Tape Op contributor and studio owner/engineer/producer Mike Caffrey recently sent me some thoughts he had about visitors to the studio during sessions. See issue 73’s upcoming end rant for the origins of this piece. -LC
I always tell people that having visitors will lead to getting less done. They say, "No, it's cool they'll be quiet." Then they're usually bored, so they talk over everything (especially during mixing) or they add to the social time, then when people start tracking they get bored and leave. I'm very sensitive to the dynamic in the room. I think all sessions have the same flow - they start with a little bit of social time, then transition into work time and then everyone is on the same page. If you add anyone to the mix, they enter the room with the need for the social time, and then transition in to work time. They are out of sync and almost always bring the productivity to a halt. This is true when it's a late band member or even a late producer arriving a few hours into the session. I think when people are very aware of this, they can minimize their impact. But it's not just the new arrival's behavior - the artist can now be reset to social time. Or sometimes, they can hold on to their concentration for a few minutes to finish, but unless they're going to be flat out rude, they're going to be reset to social time. I think the timing of visitors can help. Have them come at the beginning and leave once people are in work mode. Otherwise have them come before a meal break, so that when they kill the momentum, you have the opportunity to use the momentum-less time productively (eating). Visitors can be important. Ultimately you're recording a song so that other people can hear it. These visitors are those "other people" or they're the A&R or they're partly funding it. When you have people who are not musicians, but you want to have them be part of the process, choose the timing carefully. There's another category: working people who are not musicians - photographers or videograpers. Get them there at the beginning and have them there for social time. They either need to have the cameras out early so people can adjust, or they need to wait for the flow to start and a highlight to happen and then shoot that. Then, keep shooting as if they're are a band member and the camera is their instrument. Cameras either need to be transparent or they need to be the audience. I think they can be effective in reminding people that a performance is being recorded. I think they can also take people out of their heads and sometimes improve the results be keeping them less self-critical. You can never photograph someone breaking down even though it may be the most dramatic and valuable moment to catch. That will be the end of the trust and nothing productive will happen with that person around for the rest of the project. If they don't know this and know how to recognize when to stop without being told, it's a big risk to let them in in the first place."