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When A Band Needs A Good Cussing

Brandon Drury —  May 16, 2010


I’ve ran my studio since 2001. In that time, I’ve recorded so many people that I can’t remember all the people I’ve recorded. I’ve come to realize that recording local bands is DEFINITELY a service based business. This puts us in one of those “the customer is always right” situations. Developing an attitude that you should bend over backwards and do absolutely everything in your power to make the band happy is an integral part of running a studio. Understanding a band’s needs is everything and deciding which tools and tactics are required for the job is the biggest reason they’ve hired you. However, there are times when bands get out of line, you have to abandon the “customer is always right” mentality, and make a point based on little more than principal.

I had a situation this week where one particular band member wanted some changes to a “first draft” mix I had uploaded for the band. Of course, that’s not how it was presented. The singer, who is quite talented, went well out of his way to INSULT me on each and every point of the mix. It was a given to anyone who has “done this” before that the mix needed some changes, not necessarily because the mix was flawed, but because every band has different tastes and different directions they want to take their music. Never, in my nearly a decade of recording bands have I EVER been personally attacked because a hi-hat was a bit loud. (Especially since everyone who has “done this” before knows that this is almost entirely due to decisions by the drummer, not decisions by the engineer.)

Correct Communication: The hi-hat is a bit loud.

Incorrect Communication: Only an idiot would make the hi-hat that loud.

So what does customer-is-always-right engineer do when confronted by a monster who wants to flat-out insult a person who is working his butt off to satisfy the band? I know what I did. I went to war. That’s what I did!

I called Mr. Axl Rose and let him know exactly how I felt. (Think a grinning Tony Soprano telling his family he “worked it out”.) Let’s just say I flew way off the handle, completely lost my temper in a way that I’ve only done twice this decade, and made a total ass out of myself. While my memory is a little blank, I do remember SCREAMING phrases like, “I’ll smash your nose in”, and “You are about 10 seconds away from me deleting all your tracks” in a way that would make Philip Anselmo from Pantera proud. I may have said “I will end you”. I can’t remember. I do remember having to use discipline to avoid any felony threats because I REALLY wanted to say those, too.

Making An Ass Out Of Yourself

Generally speaking, it’s a bad thing to make a complete fool out of yourself. That’s why nouns like “ass” and “fool” are used! However, desperate times call for desperate measures. A person should draw a line in the sand as to what they are going to put up with. That threshold should set pretty high. The moment a person, who is obviously acting malicious intentions, crosses it, you launch the B2 bombers each equipped with 14 nukes a piece. You don’t play nice. You don’t try to “settle this”. You eliminate the enemy.

This “ass power” you can tap into is something a person should use too often, but it’s important that everyone on Earth knows that when you draw a line and a person crosses it, you have the ability to throw logic and reason out the window in order to defend what is yours.

In all my days of recording, this is the very first time I had to launch my B2 bomber fleet. I’ve never had a person flat out declare himself as the “bad guy”. I thought it only happened in bad movies. Maybe I need to rethink my views on Twister?

There Are No Entertainment Emergencies

Most people understand that music is a “for fun” thing. Eric Conn, ultra mega mastering engineer in Nashville has a sign up that says, “There are no entertainment emergencies.” In other words, kids don’t die because a hi-hat is too loud. Fathers don’t fall dead at 42 years old from a heart attack when a mix is compressed a bit hard. All these solutions can be solved and there is no reason to get your panties in a wad over them. Any competent engineer can solve these problems with a little time.

Unmaking An Ass Out Of Yourself

I should probably add that once it was made clear that I would launch the Pacific Fleet the moment I saw a few bad guy bleeps on my radar, I calmed myself down and had a real conversation with Axl. Of course, like most bullies, he backed down and said that he didn’t mean to insult me. I’m sure this is the case! (Where is my sarcasm smiley?) In the end, I practiced a little pragmatism and said, “Well, if you didn’t mean any offense, we are cool. I apologize.”

Conclusion

In the end, I think an engineer is a slave to the band and the music. (A paid slave, but a slave none the less.) An engineer should be willing to crawl through vomit and eat poop for the band if that’s what it takes to make a mega record. If you don’t have that burning desire to make the best music possible, regardless of the diseases it may bring with it, you probably don’t have what it takes to be an engineer. However, there are some things that are sacred. An engineer who goes the extra mile should also demand the extra respect that such a role brings with it. There are plenty of not-so-great engineers out there who WILL NOT go that extra mile.

When your respect or your family is questioned, I say answer the question with an exclamation point.

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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22 responses to When A Band Needs A Good Cussing

  1. Brandon – I totally agree with you. I’ve been recording since the mid-90s and I’ve only run into this 2x. It ended okay with everybody being friends in the end. But the money had to be really good to do another project with these people. You play music – not work or be stressed out of your f%&*ing life over music – and I think a lot of people have forgotten this.

    Keep up the great stuff!

    davef

  2. Emmitt Siniard May 18, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I’ve lost my head a few times, too. Most times I was right, but what did it get me? Sometimes a needed rearrangement of the boundaries of respect, sometimes a needed restatement of the individual roles of the players, almost always a better understanding of who’s who and why.

    I’m impressed that you’ve only lost it once so far. “Musicians” the likes of the one you describe in this article is why I try to only work on projects that I think are worth my time. They don’t have to have “potential” if I like them. Life’s too short.

    BTW – If anyone ever gives you crap about not having “X” piece of gear consider putting up the sign I once saw in Keith Olson’s studio…

    “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!”

    Granted he had some pretty cool stuff, but he didn’t have a ton (at the time). Everything he had tho’ was an important part of his arsenal and he REALLY knew how to use what he had.

    Back to it…

    Emmitt

  3. I’m impressed that you’ve only lost it once so far.

    Well, in my undefense, I’ve been lucky to deal with many, many people who are fairly realistic about their situation. Most people with this “rock star” attitude move away from Nowhere USA….(known as the Midwest) har har.

    “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!”

    I’ve been using the attitude lately. Some guys (mostly rappers) demand Pro Tools. When people ask me, “Why don’t you use Pro Tools?” I always start out by saying, “Because I don’t WANT it!”. Then we can talk about why and I back down my tone a bit. I make it clear that I use what I use because it works. If it didn’t work, I’d use something else. Dealing with bands gets fun when you are in a position to be confident….not a jerk…just confident. It makes the entire process MUCH more smooth.

    Brandon

  4. . It ended okay with everybody being friends in the end.

    This is a major way I’ve justified my idiotic behavior. As long as you are dealing with civil people, it’s okay to come unglued. You make a point and move on. Everyone wins! I hope the passive guys here learn they can stand up for themselves, then apologize for breaking stuff, and then go on about their day. (ha ha)

    Brandon

  5. I’ve had several bands come in and demand to use pro tools, but I happen to be like brandon and NOT take the low road. I use Vegas, and hjave for years, I know all of the ins an outs, limitations,etc. When we were about to start a session, I opened vegas, the “guitarist” saw the splash screen to vegas and started a 15 miinutes tirade about why it was all “suddenly clear to him” that the mix somehow wasn’t right. (even before I had begun to start a rought mix-down) I had to
    talk to him like he was a retarded 2nd grader and explain it “is what it is”. after that, he always made snyde remarks about it. So i decided to make a folder with the pro-tools start-up graphic in it, i opened that, made it look like pro tools was opening. he saw that and got so stoked that I had “finally gotten it”. I then promptly switched to Vegas (which is TOTALLY different) and began the days tracks. he never made another comment, in fact, he went out of his way to apologize, then proceeded to buy me a case of beer for all of the trouble. he he he, i play tricks on thee!

  6. This sounds like you had some fun -hee hee -you know its hard to kiss ass all the time- and if you try to give some of your hart to help a band- they git mad –you know they know it all but they always ask after they play{ what you think} of the song– Its sad but true very few bands will make any real money and they are all super stars –NOT –but you cant tell them or you will lose your pay day — as I once was told sometimes it stinks at the top of the pile –there you are brandon —- better to be pissed off than pissed on —good luck BD—–acoustic

  7. I totally agree. I am no engineer and don’t claim to be , but, I have been personally attacked in band situations where all that would have been required is a little constructive input.! I pushed the button immediately and the situation was pretty much resolved in the same manner. I alway’s say I do this for fun first and , even though I do take it seriously, you are right, I haven’t seen anyone die over it yet.!

  8. One of my teachers was working with a popular 80′s singer (name will not be mentioned) and the singer was giving him that “I’m better than you” attitude all night. My teacher ended up loosing it and saying something along the lines of “Just because you’re a washed up 80′s rockstar doesn’t mean I wont kick your ass.” They were cool for the rest of the session.

  9. Point well made, Brandon. We are in a service industry, for sure, but the reason clients come to us is for our knowledge and experience, and sometimes we gotta put ‘em back in their place when they try and turn the tables and act like they know it all. Thanks for an entertaining post!

  10. I’d like to have a sign that simply says, “egos stay out in the cold” or something. I want to make music creatively with people not fight with them. I’ve always wondered how to deal with peoples impatience and egos in a studio.

    “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”

    I once visited a studio (i’m new to this) and the guy said, most stuff is done on the computer these days, so I said whats all this other stuff for (older stuff hanging around), he said “the artists expect to see it”, I thought that was funny, but it showed that the artists have an image of what they think a studio consists of (or looks like) and the reality is different.

    But whatever the artist wants, right. They need to leave that stuff to the producer/engineer, it’s not a trick shop, we wouldn’t use it if it didn’t work.

  11. I have to say I run into this every once and a while myself. In my opinion, it is my job as an engineer to communicate to the client what they are hearing when they hear it.

    Recently, I had a rapper in the studio finishing up a mixtape with some vocals and some guitar work. When he was listening to play back between takes he was really angry cause his adlibs were loud in the mix. I hadn’t moved a fader yet and he was getting hot about it. I stopped playback and walked out of the control room, excusing myself for a minute. He followed me out to the smoking area and continued talking about how at the last place he worked at, the playbacks always sounded better. Then, away from his producer/friends and all the other people, I explained to him how I worked, about how I like to listen to all the vocals up before I start mixing in case there is anything I want to change before I try to mix something that isnt going to work. I asked him to trust me that my 8 years as a professional engineer counted for something and that the mixes he did at my place would be the best on his mixtape. after about 15 minutes of talking we agreed to just let me work and if he didnt like anything later on then we would work out a deal.

    He came back 2 days later and I had mixed and mastered his tracks and after he heard playback he thanked me for making him sound like a professional rapper.

    I think that if we had tried to have that conversation infront of his boys then it would of had a different outcome. I have used this tactic on lead singers and drummers before too. It sounds bad to say divide and conquer but thats the theory I was working from.

    The one thing I try to remember about recording people is that you are dealing with art and for the people in that band, it is the only thing that matters to them. They have been working on this material for a year and then they invite a stranger to interpret it for them. That can be scary and people that are scared get angry.

    As far as people wanting certain pieces of gear or certain platform, I always turn it around on them. Most people only gain this so called preference by reading magazines and they have no practical knowledge of what they are asking for. so when some one asks for a U67 on vocals or protools I just ask them why they want it. 9 out of 10 times the person asking cannot articulate the benefits of using a certain piece of gear. Then I explain that the gear I have is the gear I am used to using and I know how to use it to the best of its ability. This usually gets the ball back in my court.

    All in all its about being confident enough in your abilities to convince some one to trust you. If the person you are working with still cant get over second guessing everything you are doing then you can always say you arent the studio for them and hand them the phonebook. I would rather lose the business on day 1 than on day 20.

  12. adam danielski May 19, 2010 at 7:23 am

    there is an old saying no matter how much you try to polish a turd it is still aturd

  13. All I can say is wow… Only an Idiot would make a high hat that loud?… on the first “rough draft” mix?? Amazing personality. It goes to show, the customer is not always right and as musicians, wanting to record in studios, there are proceedures that they should really learn and know.

    I really hate computers and the “mask” it puts on people who normally wouldn’t dare act like that face to face. They can become insulting and have no insight about what they are about to do to another human being when a simple request for changes to be made would undoubtably have gone over much better. Which reminds me of a rule of mixing…

    Never mix with the drummer in the control room… HAHA

    Good story Brandon, made me giggle and feel for ya bro.

  14. as always…very well written, points well made AND funny.

    as a passive guy who occasionally has had to snap, i will say that it usually comes to no good end…meaning that the project gets derailed…relations soured and severed…and my positive reputation lost.

    Life’s Too Short (as the man said earlier) and that is why i do not do outside projects. i only do me and special friends. that said, i once had a friend whom i wanted to sing a line a certain way. he’d say okay and intentionally not do it the way i wanted. 3-4 times. so i say to Axl…”wait a minute…is he being ‘difficult’ ?

    now, if he preferred not to sing it that way, he should have said so. and not wasted my time and energy and ears listening for “IT”.

    this is energy that could have been better spent in getting what HE wanted – the way HE heard it (if he even knew what he wanted). i have no problem with that. in fact, that’s what i’m here for. but you have to “Help Me Help You” as the old saying goes. if you waste my (our) time and resources that doesn’t do us or the project any good.

    long story short…he’s off the Special Friends list. same for drummers who’d rather play power games than lay down a serviceable beat.

    i have more important things to do than to deal with knuckleheads.

    i thank you for your post because it shows us passive guys that it’s okay to snap occasionally. the only thing that i would add is that sometimes when one has to snap…that means it’s going to go to the NEXT LEVEL. me personally, i have no interest in going to the NEXT LEVEL….be it fisticuffs, court OR mediation. i have IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO and don’t have time for dumb stuff.

    and i thank you for reminding me that I AM THE GOOD GUY.

    and bad guys have to go.

    Brandon – Good On Ya ! Good For Ya ! and Good To Ya !!!

  15. hen we were about to start a session, I opened vegas, the “guitarist” saw the splash screen to vegas and started a 15 miinutes tirade about why it was all “suddenly clear to him” that the mix somehow wasn’t right. (even before I had begun to start a rought mix-down) I had to
    talk to him like he was a retarded 2nd grader and explain it “is what it is”.

    Awesome story, dude! This guys has “drank the Kool-Aid” (and presumably more than his fair share of beer). The general musician public has been led to believe that certain programs are just going to sound amazing and certain programs are incapable of doing what justice to their music. This couldn’t be more flawed and nowadays it’s getting where the difference between one piece of software and another is getting pretty tough to detect.

    Regardless, this story is amazing. You handled it PERFECTLY! You gave him what he wanted….a Pro Tools splash screen! Would you mind if I used this story in a future article/book?

    Brandon

  16. One of my teachers was working with a popular 80’s singer (name will not be mentioned) and the singer was giving him that “I’m better than you” attitude all night. My teacher ended up loosing it and saying something along the lines of “Just because you’re a washed up 80’s rockstar doesn’t mean I wont kick your ass.” They were cool for the rest of the session.

    There is this implication that us recording guys have to be passive…..even more passive than the typical musician (who is definitely more passive than your average defensive lineman). On forums and such, this ability to stand up for yourself seems to be shunned upon. In business and relations with people, when you deal with a bully, you launch the Pacific fleet in an instant SO you can you go back to being normal, passive, whatever. This toughness is something I think the forums miss out on a bit.

    Brandon

  17. I really applaud this article Brandon, I have been producing and engineering bands from unsigned to multi-platinum level for 24 years and love every minute of it, including the “lively” discussions that sometimes ensue when there is a difference of opinion (I once went into the live room and knocked together the heads of two brothers in a band who were fighting, my assistant said he heard the crack through the reverb unit, 2.4 seconds!)
    Recently, I worked with a million-selling band (who will remain nameless) and worked my ass of for them.
    The drunk and high guitarist called me at 2am and began to insult me about how i was taking my time over the mixes, calling me all sorts of names. I hung up. He called again and launched into it, I hung up again. He called me a third time, and I said that if he didn’t stop nauseing me, I’d drive 140 miles to his house and whack him!
    He called me the next morning sheepishly and apologised.
    My studio is in a really tough neighbourhood, and it can also be scary when you’re the only guy guarding thousands upon thousands worth of your hard-earned equipment from aggressive people you only just met and would probably cross the street to avoid.
    For an effective deterrent, I studied kung fu and keep a pair of nunchuks under my leather chair!

    G

    Love music- kill bullies!

    G

  18. I think that this article is also the reason why a lot of bands decide to buy their own gear and do their own production.
    Some engineers think they’re God’s gift to music while they’re mediocre at best and with a bad attitude on top of it.

    The times I recorded with a band before I became an engineer there was always something that I didn’t like out of each session that we paid for. For example – one of the engineers would latch onto long conversations with his wife/gf at the time as she would call the studio to verify that he wasn’t somewhere else and they’ll start the “why aren’t you home” routine. It got so bad that we had to talk to the studio manager about it. At that point the problem got fixed but now the guy had it in for us.
    Another one of these guys would just sit at the desk and tweak things ad nauseam without any explanation. So while we’re tracking overdubs he’d be in there “mixing” what was already recorded with this sullen silent attitude. He’d zone in for about 30 minutes at a time and you had to bark at him to continue. This was really frustrating as on this particular sessions we were moving to Studio A and its big automated SSL console to mix after tracking in studio B where he was burning our $.
    Both sessions came out OK but certainly all these things ate up from our precious time and at $120/hr as it was in both cases you’d want to murder these guys.

    When I became an engineer in a commercial studio I used to run into all sorts of other problems, like someone else repatching the mixing desk, screwing up plugins, not obeying the “studio lockdown” rule and messing up a mic configuration and then on top of that you had to appear to know what you were doing with the client. It was a constant rub from both sides – the artist and studio management. In the end you have to decide which one matters more – the artist as they can make you famous or the management (the people that pay your salary today).
    In that aspect Brandon has it easy as he is in business for himself. He can cuss out a client and then move on. If I did that on a session I’d be fired and probably not find work in another studio.

  19. Now that’s entertainment! Now I’ve read most of the comments here, and I can relate to most of them- but from a less common position. I (in my band) am the vocalist, drummer, guitar-tech, sound/recording engineer, and I own most of the equipment (P.A., etc..). Now, 99% of the time I’m pretty mellow, and I don’t let my seemingly invincible position go to my head. There have been occasions where I have had to pull rank, there has been the “axle rose” person, and the “unruly guitarist” and the “mentally unbalanced guitarist”,drunks,stoners, just to name a few. Situations arise, words are exchanged, tempers have flared, and I find myself in the fortunate position of being able to say–”what are you gonna do, fire me? HA!!!(implied I’d like to see you TRY it). On the other hand–I’ve run sound for bands here and there on occasions and have always taken the more humble approach of trying to make the band sound as good and clean sounding as possible at whatever volume was right for the venue. I figure I would want someone to do the same for me. Kind of seems like I’m living in my own little “fish bowl” of sorts,huh? After reading some of the comments here, I think not so much. Thanks guys!!!

  20. The humble approach is ALWAYS what you should start out with. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m promoting rude behavior. We all have developed into being tremendous servants if we’ve stayed in this business for more than 2 sessions. THAT is the name of the game. However, every person should have a limit and be assertive enough to make those limits known.

    Brandon

  21. Well said Brandon, well said.. I have had encounters with A-holes like that and I’m not exactly Ned Flanders( I have a huge temper) and i think having a temper and being an engineer don’t go hand to hand.. but I do work on it and smoke a lotta pot. but anyways good blog!!

  22. i think having a temper and being an engineer don’t go hand to hand

    I have a MAMMOTH temper. When I snap, it’s WW3. Luckily, as I’ve gotten older I rarely lose it. I have probably have 5 times when I had to take a DEEP breath mid-session. So yeah, a person does have to hold back. Then again, these are EXCELLENT learning experiences to make sure a person doesn’t repeat the same thing that landed them in that mess in the first place.