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Odd studio experiences


Eric Iverson

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I'm not what you would call a professional studio player, but have been asked to do it on a few occasions, and hey, if they insist on PAYING me, my momma didn't raise no fool!

 

One experience:

 

The first time I was hired because I was a friend and co-worker of the singer's wife; he had never heard me play. The rest of the musicians were professionals - not geniuses, but good players who had been in studios on previous occasions.

 

We had a couple of rehearsals, and took the tunes home to polish up details - one in particular had some tricky changes. For some reason, the singer never practiced the tunes with us, much to the puzzlement of the studio owner!

 

We had fun laying down the tracks, with the studio headphones and click tracks etc. It took a while because there was a lot of experimentation. They had me lay down a guitar solo on acoustic guitar throughout one of the tracks, me sitting by myself in the isolation booth. It came off real well, much to my surprise! I was very proud to see all the guys in the control booth with their thumbs up!

 

The vocals hadn't been laid down yet, though, and the track which sounded fine by itself didn't jibe perfectly with the vocal. That seems bass-ackwards to me: wouldn't you lay down the vocal first, for the guitar to react to?

 

When the singer finally did come to record his parts, the poor guy died a thousand deaths, because he simply couldn't sing in time with the tracks - plus some serious pitch problems! Especially since he was paying for every minute, sweating blood: he's no millionaire rock star! Finally he got through it on the next recording session.

 

Later the keyboardist added some sweetening on the synth which made it sound a little more presentable.

 

The singer, who had so much trouble in the studio and had never sung before an audience in his life asked me if I wanted to go on a world tour with him. A surreal moment for sure!

 

But I don't want to trash the guy, because he did give me an invaluable learning experience and $100 besides! And an invaluable boost in confidence, too!

 

I'm just curious what experiences some of the rest of you may have had! Who knows, it may lead to a world tour, or at least a tour of Hoboken..

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"....what experiences some of the rest of you may have had! "

 

hahahahahahahahahahaha...... did my first studio work in 1965.... hahahahahahahahaha.....

 

In terms of your part verses the vocal.... I entirely agree. When there has been no road work done on the song, you record the basic tracks and at least a guide vocal, then sweeten it. That gives the players a chance to work off of the lead vocal after he has made the statement that needs to be made, and gives the players a chance to fit in rather than play over the song.

 

Obviously, the singer had red light fever. The engineers or producer should have taken the situation in hand and given that guy some sort of comfort level. They hosed him.

 

In my opinion, the cart was well before the horse here. Were -I- paying for a recording, I'd have had the band in for rehersals, we'd have learned the song, and if we were SMART, we'd even have played it out a time or two in front of an audience, then re-worked it as needed. THEN we would have gone into the studio. Saves a lot of studio time.

 

Bill

"I believe that entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you're an idiot."

 

Steve Martin

 

Show business: we're all here because we're not all there.

 

 

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Arent they all a bit odd...?

 

I will usually do a scratch vocal/piano/guitar...with a basic, sequenced drum beat...and a Click track.

 

The first "real" tracks are the drums.

 

From there...I usually build the rest of the rhythm tracks...and then move on to the lead tracks...and any ear candy stuff...though sometimes that order may be different...depending on my mood, and what's flyin' at the moment. :)

 

Here's a funny one:

 

My cats like to visit, and hang in my studio. They'll sleep on top of the dual CRT monitors of my DAW (one cat on each monitor) 'cuz it's nice and warm up there!

One of the cats likes to walk all over everything in the studio. She's on the racks...across the keyboards...sits on the meter bridge...etc.

 

Well...every once in awhile when she's visiting...I may get up from the console...or go out of the studio for a bit...and when I come back, she's gone.

Twenty minutes later...I'll fire up the mix again...and some shit just isn't there...???

HUH!!!???

(I've completely forgotten about the cat visit, mind you.)

So I go bonkers for about 5 minutes checking the gear...the patches...scratching my head...

..when all of a sudden I notice on the console that either the Input select or the Mute select buttons...have been depressed or pressed on a couple of channels!

 

And then I let out a sigh of reliefand I smile :)

 

That DAMN cat and here little paws!!! :D

miroslav - miroslavmusic.com

 

"Just because it happened to you, it doesn't mean it's important."

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I've never recorded final tracks without doing at least one scratch track first. I've seen singers come in last before. But they usually are pretty well seasoned and have worked with the drummer and/or bass player before. It's amazed me how few of them can sing on pitch without the instruments to guide them. Of course, a lot of what I worked on was instrumental that they added a voice-over to later (commercials).

 

The oddest thing that ever happened to me in a session was about 2 years ago. The drummer and bass player asked me to play my part with them while they laid down their tracks. They got the drummer first with a few takes. Then they got the bass player with a few takes. I was playing mostly the same stuff every time but not what was on the charts. I was just playing what sounded right to me.

 

When the other guys were done I asked the guy on the board how long it would be before they were ready for me. He said they had recorded my part already. I asked when. He said, "Just now".

 

No isolation, no headphones. I wasn't even playing what was in the sheet music. I went into the booth and asked the producer if they didn't want me to play what they wrote. He said it sounded fine to him and that they would use that.

 

They played back one of my tracks and it sounded okay to me. I couldn't hear the drums or bass player at all (this was a loud hard rock track -- think Unchained).

 

For most of that I was just noodling. I still don't know if they really used it. It did fit into what was written but very little of it was what was written. But I got my check later in the week and they didn't call me back in. So I couldn't complain. My agent thought it was funny.

Born on the Bayou

 

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I was playing guitar and bass on several tracks on a CD project when the engineer made it very clear that he didn't like Les Pauls(like mine). No matter what I did to tweak the sound he wasn't happy. On day 2 of the recording, for a joke, I brought in a 60's Kent I had bought at a flea market, a short scale, one pick-up deal and said "well, here's an alternative to the dreaded Les Paul. He just said "plug it in and we'll see". I got all set up, played two bluesy riffs and he practally yelled "that's the sound". It ended up on two tracks of the CD we were recording.

 

Jim

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Not odd so much as memorable...

 

Getting paid for writing a commercial for Gitano Jeans. I took a piece of sheet music, entered it into sequencer backward & stuck on a bunch of almost random percussion voices until it sounded OK.

They loved its "dynamic quality".

 

Writing a commercial to submit for Kurzweil reading device (to scan/read text & "speak" it for blind people).

The cat producing it had one idea & I a slightly different interpretation so we combined them not by overdubbingy but actually playing the same keyboard simultaneously, wrangling our arms & hands in together.

That's odd in that most cases today would just involve separarte tracking.

 

Here's one that's truly odd:

Working with a singer/songwriter who could only play from the top of the tune. He literally was unable to just hop in at any given point & had to play the song from the start eveytime he was interupted or was asked to illustrate a particular section. He at least had developed the capacity to play this ritual at faster speed, so it took a tiny bit less time but it was still hard not to laugh while he went through this "human tape" routine.

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A guy who was setting up a basement studio owed me for playing a few bass tracks for him on a previous recording date, and he needed someone to play guinea pig so he could work with his brand new stuff and see what it would do. So, he recorded about ten tunes for my band. He came close to blowing my ears out with his headphone amp. The final product was pretty awful, but it didn't cost us any money.

A few months later, he showed up at a practice with some different mixes of some of our tunes that he was hoping we would want to buy. We passed; we didn't have any money to spend on it, and the new mixes weren't that much better than what we got in the first place. After that, I kinda didn't think as much of the guy as I did before...

Always remember that you�re unique. Just like everyone else.

 

 

 

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This is going to be a bit long, so pull up a chair and throw another log on the fire.

 

Anway, my wife used to belong to this expat women's association and one night, they had this rather unusual new member. She was from LA and claimed to be some sort of superstar "A list" producer. My wife introduced us because she couldn't work out whether this person was talking a lot of bullshit or whether she was for real. I was asked for my opinion because, if the woman was telling the truth, then she had connections to die for. And that's very usueful to a club that's there basically for the networking.

 

This woman, who called herself Teri, was incredibly, insanely full on. She reckoned she had worked with people like George Michael and Michael Jackson and so on. Mutt Lange was nobody by comparison. Well, the obvious question was "if she's so important, why's she bothering with us?" but even though she didn't seem the full quid to me, I'd never met anyone who was on a first name basis with George Michael. So I cut her some slack. Maybe after a certain point, people are just weirder or something.

 

But after a while we started to think she was a bit of a phony. She'd go on about how she was always out till dawn, until we began to realize that she'd hang out in all night bars and discos simply because she was homeless. But she wasn't borrowing money off us, so we decided she was just an eccentric. No skin off our noses. She was a widow and was living partly off royalties from one of her husband's songs and she'd always have some sort of plan to do some sort of showcase or whatever. She'd go on and on about her plans. And whatever you did for a living could be incorporated into her fricking showcases.

 

One day she heard me play sax and asked me if I wanted to give her a hand with some girl's demo tape. I agreed (what the hell?) and drafted a mate of mine to play guitar.

 

Anyway, the funny thing was that, she didn't know shit about anything, really (though she knew enough not to gawp at the desk) and yet she still managed to put together a demo for the girl. It was some Skunk Anansie cover, so basically we just had to work our parts out from a CD and she had a bunch of 3rd party loops anyway so she didn't need to worry about percussion or anything. The engineer cued everything up. It was fascinating, because by then I was pretty much convinced she was a bullshit artist, but she still managed to get by in this completely ambiguous way. Easy money, really. Just let the musicians do their stuff and then put your name on it.

 

I don't know what happened to the girl, but after a while Teri was in even more desperate straits and she actually wound up living on our couch for three months ("sic transit gloria mundis") After a while, we realized she was making overseas calls from our phone so we chucked her out.

 

We still have no idea who she was.

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Ah, people do all kinds of weird stuff to get psyched up in the studio.

 

I knew a singer for a pretty big hardcore band who used to jump rope between vocal takes just to keep his energy level similar to what he'd experience at a gig. He said it kept him "in the game." I said it kept him smelling gamey.

 

Another singer kept weights on the floor next to the mic so he could pump up between takes. His arms were frickin' huge.

 

I remember one session where the producer wanted "weird screechy noises" for a trippy part of a track. He tried guitar feedback... no good. He tried mic feedback through a guitar amp... not what he wanted. They had too much " musical character," he said. So, I drove to radio shack and bought a set of $15 kiddie walkie talkies and brought them back to the studio. I didn't show him what I brought.... I just put the batteries in the walkies, clipped one onto a music stand and sat it near the mic. Then I turned both walkies on and cranked them up. Then I opened up the mic on one while moving it close to the other. VOILA! Instant, controllable feedback without any recognizable musical source. He loved the tone, and threw a huge delay on the mic, and I got to "play" walkie-talkie on a track. Yay. Funny thing is, it's not like the walkie-talkie feedback sounded too much different from the the feedback that came from the other sources.

 

Another good one... we were looking for a "boomy" guitar sound, so we put a little Fender Champ under a baby grand piano and miked it from above the open top of the piano. We then played the guitar part while we had someone standing on the piano's sustain pedals. We had them lay on hard when we wanted more "boom" and lay off when we wanted less. Fun times, neat guitar sound.

 

Like I said, there are all kinds of interesting things that happen only in the studio... whatever it takes to get the track, right?

\m/

Erik

"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

--Sun Tzu

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Originally posted by CMDN:

Ah, people do all kinds of weird stuff to get psyched up in the studio.

 

Similar idea.. I used to send one singer on a run around the block. Typical metal cat... sleep till three, never move unless on stage, etc... lots of cool clothes, rings and jewelry, tatoos, boots, scarves, etc. By the time he clumped once around the neigborhood, he was pumped up and ready to sing.

 

 

Bill

"I believe that entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you're an idiot."

 

Steve Martin

 

Show business: we're all here because we're not all there.

 

 

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Originally posted by flagshipmile:

Sounds like someone with a drug problem.

Yeah, one would think so. But I never saw her doing drugs or "on the nod" or anything like that. And had she been a proper con artist she would have tried to cadge real money off us for some scam investment or whatever. I think she was just a wacko.

 

It's a pity we had to get rid of her because she had a bunch of fun annecdotes about people like Axl Rose, but they were probably made up, like everything else.

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Originally posted by CMDN:

Another good one... we were looking for a "boomy" guitar sound, so we put a little Fender Champ under a baby grand piano and miked it from above the open top of the piano.

I've heard of people just using the "harp" on the piano but it's basically the same concept.

 

I wonder if anyone's ever invented a digital plugin that does the same thing?

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Yeah, people will do all sorts of weird crap in the studio. I had one engineer who was dead set on micing my Les Paul. He said it gave it a more "real" sound.

 

I'd never heard such BS before. I think it sounded like crap and I think they eventually threw that track out. I mean who really wants tinny string noise and picking sounds?

Born on the Bayou

 

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Originally posted by LPCustom:

I'd never heard such BS before. I think it sounded like crap and I think they eventually threw that track out. I mean who really wants tinny string noise and picking sounds?

Oh...

 

I thought it'd sound more "alive" somehow.

 

I've always toyed with the idea of miking up the top of the guitar just to get all the other noises you get with an acoustic. Sounds like crap, then?

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It may have been the mix, Vince. But it didn't sound good at all to me. All the while they were playing it back all I could listen to was the sound of the pick, and the finger noise on the strings. Blech!

 

Had this been a clean recording (no distortion, delay and chorus), it might have sounded more "alive" as you put it. But this was a rock track with pretty hot distortion, about 100ms delay and a chorus effect.

 

I could see where micing an electric like an ES-335 playing clean might even sound good. But a Les Paul playing a distorted, delayed and chorused hard rock track just doesn't mesh with micing the guitar. I didn't like the sound at all. However, YMMV.

 

The engineer said he liked the sound (it was his idea) but the producer didn't like it and I'm pretty sure he scrubbed it.

Born on the Bayou

 

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