Your WORST studio experience?

equipmentdork

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Inspired by the recent thread about worst gigs.

I imagine there are many ways a gig could go sideways, but I think recording has far more potential for suck than a gig because one is usually multitracking, etc., so the suck can last for hours, days, weeks, etc.

Sometimes, the suck doesn't appear right away, as in this tale of woe. It's a long one, so go grab a coffee, or 4 course meal.

I wrote a song in 1990. It came together quickly, out of thin air, and it was far and away my best effort. I was proud of it. I did some self 4-track demos with me playing everything, but decided to record it at a real place with real players a year later in 1991. After drafting my brother on bass, I also hired guitar wizard John Platania(Van Morrison, Don McLean, etc.). I had never produced before. I spent a good 6 hours in the studio doing the basic takes of the rhythm track of drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, a nice lead on acoustic, and a scratch vocal. Following a quick rough mix, I drove home from the studio and played the cassette for about a minute and ejected the tape, because it wasn't what I wanted, not even close. I hated it and I didn't touch it for almost five years. I thought I had missed the mark in my approach. Not being a solo artist(or desiring to be), I just shelved it.

Around 1994 or so, after much thought, I decided to complete the track, albeit with different guitar parts and a pro vocalist at a different studio. I was excited. I had a great singer, Rob Mathes(Sting, Vanessa Williams, etc.), set to record. I had previously worked with a friend at this new place, so I knew I could get a good sound there. The only issue was that I had recorded on Ampex 456 tape at the first studio and this new one ran Ampex 499, which was a "hotter" tape, and adjustments would have to be made. I dropped the tape off in advance of the session and eagerly awaited the day where we would do the vocal and get the song back on its feet.

I was out with my girlfriend and her family at an Outback restaurant when I got a message to call the studio. I headed for the payphone in the back of the place. Let's call the guy "eng", for engineer.

"Hello, Dan?"
"Eng? How are ya?"
"Yes, this is Eng. Listen, I called because we had an accident. We were adjusting the machine with your tape on it and had a power failure. When the power came back up, the machine went into record and unfortunately recorded over your song."

I had no idea what to say. I almost dropped the phone. I began to shake. My song was ERASED? What exactly was he asking me to believe? I couldn't believe my ears. I was PISSED. And I didn't buy his story, which was the lamest ever. Remember, this was 1994. This was no Pro Tools session where we could "undo" or "peel back". The song was gone.

"Eng, you've got to be kidding me. How could this happen? Wait, I know. I saw you, with my own eyes, punch over a song when I was there with my friend's band. I thought it was a human error, but maybe it's not!"

Then, he said something that would change the entire pitch of the call.

"Stick in in your ear, Danny boy!"

Wow. Just wow. I can't repeat what I said back to him. It wasn't nice. He screwed my song up...and HE was angry? I cut the call short without hanging up, plotting Eng's firey death as I walked back to the table with my face contorted in a wedge of anger. I had to explain to my girlfriend what had happened in layman's terms, then excuse myself as I exited the Outback and sat on some large rocks at the end of the parking lot. My mind was racing.

Should I sue him? Should I have him put to sleep? I wasn't putting Jackson Browne out of a job, but the song was good. It was my best work and he destroyed it. How much would it cost to bring back all the players? When could I even do it with my job and my band and everything else? My head turned into Charlie Benante's kick drums. Headache city.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar, back in the analog days, it was necessary to record tone at the beginning of every reel to ensure that subsequent record efforts would match in both level and quality, no matter which studio or machine you used. The way you "matched" levels was to record a section of new tone and compare it to the old, looking at the VU meters to see that everything got to zero. What this nimrod did was lose track of what he was doing and let the machine record tone over ALL 24 TRACKS of my song.

To calm myself down, I called a friend in Cincinnati, himself a studio owner, and he said, "Look, this guy messed up. He knew it, and tried to hide it from you. You could sue him, but there's no guarantee you'll win, and that won't get your song back anyway, so do this: ask Eng for all the studio time you need to get that song back up to where it was, then four more hours on top of that, all for free and you won't call your lawyer". Cooler heads prevailed on both sides, and Eng agreed. It turned out that the song had only been partially recorded over. He played me the song over the phone. Yup. He blasted over the whole first verse and chorus. But, I had written this two-bar intro phrase before the second verse, where the drums come blasting in, and that ended up saving us, along with the fact that I put a click on the song when we tracked it. This enabled us to record a click backwards from where the tone ended and the song began(I can't recall if the Otari 24-track actually would record in reverse or he had to flip the tape).

At that point, we determined where "1" was, though all that was there was the backwards click. I played a new rhythm guitar track. I sang a new guide vocal. Weeks later, I booked time and got both my brother and John Platania back to retrack their parts(John used the '63 Strat he played on "Domino"...way cool!). I left there on good terms with Eng. "I understand. I aborted your baby," he admitted. I ended up farther along than I would have been because I had planned to retrack the acoustic guitars.

I brought in a singer, violin player, added two more acoustic guitar parts and mixed. Ultimately I ended up using four studios like I was Brian Wilson.

I can't explain the feeling I had when the song was finally done. I felt like I had defeated the IRS. I felt that I had done as much work as Jeff Lynne had done on "Free As A Bird" for The Beatles. I learned tons about the whole process(although I had done an entire album project prior to this), including the irony of having the song come together in 10 minutes, then it taking as long as an Axl Rose project to be completed. I also learned that songs getting erased was not unheard of. It happened to none other than Steely Dan, in fact.

By the way, after my nightmarish sessions, I began to see tone recorded at the END of a reel, where no harm could be done by an Eng moment.

You need not have a "movie of the week" experience like mine to have a "worst" one, because so much can go wrong.
Let's hear about your days from hell.


Dan
 
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BennyK

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I recently finished an eleven track package with a singer song writer , glad when it was over .

John Platania , huh ? Wow he was Morrison's magic ingredient , maybe still is . Gotta hand it to him, Van carries a difficult reputation .
 
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equipmentdork

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I recently finished an eleven track package with a singer song writer , glad when it was over .

John Platania , huh ? Wow he was Morrison's magic ingredient , maybe still is . Gotta hand it to him, Van carries a difficult reputation .
John is easy to get along with and work with. Still works with Van. The majority of people who have a name in the business are easy going, at least the ones I have encountered, and it makes sense. No one gets along with everyone, though, that's for sure.


Dan
 

daveplaydrum

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Someone I didn’t know asked me to play drums for his album. I work next door to a studio so I thought it’d be a good chance to check it out. I also didn’t know the engineer at the studio very well other than saying hi. Turns out these two guys personalities completely clashed and they hated each other and were just nagging each other all night. Towards the end of the night it seemed like it could have even gotten physical...luckily for the guys whose album I played on it didn’t get there and to be fair, he was a real hard person to work with. It was my first real studio drummer experience and just crazy vibes all night. Album sounds good though
 

Targalx

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Vomiting profusely after every take for an album session I did in 2004. I was insanely sick but we couldn’t call the session off as we were already in a time crunch to get the album delivered. I remember just dropping my sticks, throwing off my headphones, running outside and throwing up after every take. Not my best playing, but it’s not bad. I wasn’t there to mix it, so my drums sound mushy.
 

EvEnStEvEn

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In 1999 a local studio owner/engineer completed the tracking for his personal solo album then he later decided he didn't care for the drum tracks so he calls me.

Get this.

He wanted me to replace the drumming - except they hadn't used a click track for the original basic tracks, so no grid (yikes) so I ended up re-doing the drums on 4 songs by essentially playing along to the songs a bar or two at a time using numerous punch-ins and referring to my notes to anticipate the point when the tempos would fluctuate..... a very backwards arduous & time consuming task but it worked out and he released the cd.

Initially, I begged him to just start over as a completely new session and record the basics with me and a click and adding everything else on later (vocals, keys bass, guitars) but he said he was extremely happy with the way they came out and he "didn't think they could recapture those parts satisfactorily with the same vibe" Lol, whatever. He paid me.
 

Mcjnic

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Back in the mid-80s, I was called in to do some work in Houston (my original hometown). I was living in another state at the time, so it was a committment. The project involved my family, so ...

I arrived at the Jones Town Studio ... don't recall if the name was retained by that time, but it was the same place.
It was like a bad motel room ... that was aged and neglected.
It was the studio where Archie Bell and the Drells recorded "Tighten Up".
Unfortunately, that was not a great studio when Archie recorded there, and it was even worse by the time when I arrived.
It looked bad ... old ratty carpet, "stains" on the walls ... ick.
I didn't leave the studio until my tracks were completed.
That meant I slept on the floor ... THAT vile ratty carpeted floor ... over the period of about five days.
There were no windows that I can recall, so I had no perception of time.
When I was tired, I would lay down on the floor and sleep. They would wake me up and I would lay down my track.

I've got some photos of those sessions. I was playing my black Premier double bass kit. How the heck I transported that kit back to Houston, I do not recall ... but there it was in the photos.

I have not listened to those old tracks in years. But one of my brothers shot me over a few of them fairly recently.
I played the cuts and I could still vividly recall the smell of that carpeting. Just ... bad.
 
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equipmentdork

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In 1999 a local studio owner/engineer completed the tracking for his personal solo album then he later decided he didn't care for the drum tracks so he calls me.

Get this.

He wanted me to replace the drumming - except they hadn't used a click track for the original basic tracks, so no grid (yikes) so I ended up re-doing the drums on 4 songs by essentially playing along to the songs a bar or two at a time using numerous punch-ins and referring to my notes to anticipate the point when the tempos would fluctuate..... a very backwards arduous & time consuming task but it worked out and he released the cd.

Initially, I begged him to just start over as a completely new session and record the basics with me and a click and adding everything else on later (vocals, keys bass, guitars) but he said he was extremely happy with the way they came out and he "didn't think they could recapture those parts satisfactorily with the same vibe" Lol, whatever. He paid me.
That sounds like a nightmare. What kind of engineer would even consider such a ridiculous approach? Did you listen to the original drums as you tracked? How many songs per day?


Dan
 

piccupstix

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I have a sort of funny recollection. I was called for a session back in the 70's (disco all the rage, arrrgh!!) and as I was setting up I was told by the producer's "yes man," not to set up any toms or cymbals (other than the hi-hat). The producer remained a shadowy figure sitting behind the console in the glass-windowed control room. The song was about ten minutes long of nothing but your typical metronomic alternating 16th note open/close hats, snare, & BD (no click). It wasn't so easy. I had to get into - and stay in the zone. I could see outside through a window in the studio. There was a sleeping cat lying on a chair next to a pool. This beat was so mesmerizing that I had to sort of hypnotize myself to remain steady. After a few run-throughs we were about 8 or 9 minutes into finally getting a clean take - I could actually see home plate! - when the cat suddenly woke up and jumped off the chair. Of course I was looking at the cat and flubbed the take, having to explain what happened. Well, as I recall, we finally got a keeper and I was on my way, but it felt like it took forever. :cat:
 

EvEnStEvEn

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That sounds like a nightmare. What kind of engineer would even consider such a ridiculous approach? Did you listen to the original drums as you tracked? How many songs per day?
The guy's actually a very patient and knowledgeable engineer, graduated from some acclaimed recording institute back east as I recall, he's also a super nice fellow, but he's not a skilled professional musician. It was his call and his project so I simply did as asked.

Yes, I had to listen pretty intently to the original drum tracks as a guide to anticipate the tempo fluctuations and when/where they were coming. To be honest most of it of it wasn't too out of wack but certain sections required several well-timed punch-ins. The songs and beats were pretty simple, actually. Backbeat rock stuff.

I can't recall the # of days but it was at least 2 if memory serves.
 

RIDDIM

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I did a CD for a band some years ago and asked if we could record to a click. The leader and keyboardist didn't want to; they had never used one.

We recorded 14 takes in an 8 hour session. We left thinking we'd done well.

After the CD was out, some folks mentioned to the leader that things pushed here and there. They were right; some of the music was fairly dense and interactive, and things were sometimes exciting. The leader came to me to complain. I reminded him of my initial request and told him if they had done as I requested, we'd not being having the conversation. End of discussion.

That's the only issue I've experienced.
 

michaelg

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Arriving to do a session and the producer wants the entire band (with musicians new to me) to play live takes along to a click.
We start doing takes and I quickly realize the bassist and guitarists timing really sucked badly and they are overplaying like crazy.
That was a long and very painful 2 or 3 days.

lesson learned is always get info on who is booked on the session. Singer artists often have no clue when hiring musicians to do studio work.
 

thejohnlec

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I was running a little behind getting to a session in Nashville when I lived there. Got there with enough time to hurriedly set up and get out of the way so they can mic up the kit. Grabbed my practice pad to warm up and realized that, yes, I didn’t have my stick bag. There I was, in Music City, on a session, without my main set of tools. Can you be any more embarrassed? Happily, the guitar player was a friend and offered to run to Guitar Center for me. I gratefully asked him to get me “2 pairs of anything that says 5B and has wood tips, and a pair of rubber handled brushes.” That was my introduction to Vater, and I still have the brushes to this day.

On a different session, I was complimenting the bassist (an amazing player, super nice guy, sadly no longer with us) on his tone and instrument. He thanked me and said, “I play this one when I’m out with Larry.” The engineer asked, “Larry who?” He answered “Carlton.” I almost threw up in the sink.
 

DamnSingerAlsoDrums

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I'm a singer/songwriter from Canada. Last year, as a way to celebrate my 25 years career, I re-recorded new versions of my "hits". Up here we have a sort of alternative micro star system, appart from a few exceptions like Celine Dion who blow up globally, we don't have huge sales figures, but in my case it's been enough to live decently.

Anyway, around the end of june 2019, I had a few sessions at my brother's studio, with him on the bass, two guitar players, a drummer and me. We mostly played stuff live-to-tape. One morning, as I pull up for the day's work, the phone rings and it's a lady from what is our IRS and she is furious. She says she left me countless e-mails (at an adress no longer in use) and phone messages. I had disconnected my landline a few months prior but my accountant made the change in my tax account, it probably didn't register. So she thought I was trying to avoid her, wich just made her more suspicious and hungrier. And yeah, she told me she needed all the finacial records for my company for the last 5 years. Welcome to Auditville!!!

I was flagged in the government's system because of clerical error on my record label's part. But I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that I was in for a few months of very thorough and pain-in-the butt checkup of all my accounting. And although I've got nothing to hide, I don't always keep all my receipts in order and it was, at the moment, a proper mess, so to speak.

The agent assigned to my case had no idea how the music industry works. Here we have tax exemptions for stuff like copyrights. So she went into my file and saw big amounts being processed, she was sure she had caught a big fraudster fish.

Back to the studio, I had a few days left on the album but my heart was no longer into it, all I could think of was all digging I had to do to find my missing receipts, and worry over who of my suppliers list (I work mostly with friends) would get audited after me. Worst game of tag ever... And talk about "artistic castration"!!!
I spent the remaining studio days litterally on the phone for 4-5 hours with my accountant and an audit expert I hired trying to prepare. It was not the happy "spending quality time/ joking with the guys" I was used to on my other albums for damned sure. I wanted to add a few new songs to that album, but since I was no longer "available" it didn't happen.

The album turned out Ok but the audit process was a freaking nightmare. In the end though, it all got sorted out and since 100% of my business is above boards and retraceable and the agent started this audit on the wrong assumptions, I ended up with only a very small amount to pay. Aaaand it taught me a lesson in keeping my books and papers tidy.

I wouldn't wish that on anybody though.
 
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cornelius

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The toughest session I can think of was when I broke my second toe on my right (bass drum) foot. The morning of the session I smacked my toe into an armoire and could barely walk! I jumped in a cab to go pick up my drums at my studio where there was a water main break on 8th Avenue. The only way to get into the building was to wade trough a couple feet of water. I got to the session on time and had to prop my foot up between takes - it was pretty painful but the tracks ended up just fine. The weird thing was the next day my toe didn't hurt at all. It looked terrible, and to this day doesn't look the same as it did before hand. I'm wondering if the cold water that I had to walk through had something to do with the healing process...
 


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