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Know your role and understand theirs to optimize studio relationships and results
Technological issues have you stressing over your band’s new recording project? I can’t blame you, as the changes continue at the fastest pace in history. Possibly more troublesome are all the changes to expectations, roles and relationships that have resulted from the tech tsunami. Here’s an updated look at how to prepare and navigate for such choppy waters …
Traditionally, we would shop for a studio seeking a complete turnkey solution. Today, it’s more common to separate work into specific areas (i.e. track drums in this room, overdub at home, mix at this other room) and the result is more negotiation. Not so much rate negotiation as task, schedule and responsibility wrangling. Remember, complicated scenarios require careful attention and rooms aren’t always as cooperative and compatible as they ought to be, so ask questions upfront and prevent snafus.
Keywords to learn: stems, consolidated files, Dropbox
Today’s producer is likely in the band, or leads a more successful band that sounds like the band, who collaborates on every level with the band and then takes all the credit and/or blame! Producers hold the purse strings only at the highest levels; for mid-level indies and below, the relationship is more artistic. Anyone can now afford a successful producer, so pick one based on artistry and demeanor, not simply the lowest bidder or fantasies of coat-tailing their success.
Keywords to learn: royalties, co-writer, unsolicited demo
Any glory and unbridled trust once associated with engineering is gone, now that laptop DAWs rule the roost. Engineers today get needled to death with band questions, are asked to unveil methodologies so that the band can “try this at home” and are given ridiculous commands by rookie producers who wouldn’t know their phase from their polarity. Grouchy engineers can ruin your day and your music … tread with care and ample respect if they actually know their shit. If not? … to the curb, who needs ’em!
Keywords to learn: work for hire, co-producer, discography
The secret has gotten out to Main Street America that today’s musician often relies on their engineers and software to excel. The three-headed engineer-artist-producer relationship is now muddled with the ability to change absolutely everything the musician performed. This ranges anywhere from “thanks for saving my ass” to “how dare you try and alter my brilliance!” to “can we take a band vote on where that snare flam should be?” Expect to have your parts picked apart by everyone, so thick skin is advised.
Keywords to learn: pitch correction, quantize, rehearse to click
A lot of modern songwriters record themselves, but most of them end up in a studio to capture their finest work. Before approaching a producer, or even an engineer, make sure you’ve demo’d the songs in question. Just as the singer/songwriter expects top-quality work from the production team, the team expects proof that the singer/songwriter is legit and not a droning two-chord strummer; a simple yet clear demo eases the whole relationship.
Keywords to learn: portable recorder, Nashville demo, self-record
This crucial role is now often packaged with mixing services, or thrown in as a freebie from newbies. Automated on-line mastering is now even offered by LANDR, with a subscription model nonetheless. As if that weren’t enough, the ubiquity of “volume leveling” by streaming services may have officially ended the “volume wars.” Mastering shootouts are now commonplace, volume maximizing may actually be foolish and charlatans lurk around every corner … let the buyer beware
Keywords to learn: stem mastering, iTunes Sound Check, inter-sample distortion
Such liquid roles and rapid changes in the musician’s environment make for some troubled waters if you’re not careful. Musical success comes to only the rarest of creature these days: the musician with talent, vision, resourcefulness and unlimited tact. New roles are the hardest to define, so expect tempers to flare quickly. Remember that technology always changes attitudes and expectations, so don’t get stuck in an old-school rut. If at a loss for how to handle complications remember (and repeat) my mantra … “every person deserves a voice, every role deserves respect and every idea deserves consideration.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob Tavaglione is the owner of Catalyst Recording in Charlotte, NC, and a veteran audio writer who writes a column, feature stories, editorials, blogs and reviews gear for Pro Audio Review Magazine and Pro Sound News. Rob has written over 200 articles and reaches over 150,000 audio engineers a month through print and web. For more, visit www.catalystrecording.com and follow Rob on Twitter @RobTavaglione.