Originally Posted by jordanvoth
All I can say is thanks,
Young and The Hopeless by Good Charlotte was one of my favorite albums as a kid and the new TBS is incredible, as is the latest All American Rejects album. One thing I've noticed with the discs that I buy with your name on it is that the bands all have taken a big step up in their writing. How much of a role do you have with helping these bands craft their songs? What kind of stuff do you go through with the bands prior to hitting the big red button?
Getting the most out of the clients: This is a broad topic and I feel like its a really big deal. I am just going throw out a bunch of stuff that is sort of related to it.
I don't even get a chance to use all of my stupid distressors and EQs if I can't win over a band's confidence and get them to allow me in the door with something as personal as their music. I think the most important thing for being able to step into a bands creative universe is trust. I work very hard to establish it when I am first meeting with a band to discuss making a record and work very had to maintain it throughout the recording process. If the bands trust in my ability to confidently guide the creative direction of their record waivers even slightly, it can easily, instantly derail the project. These are some of the things I do to help gain confidence and trust. I always do a lot of research about the bands existing recordings, musical tastes and interests. Musicians bond by talking about music. Bringing up the wrong musical reference at the wrong time can be devastating and un recoverable. I have made the mistake of being poorly prepared when meeting with a band for the first time and referenced a band or song that falls flat in the room. one of the band members said something like "I always hated that record" and you could just feel the enthusiasm get sucked out of the room. Just like that, one inappropriate reference and I knew I won't be working on that project. KNOW THE BANDS TASTE!!!!!! It is so important. When I get it right and mention a band and then a specific song that they all love and then go into detail about what I think is cool about it, you can just feel the sense of camaraderie being established. I'm not trying to trick anyone, I am genuinely trying to figure how to make a record that this particular band will really love and accurately represents them. i am being hired to make the best possible Good Charlotte or TBS or Nickel Creek record not an Eric Valentine record. if that wasn't the case, I'd just be trying to make them all sound like Led Zeppelin
Through the course of the project there are hundreds of forks in the road... should we use the Les Paul or the Tele, should we use this snare or that one, should we use this lyric or should we change it. Those choices come up constantly and I try really hard to make sure I have clear sense of what choice the band would think is great and which one they would think sucks. I used to have this very hippy sort of attitude that "hey its all subjective" and try to encourage bands to be more open minded, i don't do that anymore. I encourage bands to indulge every single petty judgmental musical observation. This distinction of what is F***ing cool and what sucks is what DEFINES a bands taste and aesthetic. It is my responsibility to be intimately familiar with a particular bands loves, hates and overall aesthetic. If I am consistently suggesting things that the band is not responding positively to the trust will be eroded away and the project will fall apart… and yes that has definitely happened to me before.
I think maintaining composure even when things get frustrating or heated or even surreal is really important. It was very hard for me to maintain an air of relaxed confidence when Iggy Pop walked in the door to sing on a Slash song. If I am nervous about recording his vocal then he will get nervous about singing it. It was insanely surreal to hit the talk back button and hear myself say "OK Iggy that was a good pass lets see if we can beat it".
I do like to do a lot of preparation/pre production. Because of the luxury of digital recording many bands I don't think really know how to properly prepare for recording. Starting the recording process with a somewhat vague idea of the songs and their arrangements I think is a mistake. I like to have the parts and arrangements well established before we start recording the actual record. I have noticed that I actually will get more spontaneity from the musicians when they are better prepared. It seems that when someone is trying to figure out what to play on a section when it is being recorded for the album that they use up the time searching for a part instead of actually being able to do something more spontaneous. When there is a part well prepared in advance, they play that first. Once we get that down, then psychologically we know we have that and it works. having the prepared part in the can is very liberating for the player and they are more inclined to have fun and be adventurous when playing spontaneously. I will frequently suggest to guitar players "OK we got that part and its great, but you should just F*** around and try some stuff". That is usually when I get some cool performance moments.
I essentially record the record twice. I record it once as a prepro version, where I don't focus on sounds at all. I actually specifically intentionally make the sounds a bit lofi to make sure the ideas and parts aren't being propped up by a sound or effect instead of really standing on its own conceptual merit. We basically record all of the prepro development of the songs. We can chop things around to play with arrangements and work out all of the parts that the band members are going to be playing. I make CDs for individual band members with their parts featured so they can go over them and practice the parts. I want them to have the confidence of knowing parts that we all agreed on that are rehearsed and ready to go. This also avoids the biggest time waster on a record… the re-record. It is a huge waste of time to completely record a song and realize it is in the wrong key or its the wrong tempo or we can't come up with a bridge over the drum part we recorded.
I think one of the biggest advantages I have when working with bands is being able to work out of my own facility. I only do "All-In" budgets where the label pays a flat fee for a finished record. No hourly billing, no trying to schedule time at other studios etc. It puts everyone's focus squarely on working on things until their right. When ever anyone has something they want to try or suggests something that could improve the song the answer is always YES we should try that. I feel it is hugely beneficial to the creative process. The band or I are never in that position of having to accept something that we know isn't as good as it could be. I never have to tell the lead singer things like "well, we're out of time/money… were just gonna have to work with what we got on that song."
There are some particular phrases that I use all the time that have become tools for me when I am trying to help an artist navigate towards something I think will improve a song or part. I love the phrase "I think there may be a missed opportunity here". For me, it has been the most constructive way to address a part that I don't think is working. I never say "this part isn't working" even if I believe that. It focuses on the negative aspect of something not working and can immediately put an artist in a more defensive state of mind. I like skipping directly to the very positive aspect of possibly adding a cool new part or idea to the whatever it is we are working on. The fact that it may be replacing an idea that is not working so well is secondary. It seems subtle but it really makes a big difference. I also always try to be sure I have some sort of solution to suggest if I am going to address something that is being problematic. the worst thing to do is say "This isn't working" and not have a suggestion to offer. It just leaves everyone wallowing in your opinion that something sucks… it can ruin the momentum.
Working with singers is one of the most interesting and delicate recording processes. I always try to listen for meaning in the performance. I am always checking with myself if I believe what the singer is saying or not. That is the most important thing to me, especially now that small tuning and timing issues can be easily fixed. If i find a singer is repeatedly sounding like they are reading a lyric sheet I try this little trick. Usually songs have a particular moment of inspiration when they are originally conceived. It is frequently the moment when the composer discovers an idea that has a real spark to it. I know for myself, when I stumble onto something that I feel is really cool there is this sort of… Oh Shit! this is really cool and it will sound like this and I would sing it like this and the drums would play this etc. It is a moment of clarity that can fade over time. I get the singer to think back to the moment when they first had the idea for the song. Think about where they were, how they felt when the inspiration first struck them and how the vocal would be sung. It is an attempt to get the singer back in touch with the original honest inspiration and meaning of the song.
Man… i really find this particular topic very interesting. I hope some of that interesting or some of you as well.
Thanks for the great question!