I was in the control room the other day when I thought I saw the door opening. It moved back and forth just enough for me to see two beady eyes peering at me through the crack. After a minute of
that, I said, “Yo, dude, you’re freaking me out.” The new intern finally opened the door and whispered, “Place.” I started wondering if this was a code word that I had somehow failed to pick up on. “PLATE,” he said again, a little louder this time. I checked my effects unit, and yes, I was using a plate setting. So? Maybe he could give me a hint. “C’mon, how about a verb?” I said, and after a little dancing around, I was finally able to ascertain that he was looking for paper plates. He figured I was the guy to help him find them.
On another session, an intern was in the control room with me, just observing. The singer was in the booth, I had a guitar in my hands, and we were working out harmony parts. Suddenly I heard an eerie voice in the room and turned to see the intern trying to work out his own harmony parts. It distracted me and made me lose my train of thought, as well as put a note in my head that I had already nixed. I turned to him and said, “Shhhhh.” He later apologized.
Another incident involved pizza talk. In our studio, we’ve developed a crazy obsession with the perfect pizza. We get ratings and reviews of the best pizzerias in and around New York and make regular pilgrimages to them. But I was surprised when a new intern started discussing pizza rather loudly with the assistant, right in the middle of a high-pressure jingle session. Before I could turn around and stop it, he had engaged the producer in the same conversation. That stopped the session dead in its tracks, leaving the vocalists playing with their headphone cables while the producer asked, “How you can tell that the dough hasn’t been given the proper time to rise?” I sent the intern on a mission, answered the question about the dough, and asked the assistant engineer to patch in some useless device across an empty channel. We were back on track.
An important quality for a producer or engineer to have is to know when to jump in, break up the talk, and keep the session moving. When I’m recording background vocal tracks and more than one singer is in the vocal booth, often their conversation between takes can go on for hours if no one interrupts it. I’ve learned to just ignore it. I’ll say, “Let’s take another one,” and start playing the music while they’ re still talking about their tan lines. I have to keep the session chugging along; otherwise, it can and will go on much longer than necessary.
Of course, it’s important to know when not to interrupt as well. If singers are discussing the parts they’re singing and working out harmonies, it’ s wise to sit back and let them work. When you’re working with professionals, you have to assume they know what they’re doing and give them the freedom to try out a few of their ideas.
But in a personal studio, you can run into an entire day of interruptions from the phone, the spouse, the kids, the pets, and countless other intrusions unless you make a conscious effort to control them. I find that scheduling three-hour blocks of completely uninterrupted time enables me to stay focused enough to really dig into a track. I’ll turn the phone off in the control room and have the guys take messages. This way I can avoid wondering when I’ll hear the next code word, like “cups,” whispered from the darkness.