Your WORST studio experience?

equipmentdork

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People with little to no recording studio experience that can't hear their timing is all over the place and have no idea what you are talking about.
Yes. I've found out the hard way to avoid studio neophytes. You might save money on their fee, but you'll eat that in studio time.


Dan
 

fun2drum

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My worst studio experience was in one I actually owned.

around Y2K, our band's guitarist and I were great friends and we started a studio just for our band and the two of us to mess around with. We put a good bit of money into it and it was nice. We had Pro Tools and a 1,600 square foot room with excellent gear. Things were going well with it and it was fun, so we decided to go into business with it.

It was nothing but problems, dealing with people we didn't like, listening to music we hated all day and night, and hearing complaints about all kinds of things, maybe or maybe not deserved.

One day we were talking after finishing with a particular difficult client who changed his mind over and over and blaming us because he hadn't rehearsed enough, and I asked him, "hey are you enjoying any of this at all?". He said, "NO!". We shut it down completely and didn't even use it for ourselves afterward. We didn't ever want to walk into those doors again.

So anyway, I have a lot of respect for somebody who can operate a recording studio and satisfy so many artists, putting out a product that is good, and with a good attitude. It's hard. They earn their money.
 

drums1225

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About 20 years ago, I was asked to play on the vanity project of an acquaintance who was, frankly, an amateurish guitarist and singer who followed my band. I always welcomed studio work, and this was to be engineered and produced by my friend who was the bass player of my working band at the time, at his recently built-out home studio. I had recently done a project with him there and it was a good hang and fun musical experience that turned out fairly well. I agreed to sign on, but this session was to be different.

To save money on studio time, the "artist" had recorded vocal and guitar tracks at home, without a click. Not only were there constant unintentional variations in tempo, but for some reason, he wrote multiple tempo changes into most of the songs. This was not progressive music, it was just poorly written and performed. It was a joyless process and the music was less than inspiring, to be kind, but as a professional, I was determined to make it work and chalk it up to experience.

The artist was present for the sessions and saw how difficult and tedious it was for us to get usable drum tracks with his inconsistent performances. He was apologizing, and we tried to convince him to re-record the guitar and vocal tracks to a click, but it would have meant starting from scratch, and he wasn't up for it. It took a million punch-ins, and I had to rehearse each punch in, but for the most part, I was eventually able to do a decent job of matching the roller coaster of tempos. The final product sounded inconsistent and amateurish, and I wanted to ask him to leave me uncredited, but I didn't want to be a jerk. I figured like 20 people would ever hear it.

That was my least enjoyable studio experience, but I have a fairly close second.
 

equipmentdork

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My worst studio experience was in one I actually owned.

around Y2K, our band's guitarist and I were great friends and we started a studio just for our band and the two of us to mess around with. We put a good bit of money into it and it was nice. We had Pro Tools and a 1,600 square foot room with excellent gear. Things were going well with it and it was fun, so we decided to go into business with it.

It was nothing but problems, dealing with people we didn't like, listening to music we hated all day and night, and hearing complaints about all kinds of things, maybe or maybe not deserved.

One day we were talking after finishing with a particular difficult client who changed his mind over and over and blaming us because he hadn't rehearsed enough, and I asked him, "hey are you enjoying any of this at all?". He said, "NO!". We shut it down completely and didn't even use it for ourselves afterward. We didn't ever want to walk into those doors again.

So anyway, I have a lot of respect for somebody who can operate a recording studio and satisfy so many artists, putting out a product that is good, and with a good attitude. It's hard. They earn their money.
I remember doing a tough session where I was doing a vocal(don't ask because I'm not particularly a singer), and the engineer said. "Argh, I am NOT looking forward to the next session." I asked him if it was the music or the people and he said "Both."

My first ever studio session was in 1981. I was 13. My brother, who played bass, was 10. The reality of the discipline needed to cut the mustard was apparent.
I wasn't ready. My brother's off-brand bass was so terrible-sounding that we double-tracked it, and it still sounded like a toy.

I think that MTV, American Idol, and You Tube fostered this notion that people have this dormant pop star in them, and that's just not always the case. More specifically, there are people who are great live players but who will never be good in the studio, and there are studio guys who are ace players but have zero stage presence.

I also have sympathy for studio owners. I always pay at the end of a session. That seems not to be the norm, somehow!


Dan
 

Stickclick

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For years we played together, always able to see each other. We could read visual cues. We booked time in a studio that was too small. Each of us were in separate rooms. We couldn't see each other. The tracks were not exactly in sync. The vocals weren't right. We made better recordings at home than in the little studio.
 

Rufus T Firefly

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I have a couple. I was a freshman in a small college. A vocal group heard me play and asked me to play the drums on an upcoming album. It was a professional studio (REO did some early recordings there as did Starcastle). So I agreed but had zero experience recording. I got there with my Slingerland Krupa Sound King and got it setup with the studio's Zickos clear acrylic kit.
Nice kit. Anyway whoever came in the booth and was setting up mics and stuff told me that when I played the toms I needed to really lay into them with a lot of force. I said ok. Remember, I had no idea what I was doing. So after the tracks were recorded and we were listening back in the control room, the engineer says why were you hitting the toms so hard. I'm gonna have to bring them way down in the mix and they probably won't sound great. There was no time/money left for any retakes. I was bummed with myself and the situation. So afterwards we were carting stuff out of the studio to go home and one of the vocalists grabbed my snare and proceeded to drop it from a fair height right on the sidewalk. It landed on the strainer butt and caved in the side of the snare. I'd insured my drums before leaving for college so I was able to make a claim but I really loved that drum. All in all, it was a bad day. I never did hear the end product so who knows how it turned out. The silver lining is I met the guitar player for the session and he really liked the way I played. A few years later I ended up recording some really nice material of his, followed up by playing in a band he formed in Chicago. He also became one of my best friends.

Second bad experience was with the band I'm currently in (at least pre-covid) a number of years ago. One of our band members is the father of a very famous CCM artist who had a professional studio built for himself. We are an originals band and wanted to put out a CD. The son graciously offered to allow us to record it in his studio free of charge. He also provided an engineer to do the job - also free of charge. Ideal situation. So after some time we had finished recording all the instruments and vocals. The only thing left was the final mixing. So next thing I know I receive word that the recordings were lost. A big storm had passed through and everything on the drive was lost. The engineer had neglected to do any backups (for which he was rightfully reprimanded). We never did go back and re-record. Another big disappointment for me. But as they say "That's life".
 
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vintagedrummersweden

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One of the worst, but at the same time one of the best:
It was a great time in the early 80's, a great band and a very good, and funny, producer.
The bad part: an old, has been, singer - at the time really into his booze, turned up at the studio. The engineer was a friend of his and couldn't say no. After a couple of beers he started yelling and trying to get involved. Discovering that the producer was a member of a popular, Who-inspired pop group, he suddenly said: "this Hammond organ(!) has seen more wild things than Pete Townshend's drums!"
Engineer: "He was the guitarist..."
Artist: "Whatever..."
 

bolweevil

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Not mine but one I heard of from another drummer in my area: learning to cut tracks to a click while in the studio. that sounded terrible and I didn't want to experience that, so by the time I had my first 'studio experience' (not counting basement projects and such) I was very prepared.

I wasn't as ready as I thought for the number of takes we did, however. We were doing everything except harmonies and solos in the first take, so everyone had to feel good about what went down. And our engineer felt like the best sounds came from several takes in (apparently a Wrecking Crew sort of thing), so I was often feeling pretty tired by the final take.
 

Old PIT Guy

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It actually wasn't the worst because the players were all very good, but it was nerve wracklingly memorable. I did a track with Steve Grogan (aka Clem) on harmonica. And he was a solid blues harp player. You may not know who Clem is, which is understandable. He has a wiki page here. I met him at school. Somehow a year's attendance at MIT (guitar) was part of his parole. Turned out to be an interesting guy with equally interesting stories.
 

Rotarded

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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.
I had a similar experience, but a little more uncomfortable. I was brought in to record 4 songs. I arrived feeling a little weak, but within 30 minutes it was obvious by the gurgling in my lower gastro system that something was wrong. The next hour or so was painful, with me trying to hold it together (quite literally) through a take, and then duck waddle to the restroom. Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseum. It was not my best work that day, but fortunately his only request of me was to keep the fills to a minimum, and just groove. Fortunately for all concerned, the guy's family owned the studio, and he wasn't paying by the hour to use it.

After I finished up, I still had to sit outside the bathroom for almost 2 hours, afraid to make the 45 minute drive home....
 
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pgm554

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The lead singer and bass player got into a pi$$ing match at the studio one night over some obscure issue and she deflated the tires on his car (Mission Street San Francisco around where the Tenderloin is)
And he left the band the next day.
Apparently he wasn't committed enough to the band.
 

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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
I remember that we got a very important studio in Madrid to let us record and mix at night in one of their studios.
We were all ecstatic, what a sound! what bigger speakers! and the recording booth! and the mixer and ......
But this candy was bitter, the technician who attended us was an intern who did not want to do anything, died of sleep, totally lacking interest in music and .....
Finally we managed to get a more or less decent production but supported by the name of the studio in question.
You know, the big names

Stay safe!

Mora
 

equipmentdork

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Second bad experience was with the band I'm currently in (at least pre-covid) a number of years ago. One of our band members is the father of a very famous CCM artist who had a professional studio built for himself. We are an originals band and wanted to put out a CD. The son graciously offered to allow us to record it in his studio free of charge. He also provided an engineer to do the job - also free of charge. Ideal situation. So after some time we had finished recording all the instruments and vocals. The only thing left was the final mixing. So next thing I know I receive word that the recordings were lost. A big storm had passed through and everything on the drive was lost. The engineer had neglected to do any backups (for which he was rightfully reprimanded). We never did go back and re-record. Another big disappointment for me. But as they say "That's life".
That just happened to a friend of mine with an EP: all files lost. And they paid for the time, albeit not top dollar. Even worse, the songs were never properly demoed, so those were the only recordings of those particular tracks. Why no one recorded as little as a rehearsal take of any of the songs just blows my mind, but thankfully I had nothing to do with that project. Always record, always save, always backup, always rough mix.


Dan
 

Rufus T Firefly

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That just happened to a friend of mine with an EP: all files lost. And they paid for the time, albeit not top dollar. Even worse, the songs were never properly demoed, so those were the only recordings of those particular tracks. Why no one recorded as little as a rehearsal take of any of the songs just blows my mind, but thankfully I had nothing to do with that project. Always record, always save, always backup, always rough mix.


Dan
It's definitely heartbreaking...... all that work.
 

equipmentdork

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It's definitely heartbreaking...... all that work.
Agreed 100%. To track, overdub, get keeper vocals, and everything...oof.

I came within three bars of having to just start completely over with my song, which I would have done, but there were a lot of nice things I did off the cuff and in the moment that wouldn't have been quite the same. I didn't mind paying my brother and John again, but if I needed to pay the singer and violin player again, I probably would have sued him.


Dan
 

Fat Drummer

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Was on a session in Nashville back when we were just starting to Jones on the whole click / metronome thing... the only problem was the studio (if I recall it was The Gold Mine) did not have a click, so the engineer had the bright idea of taking an ancient wind up mechanical metronome (you know, with the swinging arm) into a bathroom and mic it for a click...

The long and short of it was I was just getting into the better circle and starting to get good calls and was playing with some real A list players on that call. They are all looking at me like I'm an idiot because I can't even play steady time with the click!!! I was really falling apart, just freaking out at how bad I was playing. Finally another drummer friend of mine who was in the B room tracking a project comes in on a break ( I'm sure they are about to fire me at this point) and says "where is that crap metronome that was setting here?" Someone ask why and he said, "that thing is junk and I meant to throw it away the other day when we were trying to use it, it wont keep time at all, it slows down super quick as it unwinds"!

Needless to say, we had a good laugh, I regained my composer and stopped dying inside and I think everyone including the Studio went out the next day and bought a Linn!!!
 

Buffalo_drummer

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That time I drove 12 hours to track at Electrical with Steve Albini and I was so uptight I couldn't get a single decent take and after 6 hours I couldn't even move my arms? Yeah. That was pretty bad.
How was he to work with?
 


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