Welcome to Hell!

You know the deal: There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done as deadlines hang over you like a Sword of Damocles, and you draw ever-closer to impending doom (or a ticked-off client — basically the same thing). What do you do? First, don’t panic: That only makes things worse. Instead, plan your course of action.


It’s been said that the shortest note is better than the longest memory — write down everything you need to do, and organize the items in order of importance. (If nothing else, you’ll realize that the list is, thankfully, finite.) As you create your list, carry around a small notepad and pen; that way if something enters your head, you can write it down immediately so you don’t forget it.

Once you’ve finished a task, cross it off. That not only puts the remaining items in perspective, but provides a sense of accomplishment as you see more and more items bite the dust.


If it seems unlikely that you’ll be able to accomplish everything in the available time, see if you can get some deadlines changed. This is sometimes easier if the client contributed to the problem; for example, if they rescheduled a tracking date, you might find that the deadline is a “soft” one instead of a “hard” one. And, no one will tell you that the graphics person is running late so you can slip a few days, but if you ask, you might get lucky.

You also might get lucky if a project requires approvals along the way. When a client is late signing off on something, you have every right to expect an extended deadline.


If a ton of edits are needed on a particular track or set of tracks, cutting the parts over (if the musicians are available) can often be more efficient — and more musical — than spending hours moving notes around.

If you don’t think re-tracking is going to provide a substantially better recording, it’s time to pull out the virtual razor blade. But before you start, prioritize: Take care of the big issues that must be done first, and if any time remains, attend to the details. Do this in consultation with the client — remember, what is important to them is what should be important to you, because at the end of the day, it’s their project and they pay the bills. (Of course, they’re also hiring you for your expertise and knowledge, so don’t hesitate to share it with them.)


As they say, “Murphy was an optimist” — so allow yourself additional time for the unexpected when setting up a schedule. Take a tip from the airlines: They add extra minutes to the estimated landing time, so that the odds are better of having an on-time arrival. And if everything goes as planned, the plane will appear to have gotten in early.

In the middle of my current deadline crunches, an old friend passed away (we miss you Robbie), my internet computer had a hard disk failure, and one of my dogs decided to lift his leg on my wife’s computer, shorting out the power switch. (I guess I now know where he stands on the Mac vs. PC debate.) There’s no way you can anticipate these problems, so just assume some yet-to-be-determined problems will occur. They will.


Avoid all distractions during crunch time. When you have deadlines bearing down on you, reconsider the importance of watching the new episode of the Simpsons — it will be re-run anyway. The internet can be another great time-waster, but also note that distractions don’t always come from outside of the studio: Sometimes they come directly from the band or client. This is not the time for the band’s entourage to be hanging out, and even the band’s access to the control room should be controlled. Explain that you’re not trying to close anyone out, but you do need quiet in the control room as you focus on completing your work for them. Call them back in as needed to seek their opinions on the work as it progresses.

Two things that aren’t a waste of time are rest and nutrition. You can’t concentrate on the work at hand if you’re stomach is growling louder than the fretless bass, and you won’t make good decisions if you’ve sat in front of the speakers non-stop for the last 37 hours. Send out a runner or have food delivered. A 20-minute catnap on the couch every few hours can do wonders for your focus and concentration, and keep you going for longer than you might think.


If you’re really swamped, consider paying for extra studio help from outside engineers or other studios. Tasks such as editing and pitch correction, or compiling tracks and doing backups, can possibly be farmed out to allow you to focus on mixing. The phone can be a problem too, so have someone screen your calls. Urgent calls should be put through, so provide your assistant with a list of “important” names; put off everything else until you complete your project.


In an ideal world, we’d all make perfect albums with no flaws, and nowadays the trend is to try to make everything perfect in every detail. But as Michael Molenda pointed out in his Dec. ’06 column, many of the records we all revere were made on tight deadlines, and decisions were made in minutes, not hours or days — and the music didn’t suffer for it. So don’t obsess too much; try to listen to the overall sound, like the average listener will, and quit worrying about the drum hit that’s 3ms late. Remember, a producer’s first job is to get the album finished: So get organized, get focused, and get busy.

Phil O’Keefe is a producer/engineer, and the owner of Sound Sanctuary Recording in Riverside, California. He can be contacted at www.philokeefe.com, or via the Studio Trenches forum at www.harmony-central.com.