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Recording Session Musicians
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Dave Martin
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#1
18th February 2006
Old 18th February 2006
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Recording Session Musicians

Duardo posted this on another thread, and it got me to thinking...

"Oh, and one thing that the people who say they'd take the money and build their own studio (and I'm not saying that's a bad idea...I think it is a good way to learn, and probably better than most school situations) seem to overlook is the caliber of musicians you'd be exposed to at WireWorld compared to the people you'd be likely to bring into your own studio as you build your chops."

Some of us (inlcuding me) are in a position that allows us to pretty much record great session players exclusively - a rough estimate for me is that more than 95% of the people I've recorded in the last 10 years are full time session players - and most of what's left are great live musicians who are also studio savvy. It's not that I won't record young bands and such, but that's not what's been paying the bills here. So here's the thought that Duardo's post; it's a double edged sword, only recording wonderful musicians.

On one hand, I know that if a track doen'st sound great, it's probably my fault; it's really easy to record wonderful musicians and singers. On the other, a whole lot of the things that y'all talk about doing on a regular basis (Beat Detective, Sound Replacer, Auto Tune, map to grid, copy and paste the good section to replace the bad ones), I simply don't do. Some of these things, I don't know HOW to do, since it's never had to be part of my arsenal of engineering tools. On the other hand, when I started doing engineering, is was a great help to use musicians who had looked at more miking setups than I'd ever seen, and who know how to get their instruments to sound great going to tape.

Threads about 'too much hat in the snare mic', or 'kick drum volume is all over the map' don't really interest me, since that doesn't happen here. the drummers I work with on a daily basis may have 25 or 30 years of sessions under their belts; they play the kit so that rcapturing a great ecording of it is simple. I don't need to edit the drums, simply because the drummer plays it right (and if I'm unhappy with what he played, we can simply punch in and out to fix it). When the drummer leaves, the drum track is finished. No editing necessary.

What the fact that for 15 years I've only been recording great musicians really means is that my engineering skills are light on the 'polishing a turd' tricks, and lean more towards getting that last 2% of the magic that was in the tracks into the mix.

I'm of two minds about this - on one hand, I'm happy that I can concentrate on the music and not the lack of talent on the part of the guys I work with. On the other, as a professional engineer, I feel that it's part of my job to know as much as I possibly can about the tools and tricks of my chosen profession. But I'm not sure I want to bring in a group of kids who can barely play their instrumenst just so I can learn how to fix their terrible performances....
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Dave Martin

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18th February 2006
Old 18th February 2006
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So let me see... Choose between recording great musicians 24/7 or semi-hacks. Hmmm... Tough choice.

I hate you.
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18th February 2006
Old 18th February 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Screws
So let me see... Choose between recording great musicians 24/7 or semi-hacks. Hmmm... Tough choice.

I hate you.
Or COMPLETE hacks that can't write or play a song worth remembering - yeah Dave, I think you're bound to be content where you are.

As for not learning the advanced skills of the DAW world, there is never a wrong time to start. Tips and tricks can be read about pre-session, in the john, before bed, etc.

I've been in PT for 8 yrs - you'd think I'd have learned all the advanced features - not a chance! I learn what I needed to learn to get by day by day, and never thought twice about learning every freakin thing, unless sessions warranted it. I don't want the tools to get in the way of making music either, much the same as what you experience in your own recording world...
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18th February 2006
Old 18th February 2006
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I'm reminded of one of my great "a-hah" experiences at Motown.

I used to be very unhappy with the piano sound I managed to get. I tried every kind of eq, limiter, recording wet with a chamber, different mikes, etc. but it just never sounded as good as I wanted or even as good as the same piano and gear on our own records of five years earlier

Then one day a producer, Valerie Simpson, stepped over to the piano to demonstrate an idea to the guitar section. Out of the monitor popped one of the very best piano sounds I'd ever heard! A major lesson.
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18th February 2006
Old 18th February 2006
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Given a choice, I would work with the experienced pros....but more times than not, most of us don't have that choice...we gotta take what we can get.

That said, I've done both been a 'hired gun" and recorded some others...its strange, but when I work in (most) other places, I get in, get a quick check of signal, go over the charts, and just play the music....but when I try to record my own playing, it seems I get more hung up on the technical aspects than just playing the dad-gum songs...

That's (one reason) why my self release project of original guitar music has taken 12+ years, and have got three songs almost ready to mix...
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21st February 2006
Old 21st February 2006
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[QUOTE=Midlandmorgan That's (one reason) why my self release project of original guitar music has taken 12+ years, and have got three songs almost ready to mix...[/QUOTE]


... well said
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21st February 2006
Old 21st February 2006
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I think anybody in their right mind would elect to record good players rather than mediocre or bad players. However, I could see how you might get bored after years or recording only session musicians. For one, you get no band dynamic. No comradery. No conflict. At the end of the day, it might seem more like a product than an artistic creation, or a labor of love. Given the choice, I'd much rather record a good BAND than a buncha good session players. It's just more fun, and that's really all there is to it. (Besides, I don't recall the last time a session player brought a case of beer to the studio.)

If you do a lot of punching in/out, nothing hurts more than an inconsitent drummer. That's for damn sure.

If you've never messed with sound replacer before, that might be one tool that could bring something to the table for you in your current situation. Sometimes you just can't afford to get the exact drum tone you're looking for before you hit record. Especially if musicians are on the clock, and the producer is pushing you to go go go! Depends on the producer of course, but I've worked with people who just wanna get as many "red button presses" in as they can, and that's pretty much their only M.O.. It can help to get a certain sound you're going for, or to simply help drums cut through the mix a little better, especially if the drummer hasn't changed their heads lately. Of course, with professional session players, you'd rarely get this. But knowing that the tools are there (in this instance) could hardly be a limiting factor.

Sounds like you're doing well, Dave! Keep up the good work, and enjoy a luxury that many engineers may never know!
Dave Martin
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21st February 2006
Old 21st February 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlexLakis
I think anybody in their right mind would elect to record good players rather than mediocre or bad players. However, I could see how you might get bored after years or recording only session musicians. For one, you get no band dynamic. No comradery. No conflict.
Alex, there's definitely camaradary, dynamic and even a certain amount of conflict; remember that we've all been working together for 12 of 15 years - we've got a history....

And my point wasn't that I'm unhappy with the guys I work with, just that from time to time I wonder if I shouldn't at least familiarize myself with the tools that others seem to require.
Dave Martin
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22nd February 2006
Old 22nd February 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by djui5
Why if you don't need them?
For the same reason that I have a MIDI Trigger interface in the closet and an electric sitar in the tracking room - because I MIGHT need them. Hopefully not often (either the turd polishing techniques or the trigger interface), but I might...
#10
22nd February 2006
Old 22nd February 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Martin
What the fact that for 15 years I've only been recording great musicians really means is that my engineering skills are light on the 'polishing a turd' tricks, and lean more towards getting that last 2% of the magic that was in the tracks into the mix.

I'm of two minds about this - on one hand, I'm happy that I can concentrate on the music and not the lack of talent on the part of the guys I work with. On the other, as a professional engineer, I feel that it's part of my job to know as much as I possibly can about the tools and tricks of my chosen profession. But I'm not sure I want to bring in a group of kids who can barely play their instrumenst just so I can learn how to fix their terrible performances....
You are lucky.. I have some amazing gear but with a crappy band.. the gear counts for nothing.. But when good players DO turn up, its smiles all day..

It could be said that my job is to hoodwink A&R mooks to accept substandard bands..All I need is for the track to cut through last nights cocaine hangover and to make a few commercial hairs standup on the back of their necks, in their shoe box office and then one more time, with their boss in the board room. Thats the main gig for me if I am honest. That's what I am paid for.
#11
22nd February 2006
Old 22nd February 2006
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Dave, I know the folks you work with are top notch - craftsmen in their own rights - and can be relied on to get repeated excellent results...

I think you are on to something as far as having a assortment of unusual instruments (triggers, bouzikis, treys, etc...) to keep things ... fresh. I mean, given the circusmstances, just how many ways ARE there to mic a Deluxe? No matter your chain, its still going to be the same player (most key element)...

Which leads me to a question: Over the years, I've read people like Brent Rowan, Brent Mason, Reggie Young, etc...show up to a studio gig with literally trucks of stuff...and will apply some effects to their guitar signals before it ever gets to the mic...Is this still a common practice, or has the paradigm shifted to allow producer/engineer to make the choices during mix, and focus on getting the purest form of any given instrument? Why would hired guns show up with three 18 space racks if all you need for a specific gig is a tele, a deluxe, a cord, and a pick?

Your insights are appreciated.
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22nd February 2006
Old 22nd February 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlexLakis
(Besides, I don't recall the last time a session player brought a case of beer to the studio.)
When I'm working on the other side of the glass as a session musician I expect the Producer to bring the case of beer!
#13
22nd February 2006
Old 22nd February 2006
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Wow, I have to wholeheartedly agree here with Dave. Mind you I'm a musician, part time equipment operator (home w'recer), but damn. Last night I tracked a trumpet player that was phenomenal!! 3 takes, on a tune he listened to 2 times.

Now thats what its all about.

Must avoid polishing turds. Must avoid polishing turds tutt


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