Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with other things – studio geek edition

Just couldn’t face Freeperville this week.  Sorry.
So, this week you get :
On recording demos –
In the mid-80s, I worked at Good Vibrations Recording Studio as intern, then engineer, and then as Manager. We were a 1” 16-track studio, founded by Dallas great Charlie Pride, that did almost exclusively demos and EP releases, with a few albums and commercials thrown in.
Thanks to some very good mikes and even better engineers, we managed to siphon off some work from the big 2” 24-track studios in the area, and everyone (including the first MTV Basement Tapes winners 4 Reasons Unknown) was happy when they left with their recordings.
But – they didn’t always start the sessions happy.
First-time-in-the-studio bands are a challenge in two ways. First, the ones who think they know how sessions work by reading about other people’s sessions in magazines. Those bands are a bit of a challenge, but a little gentle guidance usually gets them to cuddle up alongside reality.
Second, the ones who place themselves in the engineer’s hands and just go for it.
For the majority of them, it was the first time they had ever heard themselves on multitrack tape. And therein lay the problem.
When you’re rehearsing with your band (or singing in the shower, for that matter), you hear things very selectively. You hear mostly yourself, largely due to the fact that you’re concentrating on your own performance.
When you hear it back during playback (especially when all tracks but yours are muted),  two things can happen:
  1. You REALLY hear yourself for the first time unselectively, and you suck. Fortunately, this is the studio, and anything (well, almost anything) can be fixed.
  2. You really hear everyone else in the band for the first time unselectively, and one of THEM suck. This is where it can get ugly.
I have seen more bands break up in the studio over number two than I care to remember, but of course, EVERY band has one person who’s not letter-perfect, or doesn’t have that inner metronome, or sings that one note sharp or flat. The rest of the band turns on them and the session can degrade into a verbal fistfight if you let it.
Don’t let it.
As an engineer, your main duty (after getting them a good sound) is to be den mother, manager, producer, and counselor. Calm them down, get them away from each other’s throats, pause the session off the clock if need be, but do it. They’ll thank you for it when they leave with their music under their arm (or in their CD case).
Oh, and not to go all Adrastos on you or anything, but here’s the aforementioned MTV Basement Tapes winner from our studio.  Pay no attention to the annoying Emulator 2 whip crack sound – that was their idea, not mine.


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