Recording Revisited

Some of you may recall that a while back I wrote a blog post titled “Twelve Things Your Band Should Know Before Going into the Studio.”  Well, I’ve been doing some studio work lately, and I re-read that post.  I think that prior to any future projects, I’m going to re-draft that into more or less an ethical code of conduct that the band has to read and sign before they commit one note to tape (or disc…or whatever we use in The Future…).  It just seems like so many people don’t use common sense when it comes time to record.

I wanted to re-visit a couple of the points from that list.  These are what I consider the worst offenses you can commit in my home/studio.  I’m keeping some of the wording the same, but changing up some of it too…  So let’s go…

  1. Do your homework.
    • The time to decide on an arrangement and/or to write a new song is NOT when you’re paying an engineer to be there. I don’t want to sit there and listen to the band’s main songwriter say, “Don’t play it like that.”  Then the band member says, “That’s how I’ve been playing it since the first time!”  Then the main guys says, “Yeah, and you’ve been playing it wrong, but I haven’t told you.”  What?  Why is it just NOW coming up?  It’s not my job to sit there and listen to you fight, and it’s definitely not my place to offer an opinion on it when the emotions are running high—even though you’re definitely going to ask me to.  For the record, it is my opinion that the guy who wrote it is right.  It’s his song, and it’s his call.  Especially if it’s his BAND.  If it’s called the John Smith Experience, and you’re anyone other than John Smith…shut up and play what he tells you to.
    • Keep in mind though that sometimes you’ll hear a playback and realize that what you’re doing doesn’t work.  I’ve been in more than one situation where I’ve heard a take back and said, “Wow.  That’s WAY too busy.”  Recording reveals your weaknesses as well as your strengths.  Sometimes you end up re-writing a little in the studio…but in all, you should at least know the notes and structure, even if the specifics fluctuate a little bit out of necessity.
  2. Do everything you can to make it easy on the engineer.
    • Money isn’t enough.  It just isn’t.  It can buy you a LOT, but it isn’t everything.
    • I might not like your music.  Maybe it’s not my cup of tea.  Maybe you don’t play it well.  Maybe I started out liking it, but by take 19, I’m bored.  I’ve heard a lot of bands.  There’s a good chance that you’re going to play your epic would-be-hit and my response is going to be a hearty “meh.”  But even if I don’t like your music, I might still like YOU.  And if I like YOU, then I’m going to want to honor you by producing a project of which we can both be proud.  If you treat me as a friend and a colleague, I’m more likely to treat your music with the respect it deserves.  If you treat me as a piss-on, a yes-man, an employee, and/or a whipping-post, I’m not going to have a very high investment in your project.  I’m not at your beck-and-call…  I’m a person who has a day job and personal responsibilities and commitments…and who occasionally has a headache or a cold, or didn’t check his e-mail during the hours you sent me your notes about the project.  Treat me like I’m a person.
    • Remember, the engineer is the guy who has your music in his hands, and you DO NOT want to piss him off.  An engineer, no matter how well paid, can only do so much with something he feels bad about putting his name on.  If he doesn’t feel motivated to do a good job, or if he feels like he’s been treated with hostility, he may still do a professional job, but it won’t be as good as it would have been if he were happy and felt like, “those were nice guys—I want to do right by them.”  As I’ve always said, 99% of your success comes because there were people who you didn’t piss off.
    • In short…respect my time, especially if you’re in my home, and we’ll get along fine.
  3. It will never sound “as good as it did in the room.”
    • Want to get me to shelve your project and never touch it again?  Then wait until I’ve spent an average of three hours per song mixing, mastering, EQing, deleting pops and hisses, correcting missed beats, adjusting levels on the guitar solos, etc, etc, etc…  Then say, “It sounded better when we were recording it.”  First of all, no it didn’t.  You have a complicated relationship with your music.  You hear a symphony when you strum an acoustic guitar.  The rest of the world hears an acoustic guitar.  You THINK it sounded better, because you’re in love with your own performance.  And that’s cool.  You SHOULD be…  But let’s be honest here…what’s more likely?  That you created rich, full, layered, perfect music in the studio while you were in raw, unmixed, unadjusted form…or that your guitar tone is a little thinner than you realized?  Or your bass drum doesn’t echo like it’s in a castle?  Or that your vocals aren’t life-changingly beautiful?  What’s more likely to be skewed by personal perspective?  Your memory of the “amazing” sound you had on a Saturday morning three weeks ago, or the microphones that were in front of your speaker?
    • Now, don’t get me wrong…sometimes a mix is bad.  Sometimes an engineer cranks up the bass too high or doesn’t get the vocals right where they should be or adds too much reverb or or or or…  But the absolute WORST way you can deal with that is to say, “I know you spent 15 hours on this five-song demo…but it sounded better in the room.”  Maybe instead you say, “Hey, it’s a little boomy…can you kill the reverb and cut back the lows a little?”  That’s not offensive.  That doesn’t dismiss the hours of work I did.  That’s a request and a preference, and I’ll honor it.  But “it sounded better in the room” is insulting to all of the time and effort I’ve invested into your project.  It HURTS to hear that…and remember what I said about money not being enough?  Effectively saying, “This sounded better before you wasted your time on it” is a GREAT way to make me hand you your money back, press “delete” and send you on your way.  I’m not kidding.  I’ve done that.
  4. New Addition: Communicate Professionally
    • If you’re dealing with someone whose time you’re looking to take up, you need to be clear with them and not waste time with a lot of miscommunication and mixed messages.  Have ONE point of contact for your band.  Appoint ONE person to set the scheduling and offer notes and corrections to the engineer.  (Hint — It should probably be your most polite band member.)  I don’t want to have the guitar player call me and tell me it’s an awesome mix and not to change a note, then have the keyboard player call me and tell me they’re unhappy with all their performances and can we re-take their parts?  (That—specifically THAT—has happened to me.)  Get together as a band and present a united message.
    • If you’re the point person, it’s on YOU to have effective communication with the engineer.  Look…don’t send me a Facebook message.  I’m probably not going to see it.  Don’t text me.  I don’t know what “RU Stll on 4 2nite” means, and I don’t care.  Either send me a clear, concise e-mail with things I can check off a list, or give me a call.  But regardless of how you choose to contact me, if you don’t get me right away…give me a minute.  I might have gotten your voice-mail or email and I need to consult my calendar before calling you back.  I had a client recently send me three Facebook messages (sigh) in the same day.  I don’t check my Facebook messages very much, and I missed the first one until the second one came in a few hours later.  When I read the second one I realized I needed to look at the project before responding–it wasn’t an easy answer.  A couple of hours later, I received the third message which accused me of ignoring their prior two, when the truth is I just didn’t have an answer yet–it was the same DAY and I hadn’t reviewed their project in full yet.  I wasn’t wrist-deep in my recording program when I read their messages.  My first-draft of my response was less-than-courteous…but I cooled down and replied shortly, but reasonably.  In short…you don’t come into someone’s house, take up their free time, pay them less than they’re worth, then communicate with them through methods roughly akin to how a seventh-grader texts their boyfriend.  (“Whar RU? U diint reply yet! Dont U still like me?”) and expect an immediate, professional response.
    • I said before and I’ll say again…I’m a person.  This isn’t my full time job.  I have a day job.  I have personal commitments.  I am shy and want to know what I’m talking about before I respond to someone so I don’t get flustered.  I sometimes need a little bit before I dive into your project to handle the laundry list you’ve given me.  Sometimes I’m on Facebook because I want to bitch about my day or read the stupid statuses my friends posted…I don’t want to talk about work in that situation.  I’m there to ESCAPE work.  E-mail me.  I’ll print it out and deal with it as a checklist.  If you’re worried that I didn’t get your e-mail, give me a call THE NEXT DAY.  If you haven’t heard back from me right away, take a second to consider that I might be busy doing something that isn’t related to you.  I might be at a birthday party.  I might be working late.  I might be Christmas shopping.  I might be depressed and not want to talk to anyone.  I might be exhausted and not thinking straight, so I don’t want to give you poor information…  I might be drunk…  And so on…  When I’m working on your project, that doesn’t mean my every moment revolves around you.  It means that when I’m working on it, I’m working on it.  Be a professional and shoot me an e-mail or give me a call and wait for me to either reply or pick up.  (I will usually pick up my phone, unless you call me while I’m at work at my real job, or if I’m driving.)  Don’t hound me.  Don’t push me around.  Almost any business you contact sends you an auto-response of “we will reply within 24 hours.”  Please extend me the same courtesy.  I’ve probably got more going on than most businesses, and I can guarantee that my hours are weirder.

…and that’s it.  Just felt like throwing that out there.  Thanks for reading.  Sorry the last one got rambly.  🙂  (And if you’re the client referenced…don’t take it personally.  We’re good.)


Current Listening:

  • Lou Reed and Metallica – “Lulu”
  • Drive-By Truckers – “A Blessing and a Curse”

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