Session Sensei Its All Good

Last week I was producing a session, and I was stressed. A nagging technical glitch was threatening to derail us. We’re talking two solid hours of tech, right at the time when cats were chompin’, ready to rock. We couldn’t get the headphone mix and click track volume happening — when the click was soft enough for the singer to feel comfortable, the drummer couldn’t hear it. Here’s what I had to step back and remind myself, so as not to let the stress affect my own musicianship and performance.
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Last week I was producing a session, and I was stressed. A nagging technical glitch was threatening to derail us. We’re talking two solid hours of tech, right at the time when cats were chompin’, ready to rock. We couldn’t get the headphone mix and click track volume happening — when the click was soft enough for the singer to feel comfortable, the drummer couldn’t hear it. Here’s what I had to step back and remind myself, so as not to let the stress affect my own musicianship and performance:

You might be in charge, but it’s not about you. Don’t take it personally when things go south, especially when it’s your session, because everyone looks at you for their cue. Keep your cool and smile.

Everyone’s on the same page. From the savant engineer to the lowly bass player, the primary goal is get the job done and perform at the highest possible level. Don’t ever assume that anyone’s not with you. Everyone knows that their performance, whether musical or technical, will live forever. So will the memory of a bad session.

Take a break and regroup. Seems obvious, right? In the moment, we sometimes don’t think clearly. After three takes of one tune, we broke for lunch to let the tech guys try to solve the headphone issue. I was about to lose it, and stomp around outside with my cell phone to my ear, telling my wife all the nasty things I thought I wanted to tell the engineer. I’m really glad I didn’t do that.

Stay in the moment, and don’t forget the big picture. In the scope of an entire project, a few extra hours is a mere blip. My chill west coast bass player cooled out my New York temper: “It’s all good, man. These things happen. We’ve got all day.” This guy is on about a thousand records. “I think it sounds pretty good, let’s listen to what we just did.”

As it turned out, the first take with the lousy headphone mix was great. Somehow the drummer, while not fully hearing the click track, played incredibly sensitively, and the dynamics and emotions of his performance were off the chart. The rest of the band had followed him, and we got a stunning, raw take. The singer, while being blasted with a cowbell click in his ear, had dug hard into the piano and sang his song stronger than ever.

I looked around and cats were smiling, chomping on their sandwiches, and sipping their lattés. The California sun was shining. The day was still young and we had a record to make.