Making an artist feel at home in the studio

One of the great things about the democratisation of the music industry and the recording process in particular, is the ability for an artist to make records at home, free from the pressure, time and budget constraints that hiring a commercial studio inevitably brings with it. There are many stories about producers and artists “chasing the demo”, because the home-recorded performances felt better than the studio version.

For all the advantages recording at home can offer, there are times when working in a commercial studio is the most direct way of getting the job done – tracking a live rhythm section, recording strings or a piano or simply to ensure there is a deadline. During those times I find these methods and mind-sets work when trying to put artists at ease in the studio. I often go some way to recreate (or better) the freedom of recording at home.

Be prepared so you can be present

Aim to have 90% of the setup done before the artist walks in the studio. It’s a great feeling when they arrive and I can take the time to chat, make them a coffee and ease them into the session, knowing that the basics are all in place and ready to go. Plans may change, but at least we have a basis to start working from.

For a tracking session, this would include things like setting up the room with gobos, making sure there are good sightlines between the musicians; ensuring that mics are on stands and patched in; headphone stations are tested and in position; water, paper, pencils and music stands are at each musician’s station; outboard is patched in and the console is routed with basic gain levels set for each instrument; Pro Tools session template is set up, or the tape machine aligned if it’s an analogue session.

Sure, this means some extra work for me, but I build this into the budget so that I can offer the service I want and give my best. The pay-off for the musicians? Less time hanging about, which ultimately drains energy and creativity, so it’s win-win.

Walk in their shoes

You don’t have to be a musician, but it helps to have an understanding of what a musician is going through when they record. Appreciating that having the trumpeter do repeated takes of a top C may knacker their chops is helpful, before asking. Knowing basic music theory so you talk the same language as the musicians is always helpful. Being super cautious about making any patching changes whilst musicians are wearing headphones is another – 100dB feedback can be a real vibe killer.

Organisation helps the vibe

Everyone’s tastes are different. The perfect vibe might be a darkened bunker with stuff strewn everywhere … or it might be daylight, fresh air and some basic organisation. There’s no right or wrong, but having an organised studio means one less thing to get in the way of creativity. Need a mic cable, re-amp box or PSU for a guitar pedal? Make sure that it’s on a shelf, labelled and ready to go. It’s easier to make a creative mess from a clean start – that’s one of the reasons why chefs and artists clean up before starting work. Plus, it’s a good excuse for the various amounts of OCD that most studio folks seem to have.

Be like a duck

When something does go wrong ( there’s a 100% chance that it will and probably sooner than later), it’s often more important how you deal with it, than the fact it happened. Trying to keep cool on the outside, whilst paddling fast inside, is a good way of keeping the vibe in the room relaxed. Having a few options in your back pocket can help a lot Some things that have saved me in the past include keeping a recent clone of the studio Mac’s hard drive and having a spare headphone amp and monitors.

(Do) Sweat the small stuff

It’s the little things that help build credibility with an artist. For me, it’s things like freshly brewed coffee and homemade bread and soup, through to caring about the artist’s day or asking about their favourite music. As well as genuinely caring about this stuff, it all builds credibility with the artist, to the point where they feel safe and comfortable enough to experiment, without feeling self-conscious. When the artist feels like they are in their own home and that you and the studio are their safety net, they will freely try out ideas without fear of being judged. This is when the magic happens and everything combines to help elicit a great performance. Don’t think for a second that it isn’t noticed and appreciated by the artist. The fact that you cared enough to go the extra distance is a simple way to stand out in a business where studios are often competing with free.

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