James Connell

James Connell

Musician, Artist, Recording Producer, Audio Engineer, Video Producer


Passion for classical music recording with taste from experience and tradition combined with mastery of audio and video technique and science.

I’ve been fascinated by music my whole life. As a child, I was delighted by the work of extraordinary musicians, whether they were soloists or played in symphony orchestras, or sang in choirs. I grew up in a family that encouraged me to study violin and to sing in our church choir. I was taken often to New York City, Chicago, and Dallas to hear great performers, chamber groups, and orchestras. As a young boy and as a teen, my favorite musicians were Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Issac Stern, Van Cliburn, André Watts, Krystian Zimerman, Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Jessey Norman, Luciano Pavarotti, and Plácido Domingo.  I was fortunate to experience these and many other great performers on stage multiple times. Many of our trips to New York City were scheduled around Pavarotti performing at the Met. My family, violin teacher, and church choir director encouraged me to appreciate the vision, discipline and the musical standards of classical music. I studied the violin for twelve years, up through college, and played with orchestras as I matured as a musician. 

As a preteen and teenager, I collected and treasured certain recordings of my favorite artists. Around the age of twelve I began audio recording, wanting my recordings to sound like the professional recordings I’d often listened to. I also began to record my own violin playing.  This was in 1980 when recording equipment was not as readily available as it is today. These early efforts were extremely frustrating and disappointing. That was actually a good thing because it led me to experiment with different types of microphones, recording techniques, and equipment. I contacted a number of industry-respected audio engineers and producers, some of whom were kind enough to spend a good bit of time with me on the phone discussing particular issues I encountered.  

In my early twenties, I found myself recording for many accomplished musicians in Shreveport, Louisiana where I grew up. Van Cliburn, who also lived in Shreveport for a number of years, had specially chosen and donated a Steinway Model D to his church there. I was fortunate enough to use this spectacular piano for many of my early recordings as I experimented with microphone placement and recording techniques. This started my life-long love of recording solo piano. I recently recorded an album using that same piano with violinist Gary Levinson and pianist Baya Kakouberi. There’s a sample of that recording (Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix) in the audio section of this website. My violin teacher, Laura Crawford, came to the session and helped me with evaluating takes for post-production in the control room. It was a great experience returning to Shreveport to record this new album.

While I was in college, I recorded many other students as well as faculty at the Hurley Music School at Centenary College. I also recorded the Centenary College Choir and the music department’s special events at The First United Methodist Church in Shreveport. These recordings were produced before there were computers. These productions were done with tape recorders, mixing boards, and equipment not often used anymore these days. It was much more difficult to record then because there wasn’t the inexpensive, relatively good-quality equipment available today. I was forced to refine my skills and get it right when recording because there wasn’t the opportunity “to fix things” afterward on a computer. I still find that it’s better to spend time on creative post-production than fixing mistakes. 

 As most musicians know, two major components of being a great performer are having great musical interpretation and strong technical skills. Being a recording producer also has two components. There is a technical side to recording, for example, ensuring that microphone placement isn’t causing phase cancellation.  I won’t be going into that here.  Let’s talk about the nontechnical side of what I do.  The first example is using a technique to achieve an artistic goal. I use a combination of vintage equipment (some microphones are 80 years old) blended with modern microphones and cutting-edge technology to create a sound that is authentic, tasteful, elegant, and gratifying. The most common first reaction by the artist upon first hearing the playback is that the recording sounds better than the live performance did in the concert hall. The trick is to do this tastefully and remain faithful to the proper sound of classical music. I don’t want to wind up with a recording that sounds like a movie soundtrack or a pop music recording. The second part of this nontechnical piece is bringing out the best in the artist by creating the right atmosphere during the recording session. Unless a sound engineer has been with a musician in a recording session experiencing a bad playing day, the tension of a session that’s going slower than expected with time running out, or being interrupted in the middle of a great performance, he cannot relate to the musician. I have been on both sides and can intuitively feel when it’s the right time to talk to the musician and how to encourage them in a meaningful and authentic way. Establishing the right amount of interaction, the right tone, and even how loudly one talks with the musician is essential to effectively put them in the best state of mind for recording a great take. 

 The recording session’s atmosphere and the sound engineer’s interaction with the artist affect what they’re able to do in the awkward and unnatural environment of performing for a microphone. It requires the producer/sound engineer to balance getting out of the way or intervening, as well as knowing how to intervene. 

My recordings are known for a particular sound signature. This sound signature is based on the fact that a recording can never sound “exactly” like the live performance which is not only okay but actually, in most cases, a good thing. When someone buys music and plans to listen to it over and over, it should sound better and be performed better than what is possible in a live performance. Extraneous sounds like chair squeaks, page turns, or other interruptive noises should be removed. The clarity or lack of clarity should be an artistic and purposeful decision not a circumstance beyond control. The balance between multiple instruments should be better than that heard onstage. The amount of reverberation can easily be better than what occurs in a particular venue. I take great care in the selection of a hall for recording because its acoustic shape has a major impact on the final result. This is why we don’t record in “studios.” They’re primarily designed for rock, pop, folk music, and soundtracks. The sound-shaping side of recording is a bit like seasoning food when cooking. You don’t want someone who has only eaten and made hamburgers preparing your special holiday meal. There are parameters as to what is tasteful and appropriate.

which is okay