Sometimes your heart is in it, but your body won’t go the distance. Case in point: A few years ago, one of the artists from a busy and successful rap group hired me to record his first solo project. He loved to book five nights in a row in a major studio, Rom 8 p.m. until 8 a.m., under the assumption that he was maximizing his productivity. The first night, the performer and his entourage arrived happy, energetic, and ready to party. It was a productive night and morning. We wrapped up the session around 11 a.m., exhausted but satisfied with the work we’ d accomplished. The next session was nine hours away.
At 8 p.m. the second night, I was waiting for the “crew” to arrive. About seven people showed up at around 11 p.m. At 1 a.m. (after they had some Hennessey and a few blunts), they began to think about work. We left around 7 a.m. after perhaps five hours of actual work.
The third night, I walked into the studio feeling exhausted at 8:30 p.m. knowing full well that nobody would be there for at least three hours. I took a nap on the couch. Around 11 p.m. the artist called to say he was on his way. He didn’t arrive until after 2 a.m. Only three people showed up that night and they all got right down to the Hennessey. At 4 a.m., everyone but the artist and me was sleeping (even my assistant was snoring on the floor in back of the console). When it was time for one of the other guys to record his rap, we woke him up an tossed him into the vocal booth. The artist/producer kept shouting to him that he sounded weak and needed to put more energy into it. Imagine — it’s 5 a.m., we just woke someone up from a drunken stupor, and he has no energy — go figure. We called it a. night. I call it a wasted night.
On day four, around 11 p.m. I got a call from the artist saying he was going to cancel the session (I got paid for the entire night) because he barely got anything done the past few nights, and none of his boys were around anyway. While he was at it, he cancelled the next night as well. He said he’d call the studio manager and book some time for the following week. This time, he would make sure everyone was ready.
And true to his word, he booked the same hours for the following week. This scenario repeated itself for months. I pointed out that the amount of money being thrown away was amazing. I suggested that we work earlier in the day. I tried to explain about circadian rhythms, Iuritha, and the daily cycles of nature. But he wasn’t having it. He said he could only catch the vibe at night.
A few summers ago, a group signed to MCA flew’ me out to L.A. to mix their record. They let me choose the studio and the hours I wanted to work. I booked 12 hour days starting at noon, two days per mix. I really only needed one day, but factoring in a second day for each song allowed me room for experimentation and fine tuning. It made for a relaxed working atmosphere, and it allowed me to do my best work consistently without burning out. After 10 days I took a break, which helped to rejuvenate my creativity. When I left L.A., I felt a real sense of accomplishment at having mixed 13 songs (mixes I am still proud of) in about 28 days.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking working at night. There are fewer distractions that can ruin your concentration. I still lock myself in my studio at night occasionally when I have deadlines to meet. But you have to know when it becomes counterproductive. At a certain point, your ears (and judgment) are shot, you’ re fighting to stay awake, and you’ re jeopardizing the next day’s work by risking the effects of sleep deprivation.
Now and then, we all have to pull an unexpected all-nighter. Deadlines crop up. Opportunities arise that can’ t be turned down. Equipment problems turn a six-hour session into a 16-hour one. But try not to get into the habit of only working at night. It’s surprising how much beautiful music you can make — productively — while the sun is still shining.
Arty Skye is a multi-platinum, Grammy nominated producer/engineer as well as the founder of SkyeLab Music Group. He has worked with thousands of musicians and renowned artists such as Will Smith, Madonna, Santana, Alicia Keys, Wu-Tang, Kelly Price, and more.