In this series of articles I will be examining the problems bands face when trying to record an album, and some proven strategies on how to avoid them. In my last articles, I discussed musical problems that may get in your way and the financial issues you should consider. This time, I’m going to be discussing getting organised.
For some reason, some people who turn up on time, every time, to work or family events lose all sense of timekeeping when a band is involved. They turn up late or not at all to rehearsals, soundchecks and even gigs without any reasonable explanation – or a wide barrage of reasonable-sounding explanations, despite the fact that they’re late every single time and nobody else is, the odds of which are pretty slim. For a hobby band or a bunch of guys who get together every now and then to drink beer and jam, that’s not a big deal, or at most it's an annoyance. However, apply that level of punctuality to a band that’s setting out to record and you are going to run into some pretty serious problems sooner or later.
The problems are particularly acute if you are using professionals to help you record. These guys aren’t free, and if you have to wait around a recording studio for an hour because the drummer hasn’t figured out that you need to put more gas in a car when the dial points to “empty”, you’re going to run up a pretty hefty bill in wasted time. If you want to work with professionals, especially if you are trying to persuade them to work for less than their usual rates or even for free, then using their time effectively is a mark of respect. Failure to do so, by turning up late or unprepared, is a serious insult, and it will damage both your reputation and your bank balance. If you cannot persuade one or more members of your band that turning up on time is important, then they are going to do your band a lot of damage. A band member who does not have the basic respect for the other members of the band to turn up on time for rehearsals, with all the equipment they need to contribute and having practiced what it is they’re supposed to be doing, will almost certainly behave the same way during recording. Solve this problem before you set out, even if it means changing your lineup – it’ll pay off big time in the long run.
Even if you’re not paying a penny to professionals, disorganisation and unprofessional attitudes are going to cause big problems to your band when you record. Someone who turns up to a recording session without having practiced their part may as well not have turned up, or will at least waste hours of time and energy on bad takes, or trying to work out what they should play instead of spending that time getting everything perfect or making faster progress. I’ve done session guitar and bass work for bandleaders and producers who have despaired at their musicians’ inability to record the parts properly, and have asked me to overdub their parts with my own playing. One bandleader in particular asked me to play all the bass on his band’s EP, because their bassist wasn’t practicing his parts and was delivering recordings that simply weren’t useable. The bandleader paid me out of his own pocket, and I doubt he was happy to have to do that. Lack of practice and preparation costs money and time, and can cause tension and conflict if some members of the band have to cover financially, or in terms of effort, for someone else who isn’t pulling their weight.
Organisation isn’t just an individual thing, either. The entire band has to understand the process of recording and what they are expected to do and when. If someone races ahead and does something that actually requires something else to be done first – for example if the band books studio time before the arrangements for the songs are ready – then the result is more wasted money, wasted time and frustration. Producers, bandleaders, or whoever is taking the lead on the recording project, need to be aware of what needs to be done, by who and in what order and make sure that everyone knows that as well. In co-ordinating a complex project like an album recording, involving multiple people doing multiple things in the correct order over a fairly long period of time, communication and understanding is everything. If you have a band member who is allergic to reading their email, or one who doesn’t answer their phone for weeks on end for no reason, then you risk serious problems when co-ordinating such a complex task. You will need to find a workable way around their eccentricities, get them to change their ways, or replace them, all before you start.
Now is also a good time to mention band meetings. Every band that is in any way serious (and if you want to record an album, you are serious, or at least want to be) needs to have regular band meetings. If a band member resists going to meetings, perhaps citing lack of time, money or something like “I just want to play music, man” then that person is going to cause a problem when recording. Again, either show them the error of their ways, work around it (though this is a VERY last resort and not something I have ever seen work for very long), or replace them with someone who is better able to grasp the big picture before embarking on a big recording project.
Lastly, and most importantly, someone needs to be in charge. A lot of bands like to pride themselves on their democratic decision making. It sounds very worthy, but it’s usually a recipe for anarchy and infighting, or at least for painfully slow progress. The process of recording an album requires literally thousands of decisions, from very big to very small. If each and every one of those decisions requires a committee meeting, negotiations and compromise, the work will get done incredibly slowly, and the work that does get done will be of mediocre quality. It doesn’t matter who is right, or even so much what is right. What matters is that a decision gets made. 9 times out of ten, it is better to make the wrong decision that to make no decision at all.
I have put together a questionnaire for bands that allows you to assess just how ready your band is to record, and will give you detailed feedback on what areas your band needs to work on in order to record an album successfully. For free access, all you need to do is sign up to my mailing list.
About the Author:
James Scott is a Music Producer in London, England. He works with up-and-coming artists to help them get noticed in the industry.