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Maximizing The Crazed Musician In The Studio

Brandon Drury —  October 14, 2011 — Leave a comment

Crazy-Musicians-In-The-Studio

Golden Rules

  • You must be believable in everything you say.
  • When a person is timid, shy, etc do whatever you can to pump up their confidence, even if it means you being full of shit. Revert back to #1.
  • Throw out any of these rules when they don’t apply. Humans dealing with humans has to be the most complicated task on the planet. The guidelines I’ve written here work most of the time, but you must feel out your situation and act accordingly.

Day To Day Session Etiquette

A confident person who is comfortable working with you (usually people recording with you for the second time) will smell it if you are talking out your ass. It’s important to be Frank, regardless of your real name, with these types.

Keep It Real (Whatever That Means)
Excessively hyping a part that you both know wasn’t that great is a deal killer. There aren’t many awesome performances in home recording life. That’s why they are called “awesome performances” and not just “performances”.

Celebrate
When one awesome performance happens, jump up and dance….literally. Scream! Get excited! It doesn’t happen often. When a performance is awful, particularly in a “bloopers” kind of way, where the guy’s pick fell into the acoustic guitar or a chick’s voice cracked in a hilarious way, LAUGH.

Laugh at them LOUD and eventually you’ll be laughing with them. This takes mutual respect, which you should have already earned anyway. If done correctly it will lighten the mood. It also means you know full well that they are capable of way more and this take was not indicative of their skill level.

Note: Laughing at a client is risky business. You MUST know what they did was so screwy it was actually humorous. If you are borderline, DO NOT use this one.

When Going For Super Production

The trickiest person to work with is a confident person who wants to make something great that is just as tight as the big boy productions, but is often unsure if the takes he’s delivered are tip top. It’s even trickier when he’s got unconventional ideas towards music or you just don’t understand where’s he coming from. Someone in the room must be confident. PERIOD. So if it’s not them, it’s got to be you.

Speak Your Mind
When listening back to a take say exactly what is on your mind. I made the mistake in my early days of thinking it was a test of my hearing. It’s not. They want your opinion and most people you work with know your shortcomings. If they could afford George Martin they would. They’ll settle for you. Even if you aren’t so great at hearing pitch or timing, trust your gut. It knows whether a take feels badass or not.

Be Bold
After listening to a take we really, really like, we should stand up and immediately say, “I think that take is awesome!” or “I don’t hear one thing wrong with it, do you?”. In the latter you’ve got to be sincere that you don’t like it and that you really want them to speak up when they hear something.

Different people hear different things on different days of the week. Let them point out things they don’t like, but never let anything through that you don’t like. By being bold when a situation calls for it, you can save a bunch of hassle. The tricky part is with gray-area stuff where maybe there’s an “interesting” note in a guitar solo. If you think it’s cool, say so. If you aren’t into it, say so! This helps the person holding the pick or standing in front of the mic tremendously even if they don’t agree with you. They should be comfortable enough with you to say, “Nah, let’s hit that one again.”

When You Don’t Have An Opinion
If you don’t feel strongly about the take, just say that. “I don’t feel strongly about this one”. Problem solved. They’ll either say, “I’m cool with it” or “You are right, lets do another take”. You win either way.

Decide Quickly
The worst thing you can do is spending 20 minutes pondering if a bend with attitude is sloppy or not. Your initial gut will guide you. Attempting to logically deduce the effectiveness of an interesting tom fill is illogical. Either you like it or you don’t. Move on.

Trust YOUR Gut
You can tell that I’m biased in regard to performances. In the modern era of Photoshop and Autotune, I’m predisposed to prefer a performance with intensity and character over one that is mathematically perfect. That’s part of the deal when you work with me and I don’t apologize for it. My clients know this ahead of time and are free to over ride me. When I have to pretend to have their tastes, my opinion is nothing more than me telling them what they want to hear. Don’t. Tell them what you think and go from there.

Camel String Carrot

Some people are perpetually optimistic. They believe the NEXT take is ALWAYS going to be the best one. The only problem with this is the last take always sucked in their eyes. For us with the mouse in our hand, we get to reflect on this philosophical conundrum. Quickly, we find out that these people are a little (or a lot) crazy.

The Camel-String-Carrot guys will do 250 takes of any given part. They put their head down and give it hell. I can respect the work ethic. However, they have no interest in ANYTHING they do. They rarely want a playback. When on $$$/hr gigs, these guys are often the ones that are shocked by how many billable hours they’ve racked up. Don’t ask me how you can NOT know what time it its.

For these guys, comping is the answer. Let them do several takes so they are complaining about different sections and you believe that you have enough good stuff to piece something great together. There will be resistance to you stopping. They REALLY want to get up to that 250 take number. Don’t let them. Stop them after five, if possible. Comp away, get something that you are comfortable with, and then play it for them. Ask them before you hit play if they hear anything they don’t like. Then punch in those two places. You’ll feel their opposition, but if they like the result of your comping, move on.

Fully expect them to want to do 250 takes the next verse.

I’m not sure if these people are trying to do everything in one take or if they don’t understand how smooth comping is. I stick with my crazy assessment.

The Rattlesnake Musician

Some guys get rattled…big time. You can almost smell it. These are usually Type A guys that wanted to nail it in a take or two and by take #18 they are calling themselves names, biting themselves in the face (don’t ask), or compiling a list of the tallest bridges in the area. Little do they know that their favorite bands probably spend twice as much time on their given parts. Whatever.

The worst thing on Earth for the Rattlesnake Musician is to have four other guys in the band saying, “You can do it, Riley”, “Think positive, Riley”, or “You rock, Riley.”. There is a belittling quality to everyone spitting off soccer-mom euphemisms. I believe the word is “patronizing”. A frustrated person who hears, “Turn that frown upside down”, is going to pull a Private Pyle and blow away R. L. Ermy (played by the engineer/producer in this case) and himself with a shotgun he conceals in his floor tom. I don’t know why he doesn’t kill his bandmates first. They would be my first target.

By far, the best method to utilize is to give them some space. Attempt the Camel-String-Carrot technique, but it only works once a blue moon. When it’s clear they can’t just power through this song by doing take after take, your best method is misdirection. Mr. Rattlesnake has a brain that is working against them. This gig is supposed to be fun and they clearly aren’t having it. Anything you can do to make them let go of the clutches of frustration is vital.

I often like to throw out ridiculous questions about life even when I’m not working. I like moral dilemma-type questions. Who would you rather save from a burning building? A fat guy or a baby? Who would you rather bang? A 10 or a porker for $200? Do you think Jesus would be a democrat or a republican? The secret to these is to let the conversation go only long enough where they forget their frustration. There will be a point where debating the philosophical implications of each possibility is more interesting than playing drums or whatever. Great. That’s when you cut off the conversation and hit record. It works extremely well when you time it correctly and well worth the 90 seconds.

If that doesn’t work, you’ve got to take a break. There’s no way around it. Don’t even hesitate. If you don’t expect an interesting performance on the next take, it’s time to go outside and look at trees. A 15 minute reset works wonders. I definitely recommend leaving the room and I also like a countdown timer on a stopwatch. This makes it easy to cut off unending conversations.

This is just a quick snippet from Surviving And Thriving In The BS Recording Studio Business.

Saved Comments

fran v – 10-18-2011, 01:59 PM Edit Reply
I generally don’t like the talent.Although there are many exceptions.

garageband – 10-18-2011, 02:41 PM Edit Reply
Good article made great by fun graphic.

RCooper83 – 10-18-2011, 03:14 PM Edit Reply
Brandon, pure gold! I’m not trying to kiss your ass here but this is some great “left brain” information for us engineers working in the “right brain”. I might have the brains backwards but I think you get my point.

adorian – 10-18-2011, 05:47 PM Edit Reply
Should’ve put some info there on the band members being at each other’s throat. Had that happen at a session recently, there was no way to mediate it. They just had it out, resulted in the drummer getting eventually fired.

sonic-man – 10-18-2011, 06:12 PM Edit Reply
I often like to throw out ridiculous questions about life even when I’m not working. I like moral dilemma-type questions. Who would you rather save from a burning building? A fat guy or a baby? Who would you rather bang? A 10 or a porker for $200? Do you think Jesus would be a democrat or a republican? The secret to these is to let the conversation go only long enough where they forget their frustration. There will be a point where debating the philosophical implications of each possibility is more interesting than playing drums or whatever. Great. That’s when you cut off the conversation and hit record. It works extremely well when you time it correctly and well worth the 90 seconds. If that doesn’t work, you’ve got to take a break. There’s no way around it. Don’t even hesitate. If you don’t expect an interesting performance on the next take, it’s time to go outside and look at trees. A 15 minute reset works wonders. I definitely recommend leaving the room and I also like a countdown timer on a stopwatch. This makes it easy to cut off unending conversations.

Good idea. I record and mix in the box, and i use a big HD TV [55"] for video monitor, so i like to play a short HD video every fourty minutes or so to help people unwind. I have a beautiful under water coral reef video that works well. going outside and looking at trees might work even better.

leann – 10-18-2011, 06:53 PM Edit Reply
im a rattlesnake musician lolz

PunkGuy – 10-19-2011, 09:33 PM Edit Reply
What about the musician who can’t seem to get into the spirit of things or deliver an interesting take? I’m curious to know how you deal with those types.

brandondrury – 10-20-2011, 10:16 AM Edit Reply
Should’ve put some info there on the band members being at each other’s throat. Had that happen at a session recently, there was no way to mediate it. They just had it out, resulted in the drummer getting eventually fired.
That’s kinda like babysitting two brothers (age 8 and age 10). You can talk to ‘em all you want, but you can count on a fight occurring in the next 20 minutes. My experience has been that I have zero say in the matter and I’ve heard some pretty damn brutal fights between band members.Interestingly, in situations where the musician who is tracking fights back (verbally or otherwise) they usually play better. It’s only when the musician at hand cowers that they play worse. That’s my experience anyway.
i like to play a short HD video every fourty minutes or so to help people unwind.
Good idea. This work as long it’s not on the web. Once you get open Youtube’s pandora’s box, it’s hard to close it.
What about the musician who can’t seem to get into the spirit of things or deliver an interesting take? I’m curious to know how you deal with those types.
This is an entire book in itself. I’m know expert on it, but I have a ton of experience with it. This is where guys who are very quite or very reserved are gonna have problems. I’m pretty good at getting loud and extreme and forcing a person to have an opinion….to feel SOMETHING. I believe that everyone is excitable, but it sometimes takes some serious work. I wrote in KHR about placing a poisonous snake in the control room. You get the point.The hardest singers to deal with in this regard are singers who learned in church. Church teaches you to sing on key and in front of people, but some reason they often come out with ridiculously low levels of conviction when they perform. Trying to get most church-trained singers to “dig in” is like asking a Chinese person who doesn’t speak English how to change a tire. It’s COMPLETELY foreign. I don’t think I’ve ever succeeded at this one. It’s a shame, too, because church-trained singers often have good skills and good voices. The thing that is most obvious to me is that one thing they can’t understand.

DLChuckles – 10-20-2011, 02:06 PM Edit Reply
Originally Posted by brandondrury
Once you get open Youtube’s pandora’s box, it’s hard to close it.
Well if that ain’t the damn truth. LOL.

dudermn – 10-22-2011, 07:04 PM Edit Reply
Whiskey helps. Got a ‘client’ recorded admitting that fact of studio life. (I don’t like the term client because it implies that a financial implication is the most important aspect of the relationship, too some.)

brandondrury – 10-26-2011, 12:10 PM Edit Reply
Whiskey helps.
Does Whiskey Make You Crazy?
don’t like the term client because it implies that a financial implication is the most important aspect of the relationship, too some.
I do struggle with this one…not because of the cash element. I love getting paid. I struggle with doing gigs SPECIFICALLY and ONLY because I get paid. When I wouldn’t do a gig for free, I’m starting to feel it’s not worth the money to do it. I guess this is a luxury.Even when I accept that I have a duty to perform, I find that the kind of gigs I do for money mostly have some element to them that makes them REQUIRE the money element. In other words, there’s something creatively butting heads with me that makes the song at hand impossible to max out in musical terms. That has been a real problem and an interesting paradox.I think this problem has come up more from having my Tuesday gig that I do for fun but have a large creative stake in the project. Once you’ve done a few projects that you 100% believed in without any of the usual objective flaws (lack of talent, lack of time, lack of tools/instruments) it’s REALLY hard to go back. It’s hard for me to relate back to the me who wanted to record anyone and everyone when not everyone is capable of delivering tracks that I can do justice.Brandon

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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