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jordanvoth
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#1
19th July 2011
Old 19th July 2011
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Getting the best out of your clients?

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?
#2
22nd July 2011
Old 22nd July 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jordanvoth View Post
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!

EV
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#3
22nd July 2011
Old 22nd July 2011
  #3
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Eric,
I have read all your posts over the years about drums and compression and third eye blind, etc.
This is hands down the most insightful and important post you have made in my opinion.
Philosophy of record making is where I really get excited. I love your process of trying to stay constructive.
I have always adopted the theory that I don't have to know the answer, I just need to know the way to the answer. In other words, I don't want to act like I know everything (which I don't), but that I do know tools we can try and avenues we can take to help point to the answer.
How does this line up with the way you work?
Also, with the all in budget, do you have a built in timeline? How do you schedule records in order to not overlap? Or do they?
Thanks so much. I am a gearslut, but the philosophy of recording is where I really come alive!! Moak

www.paulmoakmusic.com
#4
22nd July 2011
Old 22nd July 2011
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Excellent info Eric! Motivating and coaching musicians is one of my favorite aspects of recording so I'd love to hear even more info on this topic if you happen to think of any other tricks you'd like to share.

I'd also love to know how you handle situations where you have a band-member/instrumentalist who is maybe not as exceptional as the rest of the band.

It's great to hear how your mind works! Thank you very much for doing this Q & A!
#5
22nd July 2011
Old 22nd July 2011
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Absolutely superb reply there.

I too find the psychology of performance hugely interesting, and some of your techniques are somewhat similar to mine. At no stage do you want to make it known something just doesn't work. My favourite is "over emphasize the starts and ends of words, over sing/play this part". It is something I make known to them that is a warm up for their instrument/vocal and that it won't be recorded, "just have fun with it". It is during these moments that elements start to stick out and ideas can start flowing. It has actually been 90% of a vocal take before. They also relax more knowing its not recorded, and then its a great surprise to them when they hear something inspirational later on. If nothing exciting comes from that take, then I just delete it, or keep it back for a later time.

I absolutely love your comment about taking them back to how they felt when they first wrote it. It's like getting them back on to the train of thoughts and ideas they had originally, the true essence of the song. Excellent advice. annnnnd, I may have to borrow that if I may.
#6
23rd July 2011
Old 23rd July 2011
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wow.

This kind of insight is too rare: very good points Eric, and a wonderful way to seek and attain excellence in the recording process. Your reply should be printed and mounted above every producer/engineers studio door.

Thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts - I think a LOT of folks are going to take this to heart in their own realm, regardless of style or musical genre.

Best,
__________________
Jay
PlugHead Productions

http://www.plugheadproductions.com
jordanvoth
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#7
23rd July 2011
Old 23rd July 2011
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Originally Posted by PlugHead View Post
wow.

This kind of insight is too rare: very good points Eric, and a wonderful way to seek and attain excellence in the recording process. Your reply should be printed and mounted above every producer/engineers studio door.

Thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts - I think a LOT of folks are going to take this to heart in their own realm, regardless of style or musical genre.

Best,
Wow indeed, thanks so much for the insight, I'm very glad I asked as I'm starting to feel this where the difference is between home guys and pro guys.
#8
23rd July 2011
Old 23rd July 2011
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Great stuff here! Amazing how good communication and planning can really make or break a record. I've worked with the guys who are really tough on musicians and I thinks it's really hit or miss (more often a miss). It's quite an art getting the best stuff out of different personalities that come through the door. Thanks Eric!
#9
9th August 2011
Old 9th August 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by paulmoak View Post
Eric,
I have read all your posts over the years about drums and compression and third eye blind, etc.
This is hands down the most insightful and important post you have made in my opinion.
Philosophy of record making is where I really get excited. I love your process of trying to stay constructive.
I have always adopted the theory that I don't have to know the answer, I just need to know the way to the answer. In other words, I don't want to act like I know everything (which I don't), but that I do know tools we can try and avenues we can take to help point to the answer.
How does this line up with the way you work?
I think the honesty in that approach is important for nurturing trust with the artist. There have definitely been times when I have met with a band for the first time to discuss making a record and told them "I would be lying if I tried tell you I have all the answers on how to approach the recording of this record right now." I will then also tell them "Figuring out what all the answers are takes some time and I will take the time to get to know them and their tastes to be sure I have a clear vision we all agree on before we start." I think bands respect that. I have heard from some bands that have met with other producers that they were put off by a "know it all" sense arrogance or bravado that was insincere. I don't want to trick anybody into working with me. I want to be honest up front and let the chips fall where they may. If my honesty loses the gig it is probably for the best. It avoids getting into a project that doesn't work out and wasting the bands, mine and labels time/money.



Quote:
Also, with the all in budget, do you have a built in timeline? How do you schedule records in order to not overlap? Or do they?
I really don't have a timeline. The time we are taking really depends on the momentum of the record. I try to pace the record so everyone feels equally good about the progress and the results. If things are taking too long sometimes the vibe can stagnate and the band can start to get stir crazy/unhappy about the pace even if they are happy with the results.

I try to space out projects with plenty of time in between so I don't run into the scheduling train wreck. unfortunately, that has happened I have these moments occasionally where everyone is really pissed off at me. I have a record that is over due that I am trying to finish and a project that I had agreed to start weeks ago. It is a giant mess and can be very stressful. It is in those moments when I am forced to accept compromises I know are there and always regret them later.

At this point I am profoundly grateful for the opportunities I have had over the years. They have put in a position where I can space out my projects more and be choosier about what I work on. I will most likely stick with only recording 1 or 2 album projects a year and leave plenty of time in between to work on UTA stuff, do listening tests or any other nerdy shit I might get into

EV
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#10
9th August 2011
Old 9th August 2011
  #10
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Wow...thanks for sharing your genius! Sincerely appreciated!!!
#11
9th August 2011
Old 9th August 2011
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This is great stuff. I just have one question. Why in the world would you be nervous about getting Iggy Pop's vox? I'd be psyched up out of my mind. I can't think of many others who would be as fun to record.
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