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Get the hell out of the producer's chair.

Discussion in 'Recording' started by hargerst, Mar 17, 2001.

  1. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2001
    It's hard to remember which hat you're wearing sometimes when you run a session. Some engineers are frustrated musicians or producers. You hafta walk a thin line. Does the group want your suggestions? Do you get pissed off if they don't listen to your ideas (or turn them down)?

    Sometimes a group will come in and they want help - others have a pretty clear idea of what they want. I try to always remember that they're the people footing the bill, but if I hear a problem, I'll quietly point it out and offer some alternatives. If they don't agree, that's fine, and we move on.

    Leaving your ego behind when you're tracking is a good idea - they don't need another member in their band, unless they ask for your help. I try to make it clear before we lay down the first track that I'll make suggestions, but only if they want suggestions! It's their album, with their name on it.

    Here in North Texas, some of the studios have a real attitude problem, with engineers rushing out of the control room to yell at band members for playing too loud, or making mistakes - like it's his session and he's paying for it. A few studios have a reputation for making band members feel really uncomfortable.

    Maybe some of these engineers need a small sign right on the board that says, "This is NOT your band!", or a sign that says, "If you ain't paying for it, SHADDUP!"
     
  2. SonOfSmawg

    SonOfSmawg Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2000
    I was on the other side of the glass...went into a studio in Chicago, and the owner/engineer/producer/peckerhead thought he was God. We had 8 hours booked that day (which was supposed to be the first day of many), but we'd had enough of him about half way through the day. The singer finally blew-up at him, and we packed it up and left. We bought a 4 track, and I was then 'the man in the chair'...at 16...without much of a clue. I ended-up learning a lot, the band ended up with what we thought were decent recordings which were honest representations of us, and I enlisted in a trade school through my high school which led to me graduating as an electronics technician. So, the guy actually did us all a favor...
    Matter of fact, I still have one of those 4 track tapes...doesn't sound bad!
     
  3. nrgmusic

    nrgmusic Guest

     
  4. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2001
    nrg and smawg,

    You're both right, but I should also point out that a good engineer (with good people skills) can be a big asset to a new group if they don't have a producer. For one thing, he brings a fresh pair of ears to the music, so if something is not working or creating problems, he's often the first person to spot it.

    Another place is his familiarity with the type of music being recorded. He can sometimes suggest something he did with another group that can really make the song stand out.

    The trick is to not get too hung up on your own ideas if you're the engineer. Offer your suggestions freely, but if the group has a different vision, shut up about it.

    And don't get insulted and brood about the fact that they didn't listen to your "sage" advice. The best engineers I've met are the ones who worry about the vibe of the session. Leave your ego at home - it's the band's show.

    Read Mixerman's 10 mixing tips again:

    3. Working the room, keeping people entertained, happy, and relaxed is half of mixing successfully.
     
  5. Tedster

    Tedster Guest

    Gents...

    I posted this on another board that a lot of us frequent. Dealing with engineers hollering about dis, dat, and de udder ting...

    Maybe a lot of seasoned musicians who are "studio wise", or have egos bigger than New Hampshire don't have a problem, but, I tend to feel pretty nervous walking into a place, especially if that place has worked with some pretty decent acts, and pouring it out. I feel pretty intimidated by the face behind the glass, kinda sitting there analyzing everything you do.

    Aside to going in on sedatives, what are some good tips you all use (I think I've heard your take on this, Simon)...on either side of the glass, to make performers feel comfy, or to make yourself comfy if you're a performer. Nervousness makes for more takes.
     
  6. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2001
    Originally posted by Tedster:
    Gents...

    Maybe a lot of seasoned musicians who are "studio wise", or have egos bigger than New Hampshire don't have a problem, but, I tend to feel pretty nervous walking into a place, especially if that place has worked with some pretty decent acts, and pouring it out. I feel pretty intimidated by the face behind the glass, kinda sitting there analyzing everything you do.

    Aside to going in on sedatives, what are some good tips you all use (I think I've heard your take on this, Simon)...on either side of the glass, to make performers feel comfy, or to make yourself comfy if you're a performer. Nervousness makes for more takes.
    Wow, that question deserve a whole topic all its own. Lemme see if I can at least share some of the things I try to do to keep things moving along before and during a session.

    I have a "things to expect" page I made up called:A Typical Session. It helps prepare musicians for "studio shock".

    Getting the drummer to set up and play the night before the session helps a lot, since it cuts down on the time the other guys hafta wait around till they can begin. We nail the drummer's desired sound the night before, so he just hasta come in, pick up his sticks, and he's good to go!

    I explain to everybody that, while we're gonna try to nail down a good first take, what's really important this first time around is the drums/bass groove. They're the ones on the "hot seat". I tell the bass player, "we can always punch in a bass mistake easily, so don't sweat it if you make a mistake while you're playing". I tell the vocalist that we're just doing vocal scratch tracks to help the band know where they are in the song, so don't push on the vocals.

    The guitars I tell just play rhythm, unless the solo is important for everybody to hear, but we'll do the "real" solos later, on a separate track. I like having at least two rhythm guitar tracks panned left and right to keep them from muddying up the vocals in the middle. And don't worry about mistakes on the guitar - we can easily punch those in.

    All of the above usually gets them a little relaxed. Now for the secrets:

    I get them to warm up for around 10 to 20 minutes, on songs they aren't gonna be doing, so they can become accustomed to the headphone mix, working in different rooms, getting used to hearing each other, etc. I'll make headphone adjustments for everybody during the first few minutes, and then I'll walk out, and just let them play for a while.

    Then we'll start the session. I go for the easiest song first, to help build their confidence, and I'll bring them all into the control room and play it back over the big speakers so they can hear themselves. That gets them excited and they're now pumped to get back in and either fix something wrong or go on to the next song. If there's a tempo problem, I'll point it out to them and joke with them about their playing. (I'll "accidently" leave the talkback mic open and casually say to the guitar player, "Hey, I don't think your drummer sucks - he's nowhere near as bad as you said", or, "So, have you found another drummer yet?"). If they did a really spectacular take, I might get on the talkback and say, "Wow, that was REALLY good - you wanna try that again and we'll record it this time?".

    But the big secret is that most bands are too nervous to do their best work the first day. On the second day, we start off by listening to everything we did the first day and decide what to keep and what to redo. By the start of the second day, EVERYBODY'S A PRO, and they're feeling at home in the studio.

    During guitar tracking, I might even let the other guitar player run the board, and show him how to do punch-ins and I'll leave the room, same with solos and vocals. Why? Because they're on display and it makes some people nervous to screw up in front of strangers (who they already feel are judging them). Leaving them with just their band mates in the room will sometimes help ease the tension - with some groups.

    Other groups need more guidance and direction and for those group, I'll act like the ship's "activity director" and head cheerleader. If things start to bog down, or I see tempers starting to flare, I'll hit stop and call a break right now. We'll go outside, smoke, drink, tell music war stories, and just relax for a while.

    Being comfortable is the secret usually to getting a good take. I try to make the band feel as comfortable as possible, and make them feel that I believe that getting the music right is what's most important, not watching the clock. I try to become a member of the band whenever possible. Being a guitar player helps, since I can talk in song terms ("You know that second walkup you do from the D to the G? We lost the time right there. Let's do it again, coming out of that second chorus".

    Mainly, it's showing in small ways that it's not just a job for you - it's caring about their music, getting involved, and being as committed as they are to getting a great recording - whatever their current playing skills.

    When you're recording a group that's only been playing a few months, it can be hard. When you have that ocassional killer group in, that can be exciting as hell!!

    Does any of that help, Tedster?
     
  7. First thing I say to bands to try to make them comfortable is something like, "You're free to smoke whatever you got, there's a good liquor store up the street, and the coffee maker is right over there. Just keep in mind you gotta play, so don't smoke or drink too much until your job is done. Other than that, this is your little playpen for the day--have fun."

    It also helps to make your place cozy and welcoming--something we're still working on at my place. Harvey's on the money with drummer setting up the night before.

    I also tend to ask from the start, how they want to do things--Everybody in one room listening to headphones with their amps isolated? --Amps in same room and no headphones? --Or amps and players isolated with the players wearing phones? 9 times out of ten they'll go for the first option. But at least they get some say in the approach. It just seems better than handing them headphones and saying, "If yer gonna want feedback from yer guitar you gotta go in that little room by yourself".

    And i have my little jokes to ease the spirit. I usually kid around that after they leave I'm just gonna loop and replace everything anyway. Or I'll get on the talkback and say, "Is this the one we're adding the gospel choir to?" when they're a simple punk band, or "Don't you think we should replace that guitar solo with a digeridoo?"

    --Oh, and a lot of young guitar players become really excited when you hand them back their guitar after setting the intonation properly! Or SHOW them the basics of how to do it themselves. Guaranteed smiles.
     
  8. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2001
    Originally posted by The Kooch:
    --Oh, and a lot of young guitar players become really excited when you hand them back their guitar after setting the intonation properly! Or SHOW them the basics of how to do it themselves. Guaranteed smiles.Absolutely!! I'm now an official "guitar/bass tech". I should charge for guitar setups, but I don't!
     

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