Studio Horror Story

I was engineering an album for an overbearing producer.

I was engineering an album for an overbearing producer. He must have blown out his ears at one point, because he kept asking for insane amounts of treble; and also, he was never, ever wrong. I tried to explain as diplomatically as I could that it wasn’t a good idea to produce music that caused physical pain, although I was a little nicer about it and just said that the speakers in the studio tended to be a little “shy on treble,” so he didn’t need to add so much He wouldn’t have any of it, and insisted on cranking the audio on most tracks starting at about 3kHz. Ouch.

I hated to get into some kind of clash of the egos, but I also knew this wasn’t doing the band any favors—they weren’t all that happy either. But then I remembered reading about a trick where someone had dealt with a similar problem, and come up with a devious—but clever—solution. Would it work for me?

This was back in the days of big mixers with patch bays, so I re-patched the channels to include a lot of blank channels in between. We were going along fine, and I was setting up the sound for the lead guitar. Then it came: “Can you make it brighter?”

Despite my protests, he absolutely insisted the guitar needed to be brighter. So, I made a big deal of reaching over to the channel’s parametric EQ, dialing in a shelf around 4kHz with the top band’s shelving function, and slowly turning up the gain by about 3dB. “How about a little more,” he said, so I kicked it up to 6dB. “Perfect! See? It really did need that extra brightness.”

I whole-heartedly agreed, and proceeded with the mix. And this was one time I really was glad some people do mix with their eyes: I never told him I was adjusting the EQ on the next channel over, which wasn’t patched into anything.