January 29, 2008

Things A Producer Never Wants To Hear From A Band...

by Chris Randall

I was busy sifting through some old material today, to put up on The Tubes, and something caught my ear on a track that Martin Atkins remixed for me, and it got me giggling, and thinking of all the bullshit things I've had to put up with while producing other bands. Some of these comments would be not-out-of-place in a Society Of Creative Recording Anachronism meeting, as I'm a bit ol' skool, but keeping that in mind, just off the top of my head:

1. "Hey, could we get that reverse reverb effect on the vocals in this one part?" Bands that were used to recording on ADAT, when suddenly presented with a 2" machine, magically recalled everything they ever read about Rodger Bain, and had to have at least one Stupid Tape Trick. This is usually the first that came to mind. No problem, except you have most of a mix up by the time this idea comes out, and you need spool the whole roll twice (because, naturally, it was on the first song of the three that would fit on a roll of 2" at 30 ips.) Then SMPTE comes blaring out the foot channel, and, well, whee....

2. "Hey, let's do a reverse guitar solo on this." Okay, forget Rodger Bain. Now we're getting in to Chas Chandler country. (Or was that Eddie Kramer? I forget.) Anyways, Stupid Tape Trick #2, see above. Nowadays it's easier, if you can get it through the dumb-ass guitarist's head that they have to start big, end small.

3. "Hey, can I double this vocal track?" It's far easier to get a thick vocal sound from a bad singer with an H3000 than it is to get an Eminem double from 'em that is anything approaching usable. This is the sort of thing that makes the studio manager's eyes light up. (And the engineer, if he's hourly.) I think John Lennon should be heartily thanked by every studio owner in the world, since his ability to double his own vocals is singlehandedly responsible for more wasted studio time than probably any other factor.

4. "Hey, I think this track needs some percussion." Sigh. Nobody but percussionists can actually play percussion worth a shit. See #3. If you own a studio, and you want to increase your hourly billing, just leave some maracas and a tambo lying about the control room.

5. The various "I know everything about my instrument" comments, which we'll lump in to one category, else I'll go on all fuckin' day. "I replaced the heads less than 10 shows ago!" "These strings are broken in now!" "Can someone hit an E?" "Does anyone have a pick/pair of sticks/tuner?" Etc. ad nauseum.

6. I'm not sure how to word this one in a simple catch-all phrase, but my personal biggest pet peeve is The Part That Can't Change. This is invariably the foot, but it could be just about anything. I'm a fairly heavy-handed producer, and I could give a shit about any part at the expense of the song; very few musicians feel that way about individual parts, so this is usually the biggest struggle I'll have. Back when I was producing shit industrial bands, after we spent three days turning their Master Tracks Pro Atari ST files driving their Zoom Samplemaster or whatever in to something that everyone else in the world could deal with, the arguments about the kick drum parts would start. "You know, you don't really need to put a foot on every 16th note, dude...." And away we go.



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Jan.29.2008 @ 5:02 AM
foot? is that a sound your cat makes?

as for your tales of wo.. things haven't changed. still plenty of dumb things get said in studios... analog tape phasing is fun.. once.

i had a guy..excuse me.. a producer... come in w/a desktop and a soundblaster or something horrid and he was telling me he needed to fly his tracks to tape... all 52 of them. this after i track vocals and mpc's and all kinds of shit from a bunch of different producers at 4 in the morning or something...

anyway- it took me while to explain to him that his track count, though impressive, ahem.. would take us a few ours to get onto tape even if he had some way of syncing it to the tape machine (no midi interface/smpte/nothing!) and that even if we spent a while figuring it out we only had so much time until the next session and his 52 tracks at 4 minutes each well.. you do the math. it was pointless though. i was blue int he face and talking to them and they made me try it anyways.. there was no way to do it successfully and the guys hard drive was completely fragmented and slow and couldn't even play back all his 52 tracks even w/o trying to chase sync.

after that the main guy (rapper) asked me to mix ALL 10 tracks on his album in 1.5 hours... right. i threw ina dat and pushed up the faders and explained that these 'mixes' would be for reference only.

2 days later i got a call from his manager asking me what songs i mixed so they can credit the album. ha.. i said 'none'.


Jan.29.2008 @ 7:34 AM
I saw too many clueless idiots while engineering in another studio so my small studio is private. I liked the fat punk singer that would scream and spit into the mike while consuming his fifth of Jim Beam whisky. I was told it was important that I capture his 'window of creativity' that occurred around the half bottle mark...

Speaking of studio, UPS is currently escorting a pair of A7s my way!! :-)


Jan.29.2008 @ 7:38 AM
raoul duke
ha ha. asking a guitarist to start big and end small is like asking them to operate any piece of equipment that has more than three knobs on it.

a guitarist i knew sold me his boss delay cheap cos he 'couldnt get his head around it'. It has five controls. Its embarassing; im a guitarist so i (and others) get bracketed with these guys.


Jan.29.2008 @ 8:36 AM
I used to have a regular client who couldn't stop fucking with his amp.
I'd set levels and then he'd start again.

I sort of solved the problem by moving both player and amp into the control room away from the rest of the band and took to smacking the hand with a riding crop every time I went for the amp.

I don't think I could have gotten away with this if it wasn't a buddy of mine but none the less it should be filed under: "Sad but true"


Jan.29.2008 @ 10:06 AM
The last comment is so right on. So many musicians I've played with will refuse to alter their part to help the song. Notable is a request to change a chord so the vocal melody works better. Akin to that concept is also the inability to keep things simple in aid of the song.

Played with a drummer and his initial drumbeat for tune we were doing was this massive Neil Peart tom thing with "poly-rhythms" and all kinds of syncopated nonsense. We finally asked him to dial it down; he complained that he didn't want to play something "boring" and to show us how "bad" that would be, he proceeded to play a proper fucking beat over the song and....it sounded awesome. Douche.


Jan.29.2008 @ 10:28 AM
Well, duh. They're rockstars, you're just producing. Why should they have to change their part? They're the ones in the studio, that means they have talent, skill, experience, and shouldn't have to listen to the guy who sits behind glass.

Isn't the old saying, "Those who can play do, those who can't produce?"



Jan.29.2008 @ 11:19 AM
Re: davetron5000: right on, brother.

In danger of drifting off topic, compare this attitude with Stewart Copeland (one-half of the two-thirds of the Police still worth paying attention to):

"... Copeland is also noted for his heavy emphasis on the groove as a complement to the song, rather than displays of technical prowess. He once drove this point home at a drum clinic: Copeland announced that he would show the audience something "that very few modern drummers can do," and proceeded to play a simple rock beat for two minutes...."

link [en.wikipedia.or...]">link [en.wikipedia.or...]


Jan.29.2008 @ 12:45 PM
When I begun doing this, I had a customer (a.k.a. a friend of a friend of a dead friend) who wanted pay incredible amounts to mix some very shitty and very pathetic songs his late brother had done before parting this world. He had some "multitracker tapes" into which he had (quite poorly, imho) recorded 10 songs, all taken from his late brother's scorebook. Of course it didn't fit into my Otari so I had to borrow a Fostex R8...

Well, not being a great musician, he unfortunately had somehow managed to interpret the bass clef (a.k.a. left hand) in a totally wrong way - he had thought the "left hand clef" was just indicating that the part should be played with his left hand - but in a "right hand clef" way. The fact that his left hand C became A was actually making the songs quite a bit more interesting...

Combine that fact with his totally obnoxious "don't argue with me, I'm academic and definitely know what I'm doing" attitude and you get the most hilarious 10 minutes I've ever spent with any dickhead. He left doors slamming and didn't return. I didn't get the money but definitely had a good laugh.

Later I heard he'd gone to see a fellow studio guy, demanding him to mix the shit. The guy said "yes, but..." and then spent the rest of the day fixing the bass track and some of the piano tracks. His customer refused to pay for the recording session, insisting the material was already recorded in a correct way. What a tone-deaf fucker.

Lesson learned? Laugh and you'll avoid all shit.


Jan.29.2008 @ 12:55 PM
tom vx
now i'm curious... what was it that caught your ear?

Jan.29.2008 @ 1:22 PM
"Copeland announced that he would show the audience something "that very few modern drummers can do," and proceeded to play a simple rock beat for two minutes....""

On the flip side.. watching Meg White perform for two hours without a single drum fill is brutal.


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