This post is going to be about the different ‘types’, generally speaking of performers you might run across when producing a session.
Musicians and artists are a diverse bunch. Some of us are introverts with very little experience, some of us are extroverts with a lot of experience. Some of us have high self-esteem, others have low self esteem. It’s important to know what sort of person you are working with when producing a session with them. In this post I’m going to break down some of the most common traits you’ll find in performers and hopefully will provide some insight as to how best to coax the best take out of each of them.
Professional musicians are incredible. They’re usually well rehearsed, or are at least able to read the music nearly perfectly the first time. The most important thing to do when working with seasoned pros is get it right the first (or, at the most, second) time. Pros get bored quickly and can work at blazing speeds. Keep the tape rolling because it’s likely you’ll get the best performance right away.
An insecure performer will probably require some coaxing to get the best take. The first few takes will almost certainly be worthless. Listen to what you like about the performance and encourage them with praise. Do whatever you can do to boost their confidence. The worst thing you can do is to say “that wasn’t very good”. Instead, say “that take was good, let’s do another so that we have lots of good material to work with”. Keep the attitude positive and help them warm up to their potential. Sometimes it helps to book the sessions one-on-one so that nobody else is around. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a significant other in the room. Try to catch the performer when they’re already in a good mood to make the process easier and don’t be afraid to revisit the material if they genuinely aren’t up to it at the moment (you’ll probably only make things worse).
Experimenters approach sessions like playgrounds. They tend to not come prepared but, instead, use the wide variety of sounds and tools in the studio to inspire them. Obviously there have been some incredibly successful experimenters in music history. The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and numerous others essentially lived in the studio, crafting their sounds as they stumbled upon them. These kinds of sessions can be very expensive. As a producer, it’s important to make judgment calls on whether this sort of experimentation can be afforded. Certainly some wonderful things can come from it. One of the best ways to encourage an experimenter is to give them some things to work with and let them experiment while you multitask on something else. If you are recording vocals, for instance, give them a copy of the song and let them experiment with it on a spare computer in an iso booth. They may come up with something golden. Try not to stifle their creativity and enthusiasm by letting them monopolize the project and thus, having to get on their case about ‘wasting time’. Make a list of things that need to be accomplished with the time you have. Focus on the most important aspects of the production yourself.
The Reliable Performer
Your average performer isn’t insecure and is open to criticism if presented properly. Generally they won’t get the best take right away and will take a couple of tries before they get ‘the one’. They respond well to feedback. A lot of band members fall into this category. Listen to their takes and assess what you do and do not like about them. Mention the good qualities first and present suggestions in a neutral, encouraging tone such as “That’s great. I’d like to hear more of…” Much like the professional, however, good musicians will get bored after a while. Generally a reliable performer has their best take on the third or fourth try.
Every once in a while you’ll find the rare performer who finds negative criticism really motivating. Obviously you’ll want to get a good feel for the performer before trying this, but sometimes saying “shit man, that really sucked” will get the performer to bring their soul to bare. These performers often start out really lackluster and, after lots of takes, get pissed off enough to do something amazing. Usually you’ll have to know the person pretty well for this to work.