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My recent ethical dilemma


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SO, this weekend I faced a problem with a client which has really made me wonder whether or not I've done the right thing.

 

The client in question had booked time to record a 5 song e.p. at my home project studio, and drum tracking began this most recent weekend. I had been warned that the drummer had never played to a click track before, but I remained optimistic that after about an hour or so, he'd start to get in the zone and internalize the tempo as most drummers do.

 

Unfortunately as we continue rolling tape through the weekend, it becomes abundantly clear that the cat just cannot play. His performances are hesitant, his drum hits light and weak, and overall his fear seems to be getting the best of him. At the end of the weekend we call it a wrap, on schedule, and I am looking at a mountain of drum takes to comp together.

 

As I start going through and listening, my gut feeling on the takes is confirmed: pretty much every note is a bit early or late, and the performances will require intensive editing and probably a full quantize and full sound replacement. So now I'm looking at a 1 to 2 week editing job and a lot of long days. And here's where I have to stress, if I felt the finished product would be workable and professional I would gladly take the challenge. However, his cymbal technique was also poor, and poorly timed, and I feared the overhead tracks would still be the give-away and would drag down even a quantized, sound replaced performance. I was not, and am not, yet willing to dabble in the dark art that is cymbal sound replacement.

 

At this point the idea of re-tracking is floating through my head. I'm a relatively experienced session drummer myself, with a number of paid sessions under my belt. I'm comfortable with a click and hit consistently; hard or soft as the material demands. My kit (which functioned as the house kit on this session) was still set up, mic'ed up and ready to go. So I call up an engineer friend whose input I respect greatly, and ask his opinion.

 

In a nutshell, he advised me to come clean with the situation, and to shoot straight with the band regarding the amount of work involved to create even passable performances. He stressed that Ringo didn't play on the first Beatles album because he wasn't ready. The drummer can't just suck forever, he will hit a wall later or he'll hit it now... and maybe this will light a fire under his ass so the band doesn't boot him out.

 

I know he's right, and in the interest of having them walk out of here with the most professional product possible, I called the singer / guitarist who writes all the songs and who is the brains behind the band. I presented him with the option of having me re-track the drums, at no extra cost to them. His reaction was hesitant, and I immediately started wondering if I was doing the right thing. I tried to keep it positive, and kept his focus on the quality of the finished product. But as soon as I got off the phone, I started pacing the room.

 

As a musician, I take pride in my performances. I take pride in the long hours of practice I've put in on all the instruments I play. I have been in situations where my performances weren't up to snuff for a gig... and in my case, they sparked a new determination to practice even harder. But I know that not everyone reacts that way. I'm worried that at best, I'll have wounded another musician's pride, and at worst, damaged my relationship with the client. Did I do the right thing? I can't even tell anymore.:confused:

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IMO you did the right thing and applaud you for caring about the final product. With that said...

 

 

I've run across this situation with drummers in the past and my experience with drummers that are lacking is that it could take years for them to be able to play as tight as you need them to. It's not something that you can say hey tighten this up practice and we'll try again in 2 weeks and they'll come back playing on the money. I'm not saying it couldn't happen but I've never seen it in a situation like your talking about.

 

Maybe recut one of the drum tracks on your own and call the songwriter in to hear the difference. I would also tell them that it's not about ego (who's the better drummer) but about your concern that they get the best possible product.

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It's their project. I've been in bands with musicians that have deficiencies and I've recorded bands where there are deficiencies. We were aware of our faults and the bands were aware of their faults. We've heard the engineer make the criticisms. We were well aware that we weren't playing on the same level as what the engineer might be accustomed to. We were annoyed at the engineer's lack of understanding. To some degree the recording process was a demonstration of criticisms voiced within the band and we didn't need the engineer getting in the middle of an in band dispute.

 

Work with what you have, don't do a million edits, give the band some rough mixes and ask them how to proceed. Give your two cents when you're asked.

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It must be a New England thing... I completely agree with "alcohol"... with the caveat that if you're being paid to "produce" then as the "producer" hire a new drummer [in this case you] and move forward. If you're not being paid to "produce" then keep your mouth shut, engineer the recording, give them the best product they are capable of producing and move on.

 

Don't worry about your credit as no one is going to hear this thing except family and friends... and ya know what? They won't know or care that the drummer sucks. If you're working for a label it's one thing... if you're working for the band it's another. Serve your bosses as you were hired to serve.

 

Peace.

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Best to see what they plan to get out of the recording, sometimes it's good to hear the errors and work out how to improve.

 

Contrary to alcohol and fletcher, a band i was in previously (well, it's still going, but a different name and sound, same core guys), if you had offered to play instead of our drummer, we'd have jumped at the offer! our dilemna was that we couldn't kick him out for being awful because we had no way to replace him, we simply couldn't get through to him and any recording we did suffered hugely as a result. now we use drum machines, dunno why we didn't go down that route sooner :facepalm:

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and move forward. If you're not being paid to "produce" then keep your mouth shut, engineer the recording, give them the best product they are capable of producing and move on.


Don't worry about your credit as no one is going to hear this thing except family and friends... and ya know what? They won't know or care that the drummer sucks. If you're working for a label it's one thing... if you're working for the band it's another. Serve your bosses as you were hired to serve.


Peace.

 

+1

 

Though there have been some odd cases of "Why are you making them sound so bad?" where the band will take no responsibility for the talent involved. Now that is {censored}ing mind boggling!

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If you were "warned" that the drummer couldn't play to a click track, why did you make him play to one? The time to learn to play to a click track is not when you are under the microscope, recording a bunch of songs. This pretty much guarantees that the performance of the drums will suck.

 

Also, I'm with Alcohol and Fletcher. Record them the best you can and move on. You're recording THEM. If they want the drums "fixed", they can bring this up to you.

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if you had offered to play instead of our drummer, we'd have jumped at the offer!

 

 

+1

Years past, we had a few tracks done with a local "producer" on the cheap for a quickie demo, and as we finished up, we figured, hey, let us put a little keys in the background to fill this section out. Nobody could even come close to playing any kind of keys whatsoever, but I could at least hold a chord or two, which was fine for what we wanted. Held the chord, tracked, went home. When we went back to pick it up, he had called his buddy over who actually CAN play keys, and he had added a very interesting little harmony/arpeggio piece on top. He played us ours, then his. We loved it. It's not like he was charging us extra or anything, so why not? We didn't end up using it, but it was cool of him to try it out.

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My cousin faced a similar dilemma when he recorded a band many years back (2001-2002). The bass player was either too ahead of the note or just behind it. Editing each track (there were 10 songs in all) would have been a nightmare.

 

He asked me what I thought about being a ghost-bassist for him and re-do the tracks. I told him that while it would certainly sound better, it wouldn't be the bass player's work on the CD and it would be dishonest. He agreed, even though he was tempted. I can see doing that on a national level (fixing a drunk rock star's lame performance with a guy in the wings because millions of dollars are at stake), but on the small-time, homebrew level? Leave it.

 

He never did properly finish the album. A lot of the songs on the rough mix CD don't have bass on them because they were so bad.

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This one could go in soooo many different directions. I'm with your engineer buddy in that "coming clean" with the band was critical. Making the best of what you recorded as some have suggested would be doing your customer a disservice. Although you may not hired on as the "producer" - it's safe to say that the band expects you to use your expertise to put their best foot forth. Not mentioning that there are significant issues with the drum tracks - and offering a couple of ways to address it (i.e., "fix" it through editing (at an additional cost of course) - or retracking it with experienced studio talent) would be doing your clients a disservice.

 

Interestingly, the OP's presentation of the situation didn't make mention of the band's objective for the recording was in the first place. I'd think that understanding what the client was planning to do with the recording would have a significant influence on the advice they receive. If it's simply a "feel good, listen Mom - we're on our own record!" project - then keeping the drummer's original tracks might be important. However, if the band is looking to sell it or use it as a demo - they might very well welcome your suggestions of having a more experienced studio drummer retrack it (hey, even some of the big guys use different talent in the studio than they do out live) - it's an accepted industry practice.

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If there is a producer, it should be up to the producer. Otherwise, it should be up to the band, in my opinion. And regardless, coming clean about what one is considering or doing would be the best option, accepted industry practice or not.

 

And again, I'd like to reiterate that if one has been "warned" that a drummer had never played to a click before, why would you suddenly have him try for his first time when recording? That's setting a musician up to fail when I think the recording process should be creating the best possible environment and possibilities for succeeding.

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If you're not being paid to "produce" then keep your mouth shut, engineer the recording, give them the best product they are capable of producing and move on.

 

 

I hate to quote Fletcher and agree but this is 100% right. Its NOT for you to say the drums are off- thats NOT your job.

 

I run into this ALL THE TIME and the honest answer is relativity. Did they come to you and say "our drummer sucks can you fix it?"... Nope. The ONLY option is to play the track back and ask them if thats what they are looking for.

 

Ive tracked vocalists that aren't worth the cost of the blank CD I put the master on. And drummers... don't get me started on drummers and timing and "yeah, I can play to a click"... WRONG!

 

You just shut your mouth and anytime you hear something questionable first think RELATIVELY, then if still in question- play it for the client and get an OK.

 

Its the fatal flaw of hobbyist recorders- engineer, arranger, orchestrator, producer, mastering engineer... These are all DIFFERENT jobs. If you treat them as such it will be easier...

 

OH and NEVER offer to retrack for free unless YOU screwed up completely. If you offer to retrack for free, even if its just to be nice, they will assume YOU have screwed up somehow. They brought that drummer to the studio AFTER hearing him- they knew how he sounded...

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I, too, think you far overstepped your bounds. :idk:

 

MANY drummers play far better without a click, even some seasoned guys. In your situation, I'd have tried their guy without the click first. At that point, from what you say, I'd have known as you did that he wasn't going to lay down spectacular tracks and that a click wasn't going to make things better.

 

Clicks are for controlling tempo in an otherwise decent drummer, they're not going to fix a bad one.

 

You didn't say who is paying you, and that's important because it defines who you're responsible to and what those responsibilities are. If it's some nebulous arrangement between the band members, then other than making a few friendly and helpful suggestions, you need to stay out of it. If it's one person's material and he or she is hiring or borrowing the musicians to make the demo, then you might have a private word with that person and ask if they're set on this crew or are possibly interested in other hired players from your "Rolodex."

 

Diplomacy is a huge part of being a recording engineer.

 

Your idea of spending "weeks" dissecting the drum parts with a DAW has to be out of the question, doesn't it? What's the budget for their project? Not too many beginner bands with a budget for something like that.

 

If you were thinking of doing it for free, then I'd suggest that you might reflect on the idea that it's their project, not yours, and although you have the best intentions you might come off as more controlling than this situation calls for.

 

Suggesting that YOU replay the drums is even worse, politically. At best, if the other band members decide it's a good idea, it will probably break the band up and cause hard feelings for a long time. At worst, the entire band will get upset with you and the "word on the street" will not be kind regarding you.

 

IMHO, you did NOT do the right thing, and your friend's advice was wrong. I realize you had good intentions, and that you just wanted to get out the "best possible product."

 

What you forgot is that there are other things happening here which are equally important. A young band (or at least beginners) are learning to work in the studio. They're not cutting a potential platinum record, they're making something that they can show their friends, hopefully be proud of, and definitely learn from. They're learning about studios and engineers FROM YOU.

 

Educate but don't lecture, help but don't control.

 

I think you lost sight of what your role in this was supposed to be, and it may be that you're not the right engineer to take on novice projects like this. I think you want to be the producer, and I think you want to be playing on the project. If so, that's OK; just not THIS project. :)

 

My studio is kind of a "bottom feeder" place, I get a lot of kids (old and young) who have never or seldom recorded before. Nothing I do is going to turn their mediocre songs and performances into masterpieces. Should I suggest that none of them play on the tunes and instead hire seasoned pros to play while they watch?

 

I think you lost sight of the forest for the trees, and I think you're already realizing that.

 

Just my two cents. I could be wrong, I usually am. :)

 

:wave:

 

Terry D.

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You were too kind.

 

Unless you have a financial interest in and control over the project:

 

You could begin referring to the drummer as "Ringo" or "Bozo" in a sarcastic tone whenever possible, preferably in front of him. Do not refer to him as "Dumbass" or "Cotton" as those names are already taken.

 

You also might start to question the "Brain" 's ability to choose bandmates (out loud), as this is clearly a personality disorder to want a drummer who cannot play.

 

Evaluate the other band members, as they also must have problems that allow them to be in a band with a drummer who cannot play.

 

But in no uncertain terms would I offer to do anything free for these guys. :facepalm:

 

Then we might wonder what is wrong with you!!!

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Fletcher, I think you're clinging to a much older business model than I am. As a hired engineer in a pro studio I wouldn't even think of suggesting this to a band. I am well aware of the difference between engineer and producer. I made it very clear that I am operating a home project studio, and I feel that numerous jobs are all rolled into one. Let's face it, when we do edits for time, when we auto tune a vocal, or sound replace a drum, we are fixing something that was not right going in.

 

One of my personal goals is that no one walks out of my studio sounding like they made a mistake. Mistakes make a recording sound amateurish. To the general public, bad performances and a bad production are very hard to distinguish. If I don't take a drastic approach to fixing those drum takes, I'm letting them leave with a product reflects poorly on my abilities and my studio. It's a product that I cannot use to attract other business to my studio. You're only as good as your last mix.

 

I really appreciate the condescending insinuation that I'm making recordings for high school kids to take home and show mommy and daddy. No really, I do. You really shot yourself in the foot with that one. They have this great new thing called the internet, you know. A great recording on someone's myspace page can get them a lot of new fans, a lot of gigs, and generally get them noticed by people. If you don't think that can happen, then it's time for a serious reality check. I know you do this on a bigger level than me, and I respect your experience, but you'd do well to check your tone in more threads than one.

 

As for the people telling me that I "sprang" the click on the poor guy? Give me a break. They knew three weeks ago, when they booked their time, that a click would be used. He had three weeks to practice his bands songs to a click and get comfortable with it. He didn't. Oh well. Recording without a click track is for hack engineers, or musicians who don't screw up. Editing anything that wasn't recorded to a click is a nightmare and I'm not just talking about quantization. Ever take a part from another verse or chorus later in the song where it was played better, and use it to replace a questionable part? Have fun doing that without a click. :wave:

 

Here's where I need to mention that the rest of the band ARE actually great players, and they have a great vision for their record. Production wise the whole operation was going to tank if the drums weren't doing their job, and that's why I brought it up. I made it clear to the client that I would be taking a producer's role in some ways. I did not overstep my bounds. Please don't suggest that I just HAD to jump in and play... I get enough session gigs already, and those ones actually pay. :p

 

And to alcohol... any engineer that voiced criticisms to your band's playing without offering a constructive solution is an engineer that you wasted your time and money with. He was writing you off from the time he heard the first notes. Sorry man. You insult me by likening me to him.

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Fletcher, I think you're clinging to a much older business model than I am. As a hired engineer in a pro studio I wouldn't even think of suggesting this to a band. I am well aware of the difference between engineer and producer. I made it very clear that I am operating a home project studio, and I feel that numerous jobs are all rolled into one. Let's face it, when we do edits for time, when we auto tune a vocal, or sound replace a drum, we are fixing something that was not right going in.


One of my personal goals is that no one walks out of my studio sounding like they made a mistake. Mistakes make a recording sound amateurish. To the general public, bad performances and a bad production are very hard to distinguish. If I don't take a drastic approach to fixing those drum takes, I'm letting them leave with a product reflects poorly on my abilities and my studio. It's a product that
I cannot use
to attract other business to my studio. You're only as good as your last mix.


I really appreciate the condescending insinuation that I'm making recordings for high school kids to take home and show mommy and daddy. No really, I do. You really shot yourself in the foot with that one. They have this great new thing called the internet, you know. A great recording on someone's myspace page can get them a lot of new fans, a lot of gigs, and generally get them noticed by people. If you don't think that can happen, then it's time for a serious reality check. I know you do this on a bigger level than me, and I respect your experience, but you'd do well to check your tone in more threads than one.


As for the people telling me that I "sprang" the click on the poor guy? Give me a break. They knew three weeks ago, when they booked their time, that a click would be used. He had three weeks to practice his bands songs to a click and get comfortable with it. He didn't. Oh well. Recording without a click track is for hack engineers, or musicians who don't screw up. Editing anything that wasn't recorded to a click is a nightmare and I'm not just talking about quantization. Ever take a part from another verse or chorus later in the song where it was played better, and use it to replace a questionable part? Have fun doing that without a click.
:wave:

Here's where I need to mention that the rest of the band ARE actually great players, and they have a great vision for their record. Production wise the whole operation was going to tank if the drums weren't doing their job, and that's why I brought it up. I made it clear to the client that I would be taking a producer's role in some ways. I did not overstep my bounds. Please don't suggest that I just HAD to jump in and play... I get enough session gigs already, and those ones actually pay.
:p

And to alcohol... any engineer that voiced criticisms to your band's playing without offering a constructive solution is an engineer that you wasted your time and money with. He was writing you off from the time he heard the first notes. Sorry man. You insult me by likening me to him.

 

Jeeze... Thats one ignorant noob rant... You really really don't get it but obviously those of us who do this full time and have for years don't either. If you ever make any real money, you will realize your entire prior post is malarky.

 

This is whats sad about the internet. You got GREAT and REAL advice from people MAKING a living recording and instead you get pissy and say you know what you are doing.

 

No, my friend, you really really don't. But good luck and enjoy the hobby!

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As for the people telling me that I "sprang" the click on the poor guy? Give me a break. They knew three weeks ago, when they booked their time, that a click would be used. He had three weeks to practice his bands songs to a click and get comfortable with it. He didn't. Oh well. Recording without a click track is for hack engineers, or musicians who don't screw up. Editing anything that wasn't recorded to a click is a nightmare and I'm not just talking about quantization. Ever take a part from another verse or chorus later in the song where it was played better, and use it to replace a questionable part? Have fun doing that without a click.
:wave:

 

 

What's with the attitude?

 

I did not say that you "sprang" a click on him; I asked why you would use a click at all when you were already told that he had never played to a click before.

 

Also, there's ways to get a steady drum groove without having the drummer play to a click...y'know, something us "hack engineers" do from time to time?

 

And I personally would rather try and coax a drummer into getting the best performance possible, being in his comfort zone, rather than forcing him to adhere to something that he's never done before.

 

And too, most of us took our personal time to reply to your questions politely, so I don't know where you get off with this attitude. Engineering takes people skills and getting the best performances out of people, and this is something that I hope you accomplish better in person than you do in writing. I mean, you seem to have gotten your panties in a bunch from most of the opinions expressed here.

 

And finally, since you do seem a little sensitive, here's a life lesson for you: if you don't want people to state their opinions, don't ask for them.

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