Five Studio Disasters and How to Avoid Them
The Honeymoon is Over
At first, you see eye to eye with the producer, and it
is beautiful. Then, the honeymoon fades. Perhaps
the producer needs something that is not in your
ability range (cutting harmonies on the spot, getting
that gospel growl, being available at a moment’s
notice), or, on your end, you have a vision for your
music (genre and instrumentation, for example) that
the producer cannot realize. (Been there, done that!)
The result: a less-than-desirable product, possible
hard feelings or conflict, misused resources, and
having to start over.
Solution: Do your homework when choosing a producer.
Get references and trust your gut. Have a conversation
(or many) before you decide whether you
should proceed together. Once you decide to go
ahead, get a contract and specify what will happen
and when it will happen. Don’t end up with a Chinese
Democracy on your hands (re-doing and re-doing,
then, years later, finally getting the project out).
There Are Conflicting Ideas
About the Project’s Scope
You start the project, and then everyone (musicians,
singers, engineer, etc.) starts to bitch about how it’s
taking more time, more money, etc. than they thought
(or are being compensated for). Or, you agree to do a
project for a certain price, and production runs way over
what you expected or wanted. Ouch! The result: frustration,
tension, strained relationships, less-than-stellar performances,
and ultimately, an unfinished project.
Solution: Break the project down into pieces for yourself,
your band, your musicians, the producer, and engineer.
Have clear expectations and a realistic estimate
of the time it will take (plus two hours or so). Charge
and compensate accordingly. Accomplish only what
you can achieve successfully within your timeframe and
budget, and don’t compromise on quality.
You Can’t Cut It,
Thinking that you know the parts and knowing the
parts are very different. When you sing in the studio, every detail is under a microscope—pitch, attitude, timing,
resonance, lyrics, etc.—so how you perform is just
as important as what you perform. When I studied
with Raz Kennedy (of Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra), his
mantra was that every note has an attitude. It’s a high
bar, but hey, why do something mediocre? A poor
performance can result in paying for extra studio time,
re-cutting over and over, and group frustration.
Solution: Practice! Get a coach, break down the
parts, pay attention to detail, and don’t record until
The Song Isn’t Finished
Bottom line: The song is everything. You can finish
that bridge in the studio—no problem! You didn’t
memorize the lyrics, or you just wrote them—not a
problem. Yes, it is a problem! Unless you’re a studio
rat who enjoys the challenge of finishing a song
on the fly and you can hustle under pressure,
don’t go into the studio with half a song.
Solution: Get the song completed, then get it down.
And finally, the showstopper . . .
People Behaving Badly
Frustrated, tired, stressed people get ugly fast.
Unprofessional people get more unprofessional as
the project goes on. Late people screw up sessions
by holding up the process. Professional people get
fed up with unprepared and uncooperative people.
Heavy partiers have a good time at everyone’s
expense while their recording becomes either a rare
fluke of genius or a total waste of time. People who
hire producers, engineers, or vocal coaches to work
with an artist, without setting clear boundaries of who
does what and who has the final say, set people up
for conflict and power plays. The result: disaster #5
on steroids. Once the yelling, rising tension, and kicking
people out of the studio start, you know you’re in
a “people behaving badly” moment.
Solution: Keep a level head, plan the session carefully,
avoid working with impossible people (even if they have
a Grammy—true story!), get clarity about everyone’s
roles, and set ground rules before you record!