Al Schmitt is incredibly honest in his autobiography, Al Schmitt on the Record: The Magic Behind the Music (Music Pro Guides). Al has been hanging out in recording studios since he was 8 (his uncle, Harry Smith, owned the first independent recording studio on the East Coast). He talks about his years at RCA, Capitol, engineering, producing and mixing.
The best part about this book is it’s basically two books in one. The first half is his autobiography and the second half is his tips on recording common instruments, room placement and mixing tricks. Al came into the industry pre-multitrack recording when engineers thought in terms of mic and room placement, not processing and fixing it in post.
All You Need Is Ears: The inside personal story of the genius who created The Beatles was one of my favorite books when I was in college learning how to engineer. George Martin writes about his experiences working in the studio with the Beatles.
Martin came from a classical music background – a stark contrast to the young and self-taught musicians he was collaborating with. Martin brought this mindset to working with the Beatles and he talks about how he brought classical elements into their work over time.
If you’re a fan of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, or Roy Orbison you’ll like Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll. Sam started a studio in Memphis, Tennessee (Memphis Recording Service) that went on record many Southern artists that went on to have careers that have gone down in musical history. He recorded “Rocket 88,” which many consider to be the first rock and roll record.
There’s also some stories about Marion Keisker, the “jane of all trades” at the studio. Author Peter Guralnick knew both Sam and Marion.
Trumpet Records: Diamonds on Farish Street (American Made Music (Paperback)) is the only book I know of about a woman in early sound recording history. It follows Lillian McMurray from the first blues record she ever heard to becoming a record producer and label owner.
This book goes into thorough detail of all the artists she worked with and the stories behind the recording sessions. While the main focus is the artists, the story of Lillian and her rise and fall in the recording industry is still worth the read.
Books Written by Women
(Disclosure: I haven’t read some of these in their entirety but I think it’s important to give them a shout out!)
Recording Unhinged: Creative and Unconventional Music Recording Techniques (Music Pro Guides). A book on recording by the amazing Sylvia Massy.
There’s also an accompanying coloring book (how badass is she?!) Recording Unhinged Coloring Book: For Those Who Color Outside the Lines
Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture, and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP (Studies in Industry and Society) by Dr. Susan Schmidt-Horning. This book is a thorough history of sound recording starting from the Edison years and it’s a continuation of research she did for her dissertation.
Her information comes from interviews she did with engineers, producers and other prominent people in the recording industry such as Al Schmitt, Leslie Ann Jones, and Les Paul. The original interviews (which took place between 1999 and 2005) are fascinating as many of the people have since passed away. They are available to listen to online at the Chasing Sound Oral History Project.