Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with Random Ruminations – Demo Hell edition

On recording demos

(in case you missed last week’s RR post)

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, originally 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.

Secondly, 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 tape.  And therein lay the problem.  When you’re rehearsing (or singing in the shower, for that matter), you hear things very selectively.  Your brain does a neat little trick of pitch correction. You sound great.  In rehearsals, you hear mostly yourself, largely due to the fact that you’re concentrating on your own performance.

When you hear it all during playback, two things can happen :

  1. You REALLY hear yourself for the first time un-selectively, 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 un-selectively, 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. or can’t keep their guitar tuned. 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).




3 thoughts on “Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with Random Ruminations – Demo Hell edition

  1. Back in the late ’70’s, I was on the team that installed offices/studios for Mutual Radio in PAM’s old Dallas studios (not my day job – I was an engineer for TI). Most all of the equipment was no longer there (except for the spring reverb which sat forlornly in the corner). I was impressed by the construction of the studio. It seemed to me that the facility may have closed abruptly because the desks still had documents in them. I remember PAM’s from my radio days in Baton Rouge and elsewhere. Pepper-Tanner was the other force in jingles but I always seemed to like PAM’s better. I have always wondered what happened.

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