It started innocently enough. The producer called me to feel me out and see if we'd work well together. The artist called, came by and booked some time. "Awesome", I thought. I would be able to focus on being an engineer, get good sounds and not be as responsible for the artist's performances, arrangements and such. It would be an easy week I thought.

One hour before the sessions were to begin I was cleaning up the studio, calibrating the deck and printing tones. Ready for anything. I got a call from the artist telling me the session might be off because things had gotten really weird between the artist and producer. I thought this was unfortunate but noted that I would still need to be paid my daily deposit whether they came in or not since it was such short notice. I got called back with a green light — we would go ahead and start the album.

As soon as they entered the studio with the rhythm section you could sense tension. Not a good way to start an album. As the producer and band laid down rhythm beds and parts for the songs it seemed weird enough that they didn't need the artist to sing or play guitar on anything and even weirder that the producer would shut the artist down any time there was a question of whether a tempo, arrangement, key or such would work in the end. Then there were incidents outside of music that seemed too surreal to be true, like arguments about what food to get for lunch. And then if things got tense between the producer and artist the drummer might become the brunt of this "hostile creativity" for a while. I tried to lay low and let it all run its course, not wanting to get involved and just glad they were in the other room most of the time.

Halfway through the week we were getting into overdubs which brought the producer into the control room to lay down tracks. This was going okay until more issues of whether certain overdubs or even whole takes would work were fought about in a very hostile manner, with me practically in the middle. At one point the artist's foot went down that a take just wouldn't work, which we'd been hearing all along, and the producer started trying to get me to set up for creating a new take out of drum machine parts and loops. The hostility had hit a high.

I started thinking. I'd already worked enough hours that I could stop now and the whole week wouldn't be a huge financial loss for me. Everything was on 2" 24-track reels with no noise reduction so many studios could accommodate them. I didn't want to deal with all this anger, hostility and bullshit. I just wanted to work peacefully or go home. So many sessions at the studio are fun — working with musicians that are having a great time and creating music I enjoy. This was just an ugly scene. I went out to the lounge and told the artist that I would be spooling off the reels, boxing them up and that they could go somewhere else because I didn't feel I needed to deal with this crap. I said I wanted to be able to wake up in the morning without dreading my work day.

They went outside and had a long talk. When the artist came back in I was asked if I'd give them a second chance. I agreed, and my terms were a two hour trial period where if anything got hostile, or I felt there was some bullshit going down, they would have to leave. They behaved themselves but everything was different. I felt like the balance of power had shifted from the producer to me, and that both of them were afraid to get me pissed off and not really getting all their cards on the table. At least it was a bearable environment to work in.

We finished up on the seventh day. The tracks still needed a lot of work. The producer was trying to convince the artist to write new lyrics and melodies to most of the songs. The artist had told me several times that the producer would be kicked out and we would continue but it never happened. One song was completely re-tracked with the rhythm section and worked a lot better. Another song was spontaneously recorded when a guest musician dropped in and suggested working up one of the artist's songs. It had a great feel and the positive attitude that this musician brought in was really refreshing. I knocked out rough mixes and washed my hands of the project, telling the artist that I wouldn't be interested in working on it in the future.

It was a pretty crummy week but it made me realize one thing: I'm so fuckin' lucky that I enjoy my job most of the time. In another world I could deal with scenes like this every day and live in some sort of hell...

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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