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, the financial issues you should consider, and getting organised. This time, I’m going to be discussing the interpersonal side of recording.
Nothing disrupts, or even destroys, a recording project like a member leaving in the middle of the sessions. Let’s say your drummer quits after half the songs are finished. Not only will you have to start from scratch on 80% or so of your recordings because so much else is dependent on them for tightness, you’re going to have to recruit a new drummer midway through the process. And of course the new guy is going to have to learn the songs to the extent that he can record them reliably. Also, he’s not likely to be happy to simply ape the last guy’s patterns, he’s going to want to play in his own style, which entails the rest of the band learning how to play with him and a new set of rehearsals. Any time, effort and money you spent on the last guy’s parts, and any other parts you recorded in time with them, will be wasted. Depending on how far through the process you are, this could be many months of work and thousands of dollars.
Almost as bad as having someone leave during the recording is having them leave immediately after it and demand their share of the proceeds – this can be very difficult to negotiate if their relationship with the band has deteriorated significantly. Whilst the kind of financial pre-planning we discussed in part 2 can reduce the impact of something like this, it will still dilute the earnings of the remaining members as the departing member’s replacement will probably be entitled to some share of the proceeds if they are helping to tour and promote the album. Better to clear the air before you start.
Everyone needs to be able to freely give and take criticism when recording – it’s the only way to reach a professional level of quality. If you’ve seen the film "Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster" (and if you intend to record, you should), you can directly see how the interpersonal tensions in the band led to the resulting album sucking really badly. It’s clear that everyone’s ego was on such a knife edge during recording that by the end they didn’t dare to criticise each other - at several points the band was probably one argument away from splitting up for good. There’s a couple of scenes where James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich nearly come to blows because one has criticised the other’s playing, criticism that may not have produced the same reaction a few albums earlier when their interpersonal relationship wasn’t so strained.
Even if they didn’t acknowledge it consciously, from that point on, whenever one came up with something the other didn’t like, they had to think to themselves before they spoke: “Will saying this sounds bad break up my band? Is it better to just let this little thing go than start a fight that may stop the entire album being finished?” Those two guys and their producer probably decided not to raise their voice in criticism a thousand times because they thought the problem wasn’t big enough to cause a scene over. A thousand uncorrected errors, no matter how small, add up, and in “Saint Anger” they added up to an album that was torn to pieces by the fans and the press and did a great deal of damage to Metallica’s career. You can’t afford for that to happen to your first album, because that will make it your last.
Recording an album requires a large amount of very hard work for months on end with very little reward. Often, the amounts of time, effort and money invested by the members are not even. For this not to create conflict, jealousy and frustration, the atmosphere in the band has to be positive, hardworking and optimistic. I may have given the impression in this series of articles that everything is doom, gloom and disaster when recording an album, but it's not. I've listed pretty much everything that can go wrong, but the idea here is for none of that to happen. It may well be that your band has none of these problems. If so, congratulations! You're going to have a quick and painless recording process and have a great time. But don't kid yourself if your band is facing some of these issues. Don't despair either, some of these issues have simple fixes and you'll be on your way in no time. Even if they’re not, the pain and awkwardness of firing someone, or holding an intervention, or whatever it is you have to do to get the problem fixed is nothing compared to the pain of having the band disintegrate during the recording sessions.
Being honest with yourself is important here. As you read through this article and the ones before it, were you thinking “well yeah, we do have that issue, but it doesn't really apply to us because blah blah blah”? That's the language of denial. You can fool yourself easily, you can fool your band with a bit of effort, but in the end, ignoring any of these problems, hoping that they don't apply or that they'll go away, will come back to bite you, guaranteed.
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.