Sound Secrets: Studios, Producers and Artists share stories of life behind and in front of the soundproof glass
Music Industry Article by Joseph Timmons: Xombiewoof Magazine.
In a Coast to Coast Series, Xombiewoof Journalist Joseph Timmons will bring you stories from Musicians and Studio Professionals that not only “Make the Music” but live a life often glamorized in movies and television, but are never truly revealed to the public, stories of hard work and ambition, what it takes to reach the stage, and the stories of those that helped build the launch pads of the bands success.
Part 2: “Hey, is this thing on?” - The Musicians Stories
After starting this series, I found that many artists I interviewed had varied studio experiences, some good, some not so good, there was so much information that this segment took on a life of its own. Here are some experiences shared with me by many artists that are well known in their perspective areas of performance, and I admit, this was exciting for me to learn and write about as well as it was to report.
Patrick Kennison of Heaven Below, a band making big strides in the LA Hard Rock / Metal Scene had this to say in our interview: “after the release of our album Falling from Zero, we went on to doing local dates, to support a new album project we are presently doing studio work on. As for past experiences I had, in the last band I was in, Union Underground, we had both bad and good experiences, some were horrid so now we go into studio with hands on approach, and we never expect studio crews to do everything as expected”. When I asked about making deadlines, he admitted there have been times where months of work never panned out, only to find the group overworked the hell out of a piece that was great the first time. He said “we learned to go with our instincts and leave well enough alone, let the music move itself into place” he also added by saying ”our worst experience, was going into a studio with big name producer we hooked up with, he was a great producer / engineer and great studio, but did not seem to know how to put it together in the mix, producer wanted the mix right away rather than wait for us to agree on it, he over mixed and the label hated the mix and the band had to start over. I am glad we now take the time to set everything to our specs and get together with people that understand us.
When asking similar questions of Jon Stephen, an exquisite, highly accomplished acoustic guitarist with an amazingly positive soul had nothing but good things to say, as well as impart some of his experience and wisdom. “There are plenty of great studios out there, shop around visit & meet the people that work there. Ask Q’s like what are their strengths & weaknesses? Who’s some of the past clientele, and styles? This is important; if your project is folk music, you may not want a studio that specializes in rap. When speaking to the recording engineer ask what is their favorite genres they like to work with? You want an engineer that likes your style of music as much as you do!” Jon added, “Be well rested, rehearsed, drug/alcohol free, stay positive. “If you play a stringed instrument have fresh strings on your instrument. It is normal to be nervous the best way to overcome nerves is with knowledge know your material. Substitute ego with confidence. Time is money use it wisely. As with all contracts before signing on the dotted line make sure you completely understand everything that you are agreeing to”.
Breakaway Patriot Drummer Michael Miller had mixed commentary, based on recent experiences, but also made some very valid observations on the studio environment. “Some of the worst experiences have been when the engineer from the beginning won't even listen to you; they already have in mind what THEY want versus what YOU want. Not once has a recording I've done ever sounded well when that mindset has existed. Some of the best experiences I've ever had are when you walk into the studio, the room is amazing, and the gear is amazing. When the engineer says with sincerity "what sound are you going for?" I knew it was going to work well. What that told me was that this was going to be a great experience because it was going to be comfortable and I knew the engineer was going to be good. Ultimately you go into the studio knowing what you want. BUT, always be open to try something else”. Mike added “The engineer or producer may have a better idea, so trust them and try it! Some of the best recordings I've ever done were because somebody had a random idea to try and it worked. Everyone wants it to sound good, so remember that nobody is your enemy. Everyone has to be on their "A" game. A poorly recorded project can really affect the feel of an album. I have always said, "Play this record like it is your last...." It very well may be, you never know. But what that does is make sure you give it your all, leave nothing on the table. Make people feel what you are doing. It never fails”.
We posed our questions to the vocalist of Killcode, Tom Morrissey stated they recently finished their studio project and was preparing to go on tour. He stated “We try to work out all of our material prior to the actual recording process, when we're in the studio it's all about the music. We’ve never been concerned with the actual studio. We just want to work with people that are genuine and have a real passion for what they do. If the guy behind the board knows what he's doing you can record anywhere. The best situation is when it all works out and we all have a big smile while listening to the play back .The worst is when the opposite happens, but it's also what makes us want to go back and make it better, it is all part of the process. I would advise others to just be passionate and don't hold back. If it doesn't work out at least you have a reference to listen to and make it better the next time you record. My band mates and I constantly bounce ideas off each other; it definitely has made me/us better in the studio.”
Similar statements were made by our last interview, Neil Turbin, the original singer for Anthrax, now founder and frontman for the heavy metal band DeathRiders. When speaking with Neil, discussing our questions and his history, as well as his present projects and studio work, he made me aware that many working musicians and artists do much of their own work. Neil stated “I do most, if not all of the track work in our own studio, we do everything ourselves, leaving much of the drum tracking for the studio when the last bit remains. By saving the studio work that requires other people’s interaction for the end, I and my group retain total control.” Neil was very frank with me during our conversation, making points that, in opinion the use of digital software and technology that could perfect the sound could be considered “cheating” and gave me a very solid quote “Play for the Song, Not the Solo”.
My conversation with Neil gave me the impression that one should view the studio as a place where, even though some studios may have all the latest tools and gear, is not as important as the fact that the music has to come from within, work, hard work is the most important of all things a musician could do. Neil added “I have recorded in many studios, the one we use now, Swing House Studio, they make us feel right at home, but we go there to record, not jam out. Before you go into the studio, work it, practice it, get it down then go to the studio and record”.
I have been a fan of Anthrax for many years, their first album Fistful of Metal which featured the singing, lyrics and songs written & performed by Neil Turbin, was one of my favorites; I listened to it so often, I wore out 2 copies on Vinyl. I first saw Anthrax with Neil Turbin play live in in 1983, I did not get to see or hear Neil sing again until recently at the NAMM convention in Anaheim, California. The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), commonly called NAMM in reference to the organizations popular trade shows, is the not-for-profit association that promotes the pleasures and benefits of making music. In the lobby of the Anaheim Hilton on a stage surrounded by musicians and fans, Neil appeared and performed for an audience that roared to life at his presence, he performed a stunning show of talent and skill of a man who has worked hard for the respect he received that night, and every night he plays.
My interview with Neil Turbin was exciting; he called me while on his way to work with his group DeathRiders. Neil was very insightful and honest with me about the serious nature of the music business. Like all “once in a life time” interviews with an artist you appreciate, it was brief but it was fantastic to talk with a musician that is not only a real professional at his craft but is also a great human being.
It is not the studio, or the gear, or the technology that makes the artist what he or she is or becomes, but what is inside, that voice, the skill, the magic. You hear it on the radio, in your car, on the television, everywhere music could possibly be; it is there, for you, it can be powerful, hypnotic, mystifying and moving. What is it about the artist and their music that we love so much?
This question leads me to our next article in this series, about the people who have the final say over who becomes the king or queen of the stage, and who becomes a one hit wonder - the Fans.
Next: “I’m not just a fan; I am your Biggest Fan”: what makes us loyal to our favorite artists?