How do you want to go down in history? For many of us, all that most people will know of us when we're gone will be our names listed on some records, CDs and such. How do you wish to be seen in this light?
I always wonder what the engineers who had to record Skip Spence's Oar record in Nashville thought of this crazed man with genius ideas. He wasn't anything like the country clientele they had to deal with most of the time, and his manner may have put them off a bit. Luckily for us, they did a decent job and we can hear what was going on.
Have you ever read about how hard it was to record Syd Barrett's two solo records? It was near impossible to get him to do the same thing twice, for a normal number of measures,or in tune. We're lucky that some people (including members of his ex-band, Pink Floyd) did bother to spend the time to extract these gems from him.
It's so tempting to want to throw up your hands in the studio, pull the tape off the machine, and hand it back to your clients while asking them to please leave. Maybe you don't like their music. Maybe they need to bathe. Maybe you want to be somewhere else. Maybe you're wondering if they'll even pay you.
In the relatively short time that I've been recording people for a living there's one thing I've found to be true. Many of your best works will go unheard! That's right kids, that record that you slaved over for weeks might never come out. That single that took days to record won't see daylight because the band broke up. Maybe you'll record demos for some major artists (ahem) that blow you away but get replaced by new versions on their album. Maybe the record comes out and the label goes bankrupt the next week. A lot of what you record really goes nowhere. This is probably the secret that all long-time engineers keep from us when we ask them for sage advice.
The funny thing is this: The songs that you knock out without thinking are the flukes that end up being heard all over the world. Believe me, I know!
But! Wait! Here's something else to consider. Those flippant recordings, those sessions that you want to bolt- those just may be the most important ones you do. Who was the anonymous engineer who recorded the early Joy Division (actually Warsaw) demos that ended up on Substance? They didn't do a very good job, but this stuff is heard all over the world now. If this person had done a decent job we'd have a better example of what the band was doing early on in their career. I always wonder, "What if this band I'm recording right now became famous?" These tapes would be worth something, at least to archivists, and I'd better do as good a job as I can.
Hell, I don't want to go to my grave with a bad recording on my conscience, what about you?