Steve Albini: the man, the myth and now the legend

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Steve Albini: the man, the myth and now the legend

Steve Albini
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Electrical Audio announced overnight that Steve Albini, the innovative recording engineer, musician, and studio owner, passed away unexpectedly.

A huge influence in both microphone technique and an advocate and educator for recording to tape, the wit of Steve Albini, the knowledge, fashion sense and attitude have had a huge impact on the recording industry as a whole.

Steve Albini

Steve’s legacy is a sonic one, but also as a keeper of knowledge and a communicator of it all. His approach to record making is legendary, and he was happy to discuss and share it, all in the interest of every artists on this planet pursuing whatever they want to pursue, and leaving with a record they’re proud of.

Steve Albini MWTM

“I would like to be paid like a plumber.”

Albini famously responded to Nirvana via a letter in 1992, in response to their want to work with him, outlining his work ethos, expectations and attitude to record making. He stated he would “like to be paid like a plumber”, in that he would be hired to do a job, for a fee, and would expect no royalties or further payments. His ethos was that a plumber wouldn’t be paid royalties regardless of the success of plumbing, and engineering records is no different.

“I do not want and will not take a royalty on any record I record. No points. Period. I think paying a royalty to a producer or engineer is ethically indefensible. The band write the songs. The band play the music. It’s the band’s fans who buy the records. The band is responsible for whether it’s a great record or a horrible record. Royalties belong to the band.”

Steve later goes on to explain “I will let you make the final decision about what I’m going to be paid. How much you choose to pay me will not affect my enthusiasm for the record.”

Electrical Audio

Some years later in 1997, Steve Albini opened Electrical Audio in Chicago, Illinois, a building comprised of a few studios, purpose built for multiple bands to be working simultaneously without affecting each other’s workflow.

Studio A housed a large format Neotek control, custom built for Electrical Audio, racks of outboard equipment, and a large live room with multiple booths and spaces for multiple musicians to record at once. Some unique design principles include a drum booth, nicknamed “Alcatraz” with a vented floor that acted as a bass trap. “Alcatraz” was effectively a monolith, the floor having no connection to the side walls, and the low end information trickling toward the basement for a more balanced sound in the booth.

Studio B housed an iconic staircase, spiralling around the live room, and leading towards the upstairs control room. Bombastic drum sounds were available, with ceiling reaching close to three stories for unparalleled ambience. Albini harnessed every inch of this space in his recordings. Studio B also housed a Neotek control.


Musically, Albini made music in his bands Shellac, Big Black and more. Characterised by larger than live guitar sounds, coupled with well-composed and arranged songs, Shellac communicated Steve’s ‘sound’ more than anything else.

Playing equipment like the aluminium necked guitars from Electrical Guitar Company, as well as an encyclopaedic list of obscure amplifiers, Steve’s sound was both iconic and hugely influential. Shellac’s new record, To All Trains, is scheduled for release next week.

Electrical Audio on YouTube

The last few years saw Electrical Audio expand onto YouTube, Albini helping communicate his knowledge of decades of record making; and all with his own unique wit and dare we say it: flair.

Electrical Audio’s YouTube channel saw Steve discussing his favourite amplifiers, microphones and the techniques to mic and capture it all, the videos filled with expansive, albeit complex, knowledge of how energy, air and sound all move through each other. The YouTube channel also showed us how to make “The Best Coffee”: Electrical Audio’s famous Fluffy Coffee.