Karen Kane Profile (1995) by Anne Reynolds
Published in Professional Sound , Spring 1995
It is said of Karen Kane that she pioneered the way for women in audio in the New England area. One of the first successful freelance engineers in the Boston area (male or female), Kane began her career at eight years of age taking apart the family tape recorder to see what made it tick. In 1970, not quite sure what she wanted to do with herself, Kane happened into a position at 6 West Recording Studios in New York City as an assistant studio manager, thanks to a family friend. She took to the recording business like a natural and when the manager left a year later, Kane was promoted to her position; at the age of 20, she was now the boss of this major jingle facility. At the end of four years, not only had Kane learned the business side of the studio, but she’d also taught herself a lot of the technical end as well.
Musically, she had been studying guitar off and on since 1969 and in 1974 she moved to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music. However, feeling very outnumbered in the male-dominated school, she left Berklee to pursue her music education privately. Kane remained in Boston and was hired by Intermedia Sound-a studio known for such big hits as Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Jonathan Edwards’ “Sunshine” – as studio manager. To learn more about the technical side of the business (and because there were no schools for audio engineers) she spent all her spare time around the equipment, developing her skills as an engineer. In 1976, when the Recording Institute of America in New York brought its new audio program to Intermedia, she jumped at the chance to learn more and eventually received the advanced diploma in audio engineering. In 1976, Kane achieved her goal and became a full-fledged engineer at Intermedia, giving up the manager’s position. This was short-lived however, as new owners of Intermedia laid off the entire staff a year later. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the only studio positions open to Kane at the time were other management positions, so she took the big plunge into self-employment and began offering her services as a freelance engineer to the Boston music community. By the mid 80’s, her role in the studio had changed to production and engineering, and of the 130 albums she has engineered, more than 30 were also produced or co-produced by her, allowing her to combine both her technical and musical talents.
Of those 130 albums to her credit, some have been nominated for Boston Music Awards and feature singles which have appeared on U.S. music charts. She has extensive experience with on-location recording and live sound engineering. With 17 years experience in the Boston area, a large percentage of her albums’ credits are independent New England artists; some of the other people she has worked with include: Tracy Chapman, Chad Mitchell, Linda Worster, Livingston Taylor and Kay Gardner.
Kane moved to Canada in 1990 because she was ready for a change: a “professional shift”, as she puts it. Since moving to Toronto, her list of Canadian projects includes Tim Harrison, Carl Kees, Doug Barr, Ju Ju Spirit, Mother Tongue, Kim Doolittle, Faith Nolan, Jack Grunsky, Blue Mule. Kane believes that Canada is certainly holding its own musically and technically, citing Toronto-area studio such as Pizazzudio, Chalet, Comfort Sound, Quest, Reaction and Metalworks as some of her favourites.
For Kane one of the challenges in recording (with its rapidly evolving digital technology) is to preserve the warmth, intimacy and integrity of analog sound. Her formative years in audio occurred well before digital audio, MIDI, drum machines, automation and even synthesizers. Consequently, she still favours the more natural sounds, especially with acoustic instrumentation. This does not mean she shuns the current technology; she couldn’t live without automation or digital editing! “But the thrill of listening to a talented musician or vocalist through a classic tube mic onto a new 2″ Studer with Dolby SR is an experience I’ll never tire of”, she confesses. “although digitally reproduced music sounds okay to my ears, it seems to fall somewhat short as a full body experience”. Her hope for the future as we further explore the digital medium is that we create methods of recording that maintain that rich analog sound, but with the conveniences of new technologies. Kane’s future plans include possibly teaching part-time at a prominent American audio school, working on a film project doing post audio, and she’d also like to do more live sound.
And – of course – more music albums.