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Maybe I should call it "Silk Purse Recording Studio

Member for

20 years 9 months
There are two old sayings in the recording industry: The first is, "You Can't Polish A Turd". The second aying goes along with the first, "You CAN Polish A Turd, But All You End Up With Is A Shiny Turd". That's happened here a number of times, and why it happened might help some of you out. Since these people won't be coming back, and they don't read this forum, I don't think anyone will be hurt by my explaining what I think went wrong.

Case Number 1:

A very nice "new age" group came in. They had only been together for a few months; had one or two good players, and a few that had only been playing a few months. They wanted to have the album out by Christmas, and it was late August when they came in. Was this possible? I told them yes. Shouldn't be too hard, I figured. They had a drum machine for the drum parts, and we just had to record the drum machine, two acoustic guitars, a bass part, keyboard, flute, vocals, and some light harmony. Not a big deal. The singer/songwriter and the lead guitar player had been a duo for several years, so they were pretty tight and polished.

I started with the rhythm guitars, bass, keyboard, the drum machine, and a scratch vocal to build the basic rhythm tracks. I don't think any song was under 6 minutes, and some were 8 and 9 minutes long. OK, time to stop and explain the principles of airplay to them. They're not interested in "commercial airplay" - they have "artistic integrity". Two hours later, OK, keep my mouth shut and don't argue with them - it's their album. Next problem, the keyboard player is the singer/songwriter's girlfriend - she's never played anything in her life and she's in the band to "help". She can play one or two notes at a time, usually late, and she's not crazy about the lead guitar player (who's the only person that can really play), and he's not too fond of her either.

Somehow, over the next month, we get down most of the basic tracks (we'll replace all the bass parts later, since the bass player has a total of 10 weeks under his belt of playing any musical instrument, except native American drums). I work with the singer's girlfriend on some cool keyboard parts for some of the songs and we fly those in over the next month. Same thing with the bass player and the flute player - try to work out parts they can play and help them get the parts recorded, a phrase at a time.

After about seven weeks or so, they decide that the drum machine tracks don't "sound right" and we need to reprogram all the drum stuff. We spend a couple of weeks doing that, then they decide they need a real drummer, and they say, "we have this friend who "doesn't have any drums, but can he use yours?". We get hI'm in and he's terrible. So I talk my son Alex into recording all the drum tracks for all 12 of the songs. "Oh yeah, we want to make it more rock sounding, can he do that?".

Gee, now the lead guitar player is really stoked by the new rock drums and he wants to add some electric guitar parts. The guy is great on the really delicate nylon string acoustic folky guitar parts, but he thinks he's Hendrix on electric. Power chords, whammy bar dives, and feedback out the ass - on these "new age" songs! More distortion, more reverb, more chorusing, and he adds like 4 more guitar parts, bringing the total to 6 or 7 guitars, on these new age ballads. (We bring in a real bass player to play on some of the difficult tracks.)

I keep my mouth shut, except to say, "Do you all understand you're taking these songs in a whole new direction than what we talked about when we started this project?" The answer? "Well, we want to make them more commercial." I shut up, but think to myself, "More commercial? At nine minutes long?". Right. Sure. You bet.

We finally get to the harmonies. Next surprise, the lead guitar player is the main harmony singer and he has pitch problems. The singer's girlfriend also wants to sing harmony on almost every song and she's never sung in her life, let alone sung harmony. Can I help them with the harmony parts? Sure, I don't mind singing her part into the talkback mic as we punch in each phrase over a period of months - what's a few more months between friends?

The schedule is now out the window. A full year and a half goes by with them coming in during off hours to fix or "change" their parts. By mixdown time, the lead guitar player has a "complete vision" of how he wants each song to sound, and he becomes the "producer". "More me" turns out to be his basic theme. Some of the delicate flute and keyboard things (that I worked months on) get thrown out, because "we need this guitar solo in there instead." He actually brings his electric guitar to the mixdown session and he's throwing in last minute guitar parts to each song, bringing the guitar track count to about 12 by now.

The singer/songwriter is watching this whole thing from the back of the control room and he's not saying anything. I ask hI'm if this is what he wants. He doesn't answer. His girl friend is glaring at the lead guitar player's back. Finally the album's done - after two years of on/off work. Are they happy with it? No, and by this time, the group has broken up. Six months go by and the singer and his girl friend come back in. "They're my songs - will you remix them for me, the way you originally heard them?"

I spend about a month, remixing all the songs, taking out the electric parts, bringing back what's left of the delicate stuff, but it still has the semi hard rock feeling, and the older parts have been erased to make room for all the new guitar parts, so it's now neither rock or newage - just some weird thing, in between. I mix it, but I don't like it. What started out as an honest, delicate album, played with enthusiasm (if not great musicianship) wound up in the "polished turd" category, by trying to be something it wasn't. Bottom line: Everybody connected with this project ends up disgusted with the results. Who's fault was it? Everybody's - and nobody's.

So what's the answer if you don't want this to happen? Make sure everybody has a clear idea of what they want the final mix to sound like. Bring in rough tapes of the songs to the studio beforehand, and discuss all the details of each song. And mainly, make sure everybody in the band knows their part.

Case Number 2:

A heavy metal group came in to do an album a few years ago. Over a series of sessions, they would eventually have enough material to do one or two albums. Fine, so far. All nice guys, good understanding of the business, reasonable expectations, and pretty good players.

Over the next few weeks, we laid down all the basic tracks, some scratch vocals, and all we had left were the final guitar parts and finishing up the vocals. All cool so far. I set up a time for one of the guitar players to come in and do his parts - around 2 in the afternoon. Comes 2 PM, I'm set up and ready to record, but the guitar player hasn't shown up. An hour goes by, then two hours, then 3 hours - it's now 5 o'clock - and still no guitar player. Around 6, he finally shows up, stoned out of his mind.

He can't tune his guitar, he can't even keep up with the basic tracks, let alone play a speed metal solo. After a couple of hours of trying, he packs up and goes home. So what did he accomplish? He wasted a day for me that I could have booked another group in, kept me waiting for four hours without bothering to let me know he was gonna be late, arrived here unable to play, and didn't really contribute to my image of the band being professional.

I was pissed and I think that soured me on the band and vice versa. From that point on, I was slow getting their stuff out and I just didn't care as much. I'm sure we're not high on their list of good places to record anymore, and I'm not sure they're even still around. But it's cool - that kind of group I can do without.


Member for

21 years 2 months

Pro Audio Guest Sun, 02/25/2001 - 09:24
This one artist would come in to the mixes, and have me bring the vocals up 5db or more (I already mix vocals on the loud side of life, so this was ridiculous!). Then she would proceed to have me bring in the panning of everything so that nothing was beyond 3:00 or 9:00 at extreme. Then she would start messing with balances, drastically.

The Producer would just shake his head and laugh, and when I'd see him out of the room he'd say 'bitches'. At the time, I didn't find that so ammusing, but he's a friend, and now I can see he'd had far more of this than I, and he just wanted the project finished. I could relate.

So I'd start out with a good mix, and end up with a terrible mix. So eventually I couldn't take anymore, I asked her what music she likes so we can listen to some things. This would give me some idea where she's coming from. She plays me 3 CD's that don't relate to her concept of a mix whatsoever. Wide, rockin', low vocals. When I pointed this out to her, she ran out of the room crying.

That album didn't even come out....thank god. Otherewise the credit might have read mixed by: Eugene B. Wiggin. And he was.


Member for

21 years 2 months

Pro Audio Guest Sun, 02/25/2001 - 22:51
I had a brit pop band come in, they are nice guys, I've recorded 2 demos and there first 2 song single(120 plus hours). So when it comes time to record there next 5-7 song ep they say look we screw around to much we want something along the lines of coldplay/manics street preachers. So I say cool lets do pre production beforehand this time. So I can only see them in there small studio 2 weeks before our block booking and I say play me your songs. Well they have 3 that they play together, another 2-3 just acoustic and vocals. These guys are a playing around, talented and such. So I say Lets blow it off for a month, and I get told that no they want to come in and will be ready. No one has been happy with the drummers drums sound so I said make sure you hire some snares etc. We sit down and say we are not going to re-write the songs, one song a day record and track , and mixes and then replace the same line if the sound is not right after the block booked time. So they come in the snare sound sucks as he had no hires, we go and buy a 8" wood snare on the day. at the end of the blockout we have the drums/bass/keys and some guitars done, mind you we did not finish tracking in one day.

So then yet again when it comes to the guitarists parts, he puts down 10-15 different melodies under the vocals and most do not work. Mind you they have a keyboard player who hired a rhodes/hammond which was lost or ditched .We go through that whole hey everyone does rhythm guitar so I will not.
Every session we do new guitar, not replace old stuff but add to existing. I run over 64 tracks in pro tools. The vocalist users half words out of 50 takes per song, mind you the drummer sways with the click so we cannot cut and paste chorus and such.
We spend close to 200 hours again, ended up with 4 songs. At the end you would mix with one or two of the five there and they would put there instruments up and others down. Then next time the opposite. They are nice guys I just had enough and said you have to finalize things all together where you want things to sit. I then added this will be the last recording I do for you as my brain is about to burst.

Then the rock band I finished last month, They did not want to do pre-production as the rehearse 3 times a week. Drums out of time, guitars thin, and they had problems as they just started singing. I said use it for a demo and come back latter, after 3 months we threw it out and rerecord it from scratch again. Still not the best but better then what they had.

This is the problem I get a lot of lower end bands, I do not really want to rip them off, both the above bands got a lot of free hours while we tried fixing stuff broken at the beginning, A lot are nice people but they have to understand shit in- shit out .

sorry this is long just finished with the rok guys last week.

Member for

21 years 2 months

Pro Audio Guest Mon, 02/26/2001 - 03:48
Originally posted by davemc:
I then added this will be the last recording I do for you as my brain is about to burst.

This is the problem I get a lot of lower end bands, I do not really want to rip them off, both the above bands got a lot of free hours while we tried fixing stuff broken at the beginning, A lot are nice people but they have to understand shit in- shit out .

I was with you most of the post but I couldn't figure out why your "brain hurt" until the last paragraph. You shouldn't be giving time away to these bozo's because they aren't prepared. That's crazy, my brain would hurt too. It's probably too late to change things now but in the future you might want to reconsider this policy. I will gladly make allowances for my screw-ups and will readily admit a mistake that I have made in order to fix it in an expedient manner, but I will always try to limit the amount of time I will allow for the clients screw-ups.

I have made allowances for especially crazy circumstances, like the time it took us 3 hours to get the clients MIDI gear to sync properly. This was mostly the clients problem, I told them on the phone to bring all the manuals and how I planned to sync everything together, of course they showed up with no manuals, d'oh! I think I allowed them 1 hour out of three and explained to them that I was going beyond what I would do normally. They were happy and got a good product in the end.

So, look at it as an learning experience and never, ever give your time away for someone elses screw up. (Well almost never).

Mark Plancke

Member for

21 years 2 months

Pro Audio Guest Mon, 02/26/2001 - 22:34
Hey Mark,
Actually, I am pretty stupid I normally give some free hours to bands that are not bad people. I mean once you get over 100 hours for 3-4 songs you get guilty even though you have pushed them as hard as you can.

Shit I have been charging aud$35(US$19) for CD's on a pro tools setup with a lot of goodies. I have been thinking of putting it up as this is one of the reasons why I get lower end bands, although I have not recorded any name bands to get bands, so I can use there names for new clients. So hear lays the catch22. I am getting some Quested monitors this week? so I will probably put it up.

I also do not do the "hey this demo sounds fucking great, why don't you do some more days and make it a CD" deal my competitors do. Of course they fail to mention that it reverts to hourly rates and even the count in was out of time.

I say go away work on it come back when your really ready. Problem is most lower end bands last 6 months tops, so a lot will not come back as they never get there shit together.

I still have a day job(computers 3 days a week) that I live on although I would like the studio not to be on the hobby side espically with the money I have put into it.

Also you get real bored quickly listening to the same badly arrange song over and over.
No matter how much you push to produce the bands they always have guitarists.(he he)

Hope every one is good, thanks for doing this board Harvey hope ya have fun