A Recording Studio is No Place For Democracy

-(This article, written by Jim Powers, originally appeared in his blog Music Shrink.)-

When is comes to decision-making, a one vote per band member democracy in theory makes sense and seems fair. In the studio it’s often a recipe for disaster.

For example, when listening back to their song mix in the studio, musicians naturally tend to focus on their own performance. Of course, this is important – they should feel satisfied with their contribution on a track. However, while each individual obsesses about their individual element in the recording and where it sits in the mix, the most important element of the recording is often forgotten – the sound and impact of the song as a whole.

What you don’t want is your entire band sitting on a couch behind the console all chiming in with their opinions to a beleaguered engineer. Remember, a good mix is like a perfectly balanced house of cards. Changing one sonic element alters the perception of everything else around it.

Also, inevitably at least a couple band member suggestions will be diametrically opposed to each other.

BASS PLAYER: Something’s missing. It needs more bass.

(Engineer adjusts bass level)

DRUMMER: Now, we lost the kick. Can you boost it a little?.

(Engineer adjusts kick level)

BASS PLAYER: Hmm. Almost there, give us just a touch more bass.

(Engineer adjusts bass level)

DRUMMER: Fine. Now, more kick please.

(Repeat indefinitely)

The best songs come across as a singular experience, transcending any individual contribution. Someone has to be entrusted with looking out for the impact of the song above all else. The reality is, not everyone in a band cares equally about every track or pays equal attention to it. This is where a trusted producer, or band “leader” can be helpful as a more objective listener. Determine your best “steward of the song” to pay attention to the cumulative impact of the music and listen to them.

If the band is self-producing, then one, or, at most, two band members should complete an initial mix before bringing it to the entire band for feedback. Further mix adjustments can then be made accordingly, but at least you are starting with a mix that has direction and lowering the chances of ending up with a sonic mess of appeasements. You will also spend less time burning money and time in the studio.

You may think that the songwriter(s) should be the one looking out for the song. Often this makes the most sense, but not always. Some people are prolific creators but have no inner-filter, no sense of which ideas resonate with others. Best then to rely on someone else in the band as a sounding board, or discuss song picks and favorite elements in a song as a band before you enter the studio and during playback ask yourself whether those elements are adequately presented in the mix.

A great song is forever. Give each of your songs its best shot.



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