I can hardly believe it’s already September, but here we are! Hi, and welcome back to the blog - it’s the start of the month so of course, that means we start a new focus; this month, I thought we’d touch on a topic that has been fermenting in the back of my mind slowly, and so it seems like the time to share it with you all: Making the Best of a Bad Situation.
There’s millions of ways I could write about this focus, however, I’ve whittled it down to just a few of the most prudent examples so that I might be able to help a good few of you who may be dealing with something similar.
So, let’s dive in!
Starting Over (kind of…)
A great place to start with this all is most assuredly with one I’ve unfortunately found myself in time and time again; losing files or worse in some cases, an entire session. When first starting out, I remember all too vividly having a terrible computer with bad software which, at the time, felt like it loved to work against me at random, inconsistent, and incredibly frustrating moments, leading to a plethora of problems and issues I then had to overcome.
For context, I wasn’t in a great living situation at the time, but I was at college and I had at the time an enormous amount of motivation to get myself into a better place. Naturally, music and making it was a passion I’d long since had, so it made sense to take the financial plunge of getting a computer and learning how to properly engineer the ideas in my head out into a project of some sort. However, a key piece of information I’ve failed to mention so far is that I had next to no idea about computers so when I bought one secondhand, you can probably guess just how badly I got things wrong.
The main issue I found myself fighting against was not only how slow the PC was, but actually far worse. The interface I was using at the time was an ancient Tascam unit with only 2 ins and 2 outs, with extremely poor preamps, and even worse drivers to run that damn thing; that was the main issue. I’m not sure how many of you have had your computer do everything in its power to make you want to throw it out of a window, but between the common bluescreen appearances, corrupting data at random, and better still, just straight up corrupting its own harddrives or entire projects, it’s a wonder looking back why I used it for so long.
But, because this happened so often, I kept finding myself needing to pick myself back up and figure out what was salvageable, and what had just disappeared into the ether, which ultimately led me to a few epiphanous moments of clarity too (the main one being that i should without a doubt get into a better habit of saving my files). The biggest moment of clarity by far came a little later after finally learning some more about computers in the form of external harddrives and backing up my data so I wouldn’t have to repeat the same tasks over and over, and neither would the bands in with me. It’s incredibly frustrating having to start over completely, or even from half a song, so if you’re reading this and you don’t have a great storage solution, take this as a sign that you should rethink that immediately - I had to make the best of a bad situation, whereas you can avoid it all together!
I have 2 of these Integral Hard Drives for storage among maybe 4 other storage options within the studio now - Solid State Drives make a huge difference in terms of speed too, for any and all sessions stored on them!
We’ve all had them, and I know many of you have your own horror stories which you’ve kindly shared over the years with me, or asked for help or advice on the issues you’ve been facing. The part I loathe the most about having problematic clients most however, isn’t the actual sessions themselves, but the fact I can’t help but to learn new ways to work with them and get them to work with me rather than the opposite; which ultimately then makes me almost want the next challenge! A common occurrence I’ve personally experienced is that within a band, there’s usually one person that’ll kick up a stink and in my case, it’s all too often the drummer.
There’s been a good number of times where we’ve started off the sessions without having any demos due to the band unable to create them properly or having a demo that is at the lowest quality possible in the form of a phone recording for example. So, when starting with the drums it meant trusting that they had everything sussed out and were also well practiced and knew how to play the parts they wanted in the way that they wanted (I know, wishful thinking). Each and every time I worked in this way, even with well practiced bands, I’d find myself in locked horns by the end of the sessions usually with the drummer who hadn’t realized until the last moment that they’d played something wrong, hadn’t remembered the structure of the song correctly, or just wasn’t happy with their performance as a whole.
The solution sounds simple, but it took almost 6 years to stumble across it. A producer called Will Putney, who many of you may know from his work with bands such as Silent Planet, Northlane, Knocked Loose, and Stray From The Path to name a few, was discussing the way he recorded bands within his studio, and mentioned that he recorded drums last always. I couldn’t understand why at first, but it made sense when he basically described the same problem I’d been having for years and came to the conclusion that having MIDI drums written from the get go for the rest of the band to play to during the tracking sessions allowed the drummer to change things on the fly if they wished to, and left way more opportunity for the band to enter more of a flow state when tracking their parts, thus allowing the songs to still evolved within sessions.
As much as I love recording drums, they usually are at the crux of many issues I've found myself in over the years.
This technique alone helped me numerous times to avoid revolving within the loop I’d once been circling for years on end, and even though clients can of course still be extremely tricky to handle despite having failsafes at play, this technique at least mitigates some of the potential pitfalls and stress you may find yourself in during a session; and there’s a few other techniques that you can take from this one alone too. Another great example of allowing contingency plans to shape sessions in the best way possible would be to always record a DI signal of the guitar and bass for 2 main reasons:
- If the player is sloppy or not well practiced then you have the raw file to slip edit if needed
- If you commit to a tone while recording via mic’ing up an amp, then you still have a raw file that you can go back to if needed to reamp the signal and try again should the guitarist be flippant in their decisions.
As always, I’d love to hear any of your ways to avoid problems or stories of how you’ve made the best of a bad situation as well, so please feel free to write to me at Harri@jzmic.com or within our community for JZ Microphone owners on facebook. Until next week though, stay creative!