When The Worst Case Happens

Hello! It’s been boiling here in the UK this week, making for some very sweaty sessions in the studio; hopefully you’ve all managed to have some much less warm weather to be creative in instead. We continue this week, with our focus on Making the Best Of A Bad Situation, and today I thought I’d share a situation that occurred earlier this year in April, where it seemed that there was absolutely no control or solution to the issue at hand, and what we did to solve the problem instead. 

I know that it goes without saying that almost all of you will also have a story similar to mine today, and I’d love to hear them, so please remember to reach out to my email and share with me how you managed to overcome the obstacles in you way within a similar situation. 

Let’s dive in!

The Worst Case Scenario

I’m not sure that anything worse than what happened in this story has ever happened to me personally, but it’d have to be something close to having a car accident or similar for it to beat just how bad this situation became within minutes. In order to tell this story, I need to take you back to April of this year when I was due to record a band called Maystones who I’ve been working with for many years now, and we were on the last and final step of the 6th record we’d done together; recording live drums. 

I’d been searching for a drum room that would be both affordable and sound great, when a friend of mine offered to let us use the auditorium within a town council building. This room was massive, and it had everything we needed and more, such as an actual stage and even more exciting, a balcony which I was looking to record the drum room mics from! When the first day of the sessions came around, Steve (the drummer from Maystones) and I, were going to meet at my studio and travel together with all our equipment aiming to start at sound 8:30am - that was until I received a phone call from the friend who had helped secure the room, letting me know that renovation on the car park directly outside the recording venue had started that morning and that not only was the noise unbearable, but that the builders had also severed the main power supply cable to that part of town. 

Once Steve had arrived, we waited a little bit of course to see if anything would swing the odds back into our favor but unfortunately he’d made the trip down from London that day for no good reason and we had to call it a day and try again tomorrow. As you can probably guess, we had even worse luck that day too, and the builders had not only not solved this situation, but worst still, had disappeared after the first day's work with no way to contact them to try and see if the problem was mitigated enough for us to carry on. 

This was quite literally the worst case scenario, and any more delays would effectively render the point of recording the drum completely void due to the time constraints of when the deadline for the record was due. We were both feeling pretty down on our luck and I could tell that Steve really wanted this to happen; and this is the lesson and why I wanted to share this story. As an engineer/producer, it’s important to remember that you have a very important task of motivating the people around you when they don’t have the ability to self-motivate themselves, especially during tough times. It’s extremely hard to find silver linings in situations like these ones, and even harder still to find a solution, however I like to think that there’s always something that you can do to try and make things work. So, that’s exactly what I went to work on planning to do! 

Thankfully, in my house I have a spare room that is completely empty almost all the time, and it was our last and only option. It’s pretty small and totally untreated so it was clear that I’d be recreating the room mics after the fact, and also needed to borrow some treatment from within my actual studio in order to get a usable recording (luckily I have free standing bass traps so that helped a lot!). In the end, it turned out to be a great sounding record, and thanks to Steve’s determination and dedication, we both picked ourselves back up, took a deep breath, and tried to make it so all of the problems we had to face ended up being a bad 5 minutes, not a bad day. 

As you can see, this room definitely wasn't ideal - but it did give us great results thanks to us wanting to make it work for us!

Why Planning Matters

I know that I’m kind of stating the obvious here, but planning for all outcomes is an impossible feat - we just don’t have that level of control in the world around us. But planning for the things you could foresee becoming an issue in the worst case scenario will help you plan contingencies which you can put in place when the going gets tough, and that’s the main thing I’d like to impart on you today. 

For me, I personally like to think about the end result, and keep that in my mind's eye at all times. In the situation I shared above, that helped me to visualize exactly how I was going to get the sound from the kit that I wanted without the use of a full mic’ing setup, and identify the major issues in my way that would stop us achieving the best of this poor situation. After we finished the sessions, I also had hindsight on my side which helped me to theorize better ways to plan for the worst case situation, such as always having a room on stand-by, or better yet, using a room in future which was closer to a traditional recording space as opposed to the one we intended to use which we hadn’t used before and had been swayed by the low cost of it.