divorce. After moving to Hollywood with his son Scott, Putnam met and married Frank Sinatra's assistant Miriam (also known as 'Tookie') and fathered two more sons, Bill Jr. and Jim.
- Universal Audio Catalog 2010
- Tyler, Don. Music of the Postwar Era. Greenwood. pp. 39, 217â218. ISBN 0-313-34191-5.
- AES Journal, Vol. 37, No. 9, September 1989. An Afternoon With: Bill Putnam (1980)
- MIX, August 1983. Larry Blakey. Bill Putnam: In His Own Words
- MIX Online Extras, November 1, 2003. Jim Cogan. Bill Putnam
- Cogan, Jim; Clark, William, Temples of sound : inside the great recording studios, San Francisco : Chronicle Books, 2003. ISBN 0-8118-3394-1