March 1997

Careers from Hell

by Paul D. Lehrman

Everybody who’s been in this business more than two weeks has their own "Gig From Hell" stories. Singers drooling all over the microphones, record company execs with dubious hygiene abusing everyone in sight, guitar heroes who insist that louder is always better, advertising clients bragging that they can do your job better than you can, producers using the console as an ash tray--the list is endless. Some of my own favorite memories of the genre include the enraged, drunken mob of high-school reunioners who chased my little acoustic trio down a hill when they realized the punk band they thought they’d hired wasn’t going to show up; the assistant engineer who filled a kick drum with sandbags but forgot to check that they were tied shut; the synth player who didn’t know where the master tuning control was and so as the thing warmed up I had to constantly change the tape speed to keep up with its pitch; and the day I was recording a 40-piece steel band outdoors with a dozen brand-new U87s and 414s and a sudden monsoon came up.

But that’s not what I want to talk about this month. However horrible an individual gig might be, if you love what you do, there’s always another gig right around the corner that makes up for it--the incredible vocal track, the perfect drum sound, the ridiculously complex but successful remote, the miraculous edit, the mix that jumps out at you and screams, "This is platinum, baby!" But when you’re in the wrong job, when you’ve made a really miserable career choice, the Gigs From Hell don’t go away--you just get a new one every day. You begin to appreciate what Dante meant when he said "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." And that’s what I want to talk about: the two worst, most onerous, utterly dead-end jobs I ever had.

The rest of this column, along with 56 more, is now available in The Insider Audio Bathroom Reader, published by Thomson Course Technology PTR.

Copyright ©2006 by Paul D. Lehrman