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.”
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.