In the creepy back room of my studio is an old plastic mail tub that we've nicknamed the "money maker". Why the "money maker"? Well, this tub is full of percussion instruments, like tambourines, Eggz, maracas, vibra-slap, zils, cabasas and more. But why is it called the "money maker"? Because it makes me money. If I leave it out in the control or tracking room, one of the band members will invariably decide that one (if not every) song needs percussion. Of course, the band has never agreed on whether or not any of the songs need percussion, so a long discussion will ensue about the relevance of adding these instruments or not. Then the choice has to be made about which percussion instrument will fit which songs best. Eggz or maracas? Everyone in the band will have different opinions, of course. Once an instrument has been selected the process of figuring out who can play it begins. Many people seem to think playing percussion instruments is easy. It's not. It's not "just like playing drums". It's really hard to do right. So then we suffer through most of the band giving it a shot. During this trying experience we also realize that some of the band members think that they are playing percussion solos, with weird accents and time signatures. More discussion ensues as the members usually decide (with much prompting from me) that a real simple part will work quite fine. After all this, plus a few punch ins and comping, a new track will exist that probably took three times longer to accomplish than the original drum take.

If the tone-deaf instrumentalists who want to be lead singers would do me the courtesy of always sitting in the same chair at the studio we could name it the "money maker" too. I don't know how many times I've had someone (not the singer, of course) pipe up with, "I've got a vocal idea but I've never tried it before." Then we proceed to spend more time on an out- of-tune backing vocal than we did on the lead vocal. One that might need to be buried in echo in the final mix. One that, in many cases, really doesn't help the song in any way.

I think of the piano and organ sitting in the live room in the same way, though a few musicians can fool me as they've remembered some of their piano lessons from childhood. Still it doesn't mean that they've asked me to tune the piano beforehand, and my warnings seem to get ignored pretty easy. And it's also rare to find anyone that's not a dedicated organ player who knows how to use the speed switch on the Leslie cabinet or creative drawbar use.

What's all my griping getting at? Some of my clients come in prepared, ready with overdub ideas and people who've practiced these parts, and extra time to spend recording them. They use a computer or 4-track to rough out overdub sessions beforehand. They may even hire other musicians who are "experts". It's great, because the parts are usually almost ready to go and everything gets done on time. Other folks come in and track as many songs as will fit on their reels and then flounder in overdub hell. Sometimes even the lead vocalist hasn't really had a chance to hear themselves due to horrible practice and club PA systems.

Not every aspect of a recording session has to, or should, be planned completely. Some spontaneous stuff is magic, and that rocks. But a certain amount of pre-production will help any band, and decisions made before hand can save hundreds of dollars in the end.

Just remember this next time you're reaching into the "money maker".

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

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