The Spirit of the Track is What Makes a Song a Hit

Recording Engineer Kevin Becka on capturing the soul of the music and the gear that he uses in the studio and at home. If you're a fan of Focal, Audeze, Sennheiser, or Ultimate Ears — you have to read this.

Written BY

Mike Dias

I founded Domo Audio because I love music. I love audio. And I believe in building relationships, not transactions.


December 30, 2019

As audiophiles, we want the raw essence of sound. We crave to be as close to the original studio experience as possible. That’s why we’re always looking for new and better gear. 

At Domo Audio, we take this sonic obsession a step further. We go right to the source and talk to the recording engineers who made your favorite albums.

Kevin Becka is a recording engineer and author with over 25 years of experience. He has worked with Kenny G., Quincy Jones, Michael Bolton, George Benson, Natalie Cole, George Lynch, and so many others. Kevin is also a writer, lecturer, and an experienced educator who has built a wonderful career out of teaching the fundamentals of audio & recording principles. This makes him the perfect guest to talk about the intersection where art & technology meet.

What makes a great recording session?

A great session is a balance of many things including the instruments, musicians, the engineer, the room you record in, your mic choices, plus all the balancing and processing that happens before you hit the recorder. It seems very simple when you read the list but the weakest link in the chain can bring the whole thing crashing down. What separates a good engineer from a great one is their ability to navigate the chaos that naturally occurs in a session.

What separates one studio from another?

First and foremost it’s the staff that makes a great studio. With the proper resources, anyone can collect the gear and build the space necessary to get great results, but without the service and technical expertise that is necessary to make the artist’s experience exemplary, then you’re just another room full of gear. I tell our students that they are being trained as a 5-star audio concierge. If you understand and can work in the framework where the customer is king, you’ll have a top-notch, competitive recording studio.

What separates one engineer from another?

Experience is what separates one operator from another. But on top of that, keeping a cool head when there is a problem with the gear, and being a good “hang” when you’re in a windowless room for long days also helps.

What does great sounding audio mean to you?

It’s a feeling that the “soul” of the music is shining through. The spirit of the track is what makes a song a hit. With a great recording, you forget the individual elements and you’re carried away emotionally. It’s a beautiful thing when it happens.

As listeners — what can we do to further our enjoyment of the recordings?

Playing your audio back on a system up to the task makes all the difference. High sample and bit rates routed through a system with plenty of headroom to handle dynamics then played through top end transducers at the back end will keep that “soul” of the music shining through

Do you think that it's possible for us — the listeners — to ever hear and experience exactly what you heard and felt in the studio?

It’s never possible to experience the recording as made at 100% because there are too many variables. But with a great system as described above, you have your best shot at being as close to the experience and results obtained in the original session

What are your favorite studio monitors and why?

Focal SM9s blow me away every time. They are a joy to listen to and mixes translate very well. Also, at the flip of a switch, you can make it a two-way monitor which is a great feature if you have a smaller space.

What are your go-to headphones / in-ears and why?

To be a well balanced mixer, you must have great monitoring references including speakers, IEMS, and headphones. The top end IEMs from Ultimate Ears, the UE Pro Re-Mastered and the 18+ IEMS are both excellent monitors. I use IEMS to check panning and fine balances. They give you an intimacy with the music you don’t get from speakers or headphones. For headphones I like Grado SR80s which are very affordable. Audeze also makes some fantastic products including their LCD-4 circumaural headphones. I also use the Sennheiser HD 800s, and the original Blue Mo-Fi headphones which unfortunately are no longer in production.

And lastly, what’s your home sound system look like?

Because I have access to the greatest rooms on the planet at Blackbird, I rely heavily on the ATCs and other great gear in those rooms. I keep it simple at home with KEF LS50s and Genelec 8010 speakers.

Kevin Becka is an Instructor and Co-Director for The Blackbird Academy. He has been a musician and recording engineer for over 30 years working with the top names in music including Kenny G., Quincy Jones, Michael Bolton, George Benson, George Lynch, and more. Kevin has taught audio recording at the high school and post-secondary levels including teaching surround recording at the Danish Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, Denmark; advanced recording at Belmont University; and served as a Director of Education and instructor at The Conservatory of Recording Arts for over 10 years. Kevin is also a seasoned journalist and author of The Blackbird Academy Foundations (Hal Leonard Publications). He has served as editor of both Audio Media and Pro Audio Review magazines, and was technical editor of Mix Magazine for 15 years.

To learn more about Kevin, his body of work, or The Blackbird Academy, please visit any of the links below:

View all of Kevin’s music credits

Read Kevin’s past articles from Mix Magazine

Watch Kevin talk about catching his big break with Kenny G on the NAMM Oral History series

If you’ve ever wanted to learn about studio engineering, please consider attending The Blackbird Academy


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