It's week three in our focus for this month, Working Efficiently, and today’s topic is arguably one of my favourites to discuss with producers that ask me how I work quickly but still attain great results consistently. There’s a skillset that I’ve tried to perfect to the best of my ability over the course of the last decade that, said out loud sounds like I’m making it up as I go along, but it really is a skill that’s worth honing. So, today, we’re going to talk all about going with your gut!
Let’s dive in!
Commit To Your Takes
One of the reasons this topic is a favorite of mine to talk about in person to people is just down to it having come rather naturally to me, and until someone said something to me about it and I started to see others talking about it online, I didn’t realize how valuable it really was. That was highlighted for me when I stumbled across a post online in the Andy Sneap forum where another member had asked for information on how to know if a good take is in fact a good take.
Without going over the responses, there’s really only one way to know where or not a take is good or not and it’s whether you or the artist thinks it's the best you’ve done, or if you could do better. I used to keep several of every single small take across an entire album and leave myself room to swap in or out a take I didn’t like, but then I realized after a while of listen I’d be doing this almost every time I came back to work on that project - so in the end, no real ‘work’ was done to improve the song and if anything, I was keeping myself in one spot regarding the progress of the mix.
Instead, now I ask artists to play hard, play with intent, and if the artist is flippant about what they consider to be a good take I instead make that call and commit to the take rather than having hundreds across a project. As well as that, prior to them attending a session, they have their parts dialed in and nail them every time to play the song. It’s not because I want a perfect one take scenario, but more that if I tell the artist that I’m replying on them outside of the studio to practice their parts and adjust their performance based on what they consider to be a great performance, then in the studio I have confidence in their ability to tell me whether or not they can do better - and plus, they can recreate the performance live as well, so it really is a win win for both sides!
A real benefit I didn’t foresee of working like this with the artist and having that conversation prior to the actual recording of the takes, was that it’s improved my relationships with all artists immensely. By telling the people you’re working with that you believe they have the ability to smash it out of the park every time they play, providing they put the time in to nail the songs in their own time builds a massive amount of confidence for them in you; and all it takes is that first conversation.
Maystones have been long standing clients of mine and during this time, Steve (pictured) and I have build a great relationship based around the principles above.
Plan Your Choices Well
When a session is around the corner and I know It’ll be a lengthy 3-4 day live drum recording session, there’s one thing that's on my mind to address - planning my mic choices and mic techniques. Last week, I talked about scouting out the room you’ll be recording in, which always comes first before planning the sessions mic choices, but it does go hand in hand and if it’s a new room those thoughts will likely be going around your head anyway.
Planning the microphone choices and techniques in this regard is a little more than just getting the best quality in sound, but also in how you want the timbre of the recording to sound, as well as allowing you to get the best possible picture of the kit at the source rather than having to mold it later in the mix.
I always record drums last so by the time I’m at that stage with the band, we’ve already worked with midi and sample packs to achieve the texture of the mix overall and the vibe and feel of the music is about 80% of the way there. When planning for the live drums to be recorded, I'm trying to think of how I can improve upon the sound we already have with the sampled drums in place:
All of these questions and more are what I think about when I plan my choices before I’ve even started packing for the sessions, and I’ll commit to this in a document so I’m prepared and ready to work from a checklist when packing my things.
They're no longer in production, however my pair of BT-301's are my secret weapon for drum sessions and this XY pair during the session were a wildcard pair that worked wonderfully.
A Final note
The last thing I’ll always do is add 2 spare ‘just in case’ mic’s to my luggage for one reason alone - it’s ok if you get it wrong. But the trick is to find out in your planning where you’re unsure and then plan the alternatives as well; the worst situation to find yourself in is midway through the sessions and you still aren't happy with the sound of the snare mic. Make sure you have the backup options with you and make the call early to swap your choice, there’s no shame in not getting everything 100% in your planning (I rarely do even now!)