Studio frustration comes with the territory, as recording projects are prone to bring on stress from all angles—personal, technical, musical, you name it. Sensitivity and art are inseparable, but all great recording artists, engineers, and producers know that when nerves get out of hand, the lights can go out on all things creative. You need a thin skin to create your music, and a thick skin to withstand the obstacles of making it. So here are seven tricks of the trade that can prevent your nerves from boiling over and crashing the session.
DESIGNATE A SAFETY ZONE
A recording space should be a delivery room where creativity is born. So when a vibe-killing situation arises, get out of the studio, and go somewhere peaceful to calm down and get your mojo back.
FAKE IT ’TIL YOU MAKE IT
Disruptions can stop the flow of the music, but they will go away if we let them. A tense emotional state will show in your performance, so do what the real pros do: Focus on what’s important, and just roll with the interruptions, equipment breakdowns, and anything else that brings on agitation.
DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP
Understand that some parts—even simple ones—can be stubborn and challenging. If you’re getting steamed about blowing a performance, take it in stride and give yourself a break. You can try revisiting the part another time after some more rehearsal or thought. Flipping out and causing a scene only serves to flip everyone else out. I have rarely witnessed tantrums that result in anything positive—unless perhaps the song is a mad, violent ditty with a strong message of rage.
SESSION ATTENDEES CAN KILL THE VIBE
The intimate setting of the studio is such that everyone there affects the creative process. The “fly on the wall” concept is only good on paper—fly paper. Artists need to feel safe to fall flat on their face trying to get special recordings. Everyone must be allowed the time and freedom to experiment, make mistakes, and push themselves as far as possible. When audiences prove to be a hindrance in this scenario, clear the room and give the artist the space he or she needs.
PLAY TO THE LYRICS
Concentrate on what the meaning of the song is to you, and let that guide your performance and emotional state. Believe it or not, the imagery of the lyrical content can inform your mind, and your fingers or voice will follow. For this, I credit my dear pallie, drummer Hal Blaine. When we recorded together back in the ’70s, he asked for a lyric sheet to play drums! Maybe that is how he became the most recorded human in history—aside from his jokes.
MISTAKES ARE ENCOURAGED
Often performances are regarded as hideous to the player, but a thing of beauty to the producer. Too many people get a couple of things wrong in their performance, and they demand to redo the whole thing. Sadly, they often miss that 98.5 percent of the take was fantastic, and they have tunnel vision about the 1.5 percent of foulness. You can always repair the duff bits, and it is just plain sad not to use takes that are fresh and exciting in favor of so-called “perfect” takes that are hard labored, laden with fear, and sound stiff as a plank.
LOOK TWO FEET DOWN…
That’s where your heart is, baby! Get out of your head—it’s overrated. Real music comes from the heart, so put that in your head and forget the rest.
Scott Mathews is a record producer, composer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist whose music has sold in excess of 40 million units, and has generated more than 30 RIAA Gold and Platinum Awards in the pop, alternative rock, R&B, country, blues and dance genres.