After 32 years of attending, visiting, and helming many studio recordings, I've come to recognize the impact that guests dropping by can have on a session. In Tape Op #73 I described my take on 'Etiquette for the Studio Visitor?' But, in reality, whether one should have visitors during any recording scenario (whether while home recording, on a remote session, or in a studio) is the actual question that should be asked. What a visitor dropping by will bring to the table can potentially be either helpful or disruptive. What is confusing is that many of the most common disruptive visitations are completely unintentional.
It's hard for anyone that has never been on the performers' side of the recording equation to understand the focus needed, the vulnerability present, and the amount of time some of the work takes. The more that the visitor is respectful of the attention needed for the project, the more positive their appearance will be. Remember, a friend or loved one quickly dropping off some (probably much needed) food or refreshments can be a real positive for everyone.
Some visitors can bring a needed uplift to a session. It might be a friend of the musicians, who is also a musician, that adores their music, and who is excited to hear the songs they love come to life. These people can provide a sort of "virtual audience" for the group. Sometimes a respected musician can be a boost to long day, and positive feedback on the work going on from a peer always feels great. As a bonus, impromptu 'guest spot' overdubs can sometimes shine a new light on a song's possibilities.
Family members can bring good or bad elements to a session, depending on the situation. Children can give a recording parent a nice boost, but as the studio can seem interminably boring to an outsider, keeping kids' visits brief is important.
Band managers and record label folks can be a mixed bag. Some bring the enthusiasm of a fan, and make everyone feel good about the project. Others may shine a more pragmatic light on the proceedings, and wonder why time (and money) is being spent on a particular song or part. Not exactly conducive for the most creative flow.
One of the most disruptive situations I've ever been in involved with was a television crew, sent to do a short documentary about a band working in my studio. Video crews can slow everything down, make everyone feel awkward on camera, and impede the sort of brutal honesty in communications that is needed in the studio. Usually still photographers can be less intrusive, but I've had a few that stuck around far too long and never stopped chatting. "Hey, we're working!"
Producers should be aware of the impact that folks dropping in and out can have. Situations where friends of the artists coming by can get disruptive and should be dealt with by the producer. Clearing the room and maintaining order to keep sessions on track is their responsibility; plus they can play "bad cop" if needed, and be the buffer between the artist and their pals. Engineers, assistants, and interns should understand the impact that any of their own visitors will have, and limiting these intrusions is highly important.
Studio managers, studio owners, and other business infrastructure people should also be aware of the repercussions of their drop ins. I've watched in horror as a studio manager gave me a tour by barging into just about every session in a multi-room facility. I've also totally understood when I wished to see a famous facility and the owner declared rooms off limits due to session lock outs.
Whether your next tracking or mixing session has people dropping by is up to everyone. Artists should express their needs for privacy, or for a communal vibe. What they desire from a session is paramount. Musicians being comfortable, and getting great music tracked, are always the most important factors to consider!