Not to put too fine a point on it but the recording studio, when people behave badly, can be a very stressful place. As a producer, I work VERY hard to make sure this doesn’t happen and it very rarely does but, on occasion, a client’s behavior – generally inadvertently – can sour an otherwise enjoyable studio experience for everyone. In an effort to help my readers avoid putting themselves in this situation, I’ve reached out to a collection of experienced studio professionals and asked them – with the guarantee of anonymity – to describe some of their worst studio experiences. Consider these as landmines to avoid as you make your way through the songwriting demo process.
“There was a songwriter whose demos I worked on for a brief spell some years ago. A nice enough person but they had this habit of telling everyone what to play and when. They’d stand in the vocal booth and sing our parts to us while we tracked the songs. When it came time for my guitar solo on one particular session, they kept singing something that was supposed to emulate an electric guitar solo, like I’d never heard one. It was annoying as could be. I politely asked them to refrain because I couldn’t think, let alone play, with their voice in my headphones singing what they wanted me to play. I never took calls to work for that person again.”
“I was doing a session for a songwriter I shall not name who had had a humongous hit. They were recording a new song demo and I made a suggestion for a part. The songwriter said, his voice dripping with disdain, ‘Who asked you? You’re just a keyboard player. You’re just the fingers for my genius.’ ”
“I worked with a writer who came in and wanted to edit the song while I was trying to record the vocal. The kept asking me to sing alternate lines and melodies. Then they said, ‘now that you have it, let’s record from the top.’ I’d already been there for an hour recording what they said they wanted. The studio is a wonderful environment to be in. I would hate to see anyone spoil that experience because of something like not being prepared.”
“I was called to record drums and percussion on a fusion record with some pretty big names in the rhythm section. Pre-production from the artist was sketchy at best but everyone apparently received charts and scratch tracks prior… except for me! Since I am a no excuses kind of guy, I was attempting to assemble my parts/plan on the fly and not keep the rest of the musicians waiting on me, however it was obvious that I was dragging the the session down. I got through it, but it could have been much better…”
“I’ve been hired to sing in sessions where there isn’t a designated leader/producer. There are multiple writers and you’re in the vocal booth, while they’re all giving you different suggestions on talk back and you can’t figure out who you should be listening to.”
“The songwriter has a ‘hook’ lick for the guitar and wants to show the guitar player how to play it note for note. This is usually fine except when the writer keeps playing the lick for the studio musicians and is actually playing the lick different every time. It’s virtually impossible to copy what the writer is playing if they can’t play it consistently themselves. This applies to every instrument but it’s usually guitar players.”
“The writer has an ‘example’ of a hit song that he or she would like their song to sound similar to. Sometimes, however, the example song has nothing in common with the song they’ve written. Completely different style, groove, tempo, time signature, instrumentation, etc. I’ve seen someone write a classic country waltz and want it to sound like ‘Hotel California.’ That just isn’t going to happen no matter how hard we try!”
Well, there you have it. Stories from the men and women in the trenches. My intention in printing their stories is not to ridicule studio clients but, rather, to help those of you with little or no studio experience see things from the perspective of the studio professionals who do this every day to earn a living. Wishing you all a joyful and friction-free demo session soon!