On Time and in Tune
Whether you’re a platinum-selling artist or a first-time client, a producer will expect you to conduct yourself professionally. Some basic studio etiquette: punctuality, sobriety, courtesy, having functioning gear and knowing your material.
John Leventhal. Photo by Gabi Porterfield.
“The instrument should be in top shape,” says Wagener. “There is nothing worse than getting in the zone and your instrument craps out on you or goes out of tune. You’ve got to maintain your instrument very well or you will kill the groove if you have to deal with those things while tracking. It’s a nuisance. Your instrument should be set up perfectly for playing. If you have to stop and tune every two seconds, it stops the flow of creativity. Of course, I’m still a big believer in pre-production. We go in, work on the songs, and when we’re in the studio everyone knows what they should be playing.”
“The producer has to be a leader in a strict yet kind way,” says Kulick. “He wants the band to be on time, for you to have your strings, be in tune, have your tools. Have more than enough tools. Bring extra drumheads and an extra snare. There’s no reason not to be very, very prepared, because in the studio everything is under a magnifying glass. The producer expects you to be well supplied and prepared with simple things that you might not even think of, like printing out neat copies of your song lyrics. Bring everything you can and more. You might suddenly decide you want to try a 12-string on a song; it would be foolish not to bring your 12-string in case that happens. Amps too. You love that one Marshall, but if you need a simple sound to layer guitars, you don’t want the other amp to have the same complex sound with its overdrive. Bring your Fender amp, your Orange, bring it all and let the producer paint a picture of what it’s going to sound like. You can never be over-prepared.”
If you’re hiring session players, again, opt for the best. “A great drummer is imperative,” says Kulick, “whether he’s playing to a click or not. He is your basis for getting all the overdubs to feel great. When you look at the most revered bands—Led Zeppelin, The Who, Van Halen—the drummer is really special. Your bass player… it’s nice to have a Paul McCartney, but that’s not as critical as the drummer. I’ve worked with a lot of famous producers, and it’s very, very hard when the drummer isn’t talented. He’s your most important weapon for a great-sounding track and having the day go smoothly. He’s the foundation of the music. The first day in the studio is about the rhythm section. Everything else can be overdubbed and you can figure it out later.”