ONE EFFECTIVE SOLUTION FOR DEALING WITH PROBLEMATIC ARTISTSBY GEORGE PETERSEN
To me, one of the great mysteries of studio production is the whole idea of artists who hire the finest engineers, only to look over their shoulder and start grabbing knobs and telling the engineer how to mix. In the old days, when large analog consoles were formidable symbols of complexity—i.e., “what do all those knobs do?”—artists were for the most part in awe of the mystical black magic nature of the process. Those were perhaps the good old days, when artists did their performance and producers and engineers did the production end.
Now, especially with the affordability of —and ubiquitous nature of—Pro Tools and other DAWs, every artist is suddenly an expert on mixing/EQ’ing/mastering/etc. And often the worst offenders are band members who always feel their instrument should be the loudest —or at least far more present—in the mix. These are the same types who on playbacks, listen to an absolutely perfect take, but somehow can sense that one of the 1/128th note in a guitar run is slightly anticipated, thus making the entire take unusable—even though no one else in the control room can perceive this horrible atrocity.
Lately, the Internet has been awash with “flowcharts”—essentially step-by-step instructions for solving various problems, so I figured I join in the fray and do one of my own, this one focused on dealing with troublesome artists who insist on being present during the mix. And while it’s slated toward performers, it could just as easily be applied to label A&R reps, management types, ad agency types, or the drummer’s girlfriend/boyfriend—essentially any “creative” souls who insist on meddling in the production process.
TRUTH SOMETIMES, IS STRANGER THAN FICTION
And while there’s a bit of satire/sarcasm here, there a whole lot of truth as well. I was once working on an album (sorry but the title/artist name of this gem is somehow deleted from my discography) where the performer wanted to add some percussion to a track. So far, so good and we suggested we bring in percussionist extraordinaire Pete Escovedo, who we had worked with in the past, always with amazing results. Pete is not only a pro player of the highest caliber, but whenever we did a session with him, we’d ask him how he’d interpret the part, and he always had great ideas, he was easy to work with and one of the nicest persons you’d ever meet. The last thing we wanted to do with Pete was to simply have him play some conga or cabasa chart.
Anyway, Pete drops by the studio, has a quick listen to the tune, and then on the first take, proceeds to lay down a brilliant performance—perfectly executed and exactly what we wanted. We had him come into the control room for a playback, and it was just spot-on. This was back in the analog recording days—where tracks were limited—in fact the project only had two tracks available for the stereo percussion part. But that didn’t seem to be an issue here—we had an awesome take and were ready to wrap it up. That is, until the artist’s girlfriend wondered whether we could get a better take, and suggested Pete do it again. We explained that this would mean wiping the existing track, which already was an “11″ on the proverbial “10″ scale. But she was adamant, and—despite our pleadings—convinced the boyfriend/artist that another take was a good idea. Pete was really nice about it and said “sure, no problem,” and proceeded to lay down another take, which was amazing, although I actually liked the first take better. Finally, the girlfriend approves of the new take, and while helping Pete load his gear into his car, I apologized to Pete, who actually thought the whole thing was funny.
After Pete had left, I asked the girlfriend what she thought was wrong with the first take. She said it was nothing really, but she was bankrolling the project and was bummed about having to pay him for an entire session after he had nailed the part in 10 minutes on a single take, so she wanted him to do it again! At that point I considered strangling her—or at least covering her in honey and tying her to an anthill—but then the studio wouldn’t have been paid for the session, so I took the Pete Escovedo attitude and just laughed it off.
And with this in mind, I proudly present my recording studio production flow chart for dealing with artists during the mix session.
For more about Pete Escovedo—a wonderful painter in addition to being a great musician—visit his web site at www.peteescovedo.com.
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Check out George Petersen’s current and archived articles from HDVideoPro/CineSoundPro magazine.
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