Studio Stories: Life in Hell
A friend of mine who's a jingle-composer, told me this:
He had to demo his music for a not very experienced director who nevertheless wanted to show how much in command he was. So, anxiety was a bit high to start, but the relief was great when he really liked the music.
After 5 minutes everybody started to leave the studio. The director, turning on the doorstep said: "Just one little thing." The composer said to himself: "Oh my god, here it comes." Returning to the control-room the director said: "You know, the volume......!?"
My friend (unfazed) grabbed the control room monitor, turned the volume down a bit and asked: "This better?" The director (very relieved): "Brilliant, that's how we'll do it."
-- Jochen Schmidt-Hambrock, JochenSchmidt@compuserve.com
This story relates to a studio I worked inwhere the tape machines were in a separateroom operated by a tape operator. There was no visual connection between the control room and the machine room. We had an Ampex MM1100'bathtub' machine which could be set up for8 track or 16 track recording.
The session this day was on 8 track. The bandcame in, rehearsed a song, and finally recordeda take. Then they trooped into the controlroom for a playback. After the track had startedthe engineer came over the talkback to themchine room saying, "There's no kick drum comingback on track 9".
The tape operator waited amoment, and then replied "This is an 8 tracksession!".
-- Doug Jane, firstname.lastname@example.org
Back in the early 70's I was working as a 2nd Engineer on a session doing analbum project for a band whose "producer" was also the band's "Daddy Warbucks". He was paying for the session. This guy was a 50-year old local businessman who knew as much about producing a session as I know about wrestling alligators. However, he intended to keep control of everything so naturally he sat at the console throughout the entire session barking out orders and shaking his head every time eithethe 1st or I touched a knob. It was indeed pure hell and we were wondering what to do when it came time to mix.
Well, this old console had a channel strip at one end thatused to be hooked up to a tape transport but was no longer active. It had 4 big squarebuttons and two knobs on it. When it came time to mix, the 1st Engineer sat the "Producer" down in front of that strip and told him "Whenever you hear something you don't like or would like to change, just adjust the sound using these two "Producer's knobs" and it will "fix" the mix one way of the other. No matter WHAT we do, these two knobs will override the final mix."
So, every time the guy wasn't satisfied or needed to "earn hismoney" he just leaned over the console and tweaked one of those knobs, then leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms with a satisfied smile on his face. At one point he even had us stop tape so he could push one of the dissconnected buttons and said, "Okay, go ahead. I got it". It took ALL of our composure for the rest of the session not to let the cat out of the bag. We never told him.
-- Bob Ketchum, email@example.com
Jingle session with a young female producer whose only experience in the past has been voice-over work. Nevertheless, given the role she is determined to fill it. Studio musicians are of the best caliber and the charts are spot-on.
First piece is cut flawlessly on the first take -- both musicians and engineer know it. Upon playback, The Producer, seemingly compelled to make some sort of comment, looks quizically at the engineer and says, "Gee, that sounded o.k., but tell me -- If   something was wrong with it, could you tell me what that would be?"
-- Ken S.
=> In a drug-oriented studio in the late 70's, the new tape-op was making conversation with his new colleagues. Talking about music seemed to be the common subject, so he innocently asked one guy if he liked blues, to which the answer came back, "Why, are you selling any?"
=> One famous East London studio had an engineer who, when asked for impossible effects, used to dive under the console and tap parts of it with a spanner. When he emerged he used to say it was a secret tweak only the factory knew about and to keep quiet about it.
=> During the mixing of an African band's album, the producer kept asking for the finger cymbals to be lower. The engineer couldn't understand it as he'd brought the level down several times, and the fader was now really low. Then when the tape stopped and the sound continued, they turned and saw the guy sitting on the sofa playing the finger cymbals.
|Oh baby, Reverb me!|
A typical rock n' roll group came in one day to do some tracks. We spent most of the day doing basic tracks. By mid afternoon we had started working on guitar overdubs and the singer was getting restless doing nothing hanging around in the control room. His girlfriend showed up and theyspent the next half-hour huddled up on the couch that was situated in front of the console looking through the glass into the studio.
After a while the guy gets up off the couchand comes up to me and whispers "Hey man, is there a place we can go around here that's private?" I informed him that the only room around here with a door on it was the Reverb room. The first engineer says "Yeah, NOBODY'S ever in there and it's completely soundproof."
Well, for the uninitiated, the reverb room is a 12 X 20 emptyroom with the walls covered in foil, a 12" speaker at one end up at the ceiling, and a microphone on the floor at the other. This was long before the age of digital reverbs.
The two of them go into that room and shut the door. While still doing the overdub session, the 1st directs me to load up a reel of tape on the mono machine and routes the reverb room mic send to the mono deck and we continue on with the session. About 30 minutes later the two of them come back out into the control room looking disheveled and pulling at their clothes. The guitarist leans down by me as they exit and whispers "Wow! Man, that was a WILD EXPERIENCE!" Now I ask you, how could you NOT go back after the session and listen to that tape?
-- Bob Ketchum
Real short. Real simple. Cruise ship gig. Demanding Band. Only one processor in the rack on the Lido Deck. Spring Reverb.
-- Mike Boudet
Absolutely true story. Hillbilly accompanies his friend, the artist, to the studio for a session, takes his place in the control room, and starts conversing with the engineer. "Yeah, I went to a music store just the other day and saw some new-fangled contraption. I couldn't believe my ears! It was like a little piano with keys and all, but it could make the most unusual noises. I think the salesman called it a 'circumciser'"...
-- Scott Applegate, firstname.lastname@example.org
|Why you need more than one mic in your closet...|
I once engineered a session for a pseudo metal type gospel band. The singer was a bit hyperactive, inexperienced, and the leader of the group and he insisted that every suggestion that he made be accomodated.
After all of the musical tracks were down and it came time to do his vocals, I set up a U89 for him to sing into. After a number of takes the results were, to say the least, not very flattering to him. During the takes he repeatedly kept reaching for the mic wanting to hold it and I kept telling him that he couldn't. After a few more takes he stopped singing altogether, totally frustrated.
At this point I went to the mic locker and pulled out a SM57, hooked up a cable to it, and ran it behind the piano and made it look like I was plugging it into something. I then instructed him to stand where he had been previously, where the U89 was, and told him to try another take. He proceeded to slobber and spit all over the SM57. After that take was finished, he was completely satisfied with his performance and the sound of his voice. He said, "I told you that a handheld mic would sound better on my voice."
-- Ken Hall, email@example.com
|Wrong Speed Blues|
In the mid-70s I was teaching music at an arts camp in New Jersey. We had a couple of Revoxes in the place, and so I decided I'd teach a small group of kids how to make electronic music. Of course, there were no sequencers or computers then, so we did "musique concrete": the kids would go around camp with a portable cassette deck, recording people, machines, instruments, animals, or anything they felt like. We would take the tapes, do strange things with them, splice them together in odd ways, and after two weeks hopefully come up with something cool we could play for the rest of camp.
One of the kids was named Graham, and he got a great tape of a loud young woman named Susie screaming "Fuck you, Graham!" We decided to use this as the main theme of the piece, filtering it and speeding it up, of course, so that no one would recognize it. Emulating the enigmatic, formula-like titles that European electronic music composers of the time were so fond of, we decided to call the piece "FY/G".
We got a chance to premiere the piece at the very last concert of the summer. All of the parents of the kids, there to take their darlings home the next day, were in attendance. The concert featured chamber music, a chorus, a theater piece, a jazz group, and our electronic masterpiece. I stood on the stage and introduced the piece to the filled auditorium, and cued the tape operator to start.The audio/visual booth was in the back of the hall, and the tape operator was our video instructor, who was from England. Where he came from, tape was a very expensive commodity, and since audio fidelity was not a primary concern in his work, he was used to running tapes at the slowest speed possible. So he set the tape recorder to play at 3-3/4 ips. Unfortunately, "FY/G" was supposed to play at 7-1/2, and the voice of Susie, now at its original pitch, boomed out over the audience.
People who were there swear that I moved so fast they never saw me leave the stage, but suddenly I was in the A/V booth, throwing the circuit breaker on the tape deck. A few muttered words, and the piece started again, at the right speed. Fortunately, nobody in the audience seemed to notice the odd choice of thematic material (or at least they were nice enough not to say anything to me about it), and it was too late in the season for the camp director to fire me.
Thanks to Ben Austin of Headspace, one of my students that summer, for reminding me of this story.
--Paul Lehrman, firstname.lastname@example.org
|Life in the tropics|
The new studio on the Caribbean island was located on a quiet hilltop in a huge, abandoned US Navy tracking station, with corrugated steel walls some 40 feet high. Outside was a large asphalt parking lot. Just perfect, thought the ambitious owner, for recording a 35-piece steel band, and issuing the record as the premiere release on the studio's own label.
The chief engineer would have been happy with a single pair of coincident mikes, but the owner, a filmmaker whose audio experience was limited to one-mike location shoots, wanted remix capability. So the engineer dragged all of the brand-new mics out of the brand-new closet, and set up eight pairs of U47s, C414s, D202s, and RE20s (it was an eclectic closet). He drew up placement charts for all of the various sections of the band (and a 35-piece steel orchestra is a very complicated beast to set up), told his assistants to get them as far away from the steel walls as possible, and went to get some dinner.
When he returned, the brand-new cable drum was being rolled out, the mics were all in position, and the 24-track was aligned. But the band was right next to a steel wall. He started to scream at his assistants when the boss intervened: "It was my idea to put them there," he said. "Last time we recorded a steel band, that's where we put them." "What were you recording them for?" the engineer asked, "and with what?" "It was a film shoot," was the inevitable reply. "We used a Uher with one mic."
Night was falling, and the temperature in the tropics drops fast, so the engineer didn't want to waste any more time. He told the band to start, and did a take of their signature tune. The balance was great, except there was a slapback which would have made a great reverb program, but turned the music into mush.
The owner sheepishly agreed to move the band to the location the engineer originally specified. A half-hour later, it was decidedly dark, but they were ready for another take. The engineer ducked inside the control room, and all of sudden strange popping noises started showing up on the tracks, first on one pair, then another, then quickly spreading to the rest. He rushed outside in a panic. As it often does at nightfall in the Caribbean, it had started to rain.
--Harold D. Osborne
|Another Tropical Disaster|
On the Friday before Carnival in Trinidad, everybody leaves work early in preparation for the four-day-long party that culminates on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras in the US). The crew repairing the the tin roof on the new 24-track studio was no exception. On Monday morning, however, the chief engineer was roused out of his profound rum-induced sleep by the bleary-eyed owner. "There's trouble up at the studio," the boss said. "We'd better get up there."
The trouble was two inches of water on the floor of the control room, courtesy of the torrential downpour the previous night. Climbing to the roof, the two men discovered a gaping hole, five feet in diameter. Next to the hole, folded neatly, was the plastic sheeting that was supposed to cover it.
The head of the roofing crew was located and roused from his slumber, and an explanation was demanded. "But it's Carnival!" he said. He was asked through only slightly-clenched teeth what the hell that had to do with anything. Astonished that anyone could be so stupid, he replied, "Because Carnival is during the dry season!"
|A Mastering Engineer's Prayer|
God, grant that the client not turn up with a collection of mixes done in five different studios over a ten year period,
That these mixes not be on an assortment of 44.1 kHz DAT, 48 kHz DAT, 1/4" analog and 1/2" analog,
That the 1/2" tape not be ten years old and sticky.
Amen. --Mark De Martini