Posts Tagged ‘ Psychology ’

Are singers more sensitive than other instrumentalists?

Have you worked with singers?

Have you worked with other musicians?

Have you found that singers – generally – are more sensitive than other musicians? Have you found that they respond differently to criticism? Perhaps they take it more personally?

If you’ve spent any serious time as a producer or engineer working with other musicians, this is probably the experience you’ve had.

And you might have assumed that it’s something unique to singers.

That’s kind of true, but not quite. It’s not because they’re singers. It’s because we usually see singers in the studio much earlier in their careers. It’s quite common to get a singer wanting to record some songs having only been seriously dedicated to their craft for a few years (oh, they may have been singing their ‘whole life’, but ask how long they’ve been taking lessons for…)

On the other hand, a session musician probably has about 5-10 years of playing in bands and gigging before they get anywhere near a studio. Even when recording bands (unless you’re working with teenagers).

Another difference, of course, is that singers are often singer their own songs. Song which represent their self-expression. And unfortunately many singers interpret criticism of their technique as criticism of their musical expression (which, by extension, is criticism of themselves as people). And again, experience is key. A singer/songwriter with ten years of experience is less likely to take criticism personally than one with two years of experience.

So what does this mean?

You probably need to be more sensitive with singers. But not because they’re singers. You need to be more sensitive with any inexperienced musician. And you need to be more sensitive with any musician that is expressing themselves in a very personal way.




Visual feedback in plugins

When you’re starting out, it’s useful to use plugins that have numeric values and visual feedback. Big frequency graphs in EQ and transition diagrams on compressors are extremely valuable in helping you understand how these tools work. Bonus points if the tools have animated meters and graphs that dance along with the music. It’s a great way to learn how the sound is being changed. It’s a great way to learn how the parameters control how the sound changes.

But if you’re doing real work? Forget it.

Unfortunately, our eyes trump the ears. We hear what we see. Our perception of sound is so strongly influenced by our sight that sometimes even being aware of it doesn’t counteract the effect. It’s true.

It’s bad enough that your listeners don’t have a studio exactly like yours. They hear your sound differently to how you hear it. And that’s just considering the physical space. Now factor in the difference between what you’re seeing and what they’re seeing. Not only is their physical listening environment different to yours, but their visual stimulus is different to yours. Not only do they hear your sound different, but they perceive it differently.

It’s a losing battle, but we fight anyway.

We treat our studios acoustically. We purchase ridiculously expensive and over-engineered speakers and headphones. We do this even though our listeners will hear hear it differently anyway. No matter what we do. But we do it anyway – to try to hear the sound as plainly and as truthfully as possible. And sometimes it works pretty well.

But we should also strive to perceive the sound as plainly and as truthfully as possible. And that means controlling the visual stimulus in our studios.

We already attempt to create monitoring environments that are as neutral as possible. Maybe we should make our studios look as neutral as possible as well? Drab grey walls or sterile white doesn’t sound like much fun. Our studios are our workplace, and they should be comfortable and inviting. They are a place to be relaxed and focussed and creative. There should be a balance. And for the most part, it’s ok. Our studio environment is mostly static – it becomes a constant factor that our brains adjust to.

Dynamic visuals, however, are different. When your compressor is telling you that your kick drum is being compressed by 12dB, you’ll hear those 12 decibels. And you’ll be strongly influenced by how that 12dB looks. If the gain reduction scale goes from -15dB to 0dB, those 12dB will look like a lot of compression. And it’ll sound like a lot of compression too. On the other hand, if the gain reduction scale goes from -30dB to 0dB, those same 12dB will look like much less. And they’ll sound like much less too – if you’re watching the gain reduction meter.

The same goes for EQ. That 6dB cut looks (and sounds) like a lot when the frequency analyser’s graph scale is +/-9dB. Change the scale to +/- 24dB and suddenly everything changes.

But doesn’t the same apply to on-screen controls (such as knobs and sliders)? Certainly – but to a much lesser extent because the controls don’t respond to the music. Without visual feedback, you perceive the music with your ears only. There’s nothing visual that’s telling you what the music sounds like. To go back to the monitoring analogy, your perception will be plainer and more neutral.

There’s certainly a place for visual feedback. Ridiculous dancing graphics probably help car lovers enjoy their sound system. Full-screen iTunes visualisations are great for parties. Visual feedback in plugins are good for learning how they work and identifying what to listen for (it’s hard to listen for compression if your threshold is too high!)

But if you’re doing real work? Forget it.


What artists need

What do you think artists need? As a producer, this question should be at the top of your mind. Before I go on, have a guess…

Do they need time to practice and hone their craft? High quality instruments? A record label to provide funding and expertise? A good rhyming dictionary? Oh, I know – they need a producer to guide and organise them!


I’m going to ask you to take a step back. Ask yourself – why is your artist making music at all? Why even embark on this journey? For most artists, it’s because music is enchanting. It’s because listening to their favourite songs has compelled them to use express their own stories through music. It’s because they’re inspired.

And so your artist is sitting or standing in your studio and they’re about to sing or play something that’s quite personal. And, quite often, unfinished. If you’ve been in this situation yourself, you’ll know how nervous and intimidating you can feel.

The first thing artists need is belief and support.

Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do for someone is believe in them. Standing where you are, it might be so obvious that you’ve overlooked it, but any journey, any career, any recording project starts with (and is enabled by) self-belief. A lot of it. If your artist doesn’t have as much belief in the project as you do, your first job is not to start reassembling lyrics or setting up microphones. Your first job is to develop your artist’s belief in themselves and in the project.

You can do this in a number of ways, for example:

  • Show that her/his personal expression is valid and legitimate
  • Allay any fear that the songs are not good enough (after all, your job as a producer is to make them shine!)
  • Take the time to really understand what the artist is trying to express and how their personal taste is shaping the way they do it
  • Provide constructive guidance and advice that helps their music sounds more like how s/he wants it to sound.
  • Be positive – focus on what s/he is doing well and what s/he can do to make it even better.

Remember – if you’re working with artists, you’re working with people. Artists, just as much as anyone, want to be loved and nurtured and taken care of. If you can create a working environment that feels like this, you’ll create a positive working relationship that will allow you to create amazing music together.


The vibe of a session

I recently came across this article, with this great paragraph:

THE REALITY is that 90% of the time, the artist (and probably the producer) dont want to sit around and watch you turn knobs and swap mics until you get your idea of the most awesome sound. They want to record. Instead of the perception that you are doing your job to the fullest, the actual perception will often be “this engineer doesnt know what he’s doing”, and then before you’ve recorded a single note, everyone has already lost faith in your abilities, and the session vibe is blown. The most important thing in any session ever is the VIBE. A great vibe will usually translate to great feeling takes, which is a bit more important than the most amazing vocal sound. a bad vibe will equate to unusable takes, even is sonically they are wonderful. VIBE. believe it.

And this gem:

The engineer is doing their job the best when they are transparent to the session. When nothing they do is slowing down the creative process.

My personal view has long been similar to this: Technology is best when it stays out of the way. As far as recording going, the engineer is part of the technology. The artist is in the studio to make music. Any time they spend not making music is time they spend waiting to make music.

Read the rest of the article. It’s worth it.