|Birth name||Milton Tasker Putnam|
February 20, 1920|
|Died||April 13, 1989
|Occupation(s)||Audio engineer, songwriter, record producer|
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.
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, were 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 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, 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 (musician), 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 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 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, 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 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 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 US$1.57 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.
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 WA9PUK. 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.
Putnam died in Riverside, California at the age of 69.
In 2000, Putnam received a posthumous Special Merit/Technical Grammy Award for his contribution to the music industry.
- Tyler, Don. Music of the Postwar Era. Greenwood. p. 39. ISBN 0-313-34191-5.
- Sutheim, Peter (September 1989). "An Afternoon With: Bill Putnam" (PDF). Journal of the Audio Engineering Society. Audio Engineering Society. 37 (9): 723–730. ISSN 1549-4950.
- Blakey, Larry (August 1983). "Bill Putnam: In His Own Words". Mix. NewBay Media. ISSN 1403-8927.
- Cogan, Jim (1 November 2003). "Mix Online Extras: Bill Putnam". Mix. NewBay Media. ISSN 1403-8927.
- Herman, Shelley (June 1989). "Bill Putnam: In Memoriam" (PDF). Journal of the Audio Engineering Society. Audio Engineering Society. 37 (6): 532. ISSN 1549-4950.
- Clark, William; Cogan, Jim; Jones, Quincy (2003). Temples of Sound: Inside the Great Recording Studios. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0811833943.