We all have theories about the best way to do things in the studio, whether it be how to mic up a snare drum, or how to pull a great performance out of a singer who's having a bit of an off day. Sometimes these theories blur the line between reality and superstition, and blurring lines is fun. Often engineers will have as many (if not more) idiosyncrasies as the artists they're recording! I too have developed plenty of theories (and superstitions) regarding studio life — everything from how to plug in a FireWire drive to biasing an analog deck just right, and my personal favorite, how to cleverly use household cleaning agents to increase confidence and productivity in the studio. Hmmm...maybe I'd better elaborate on that last one. I'd hate to have you think I'm advocating huffing chemicals!
Like all the great ones, this theory is short and simple. It's called Smells Clean: Is Clean. To fully explain its origin, I'll have to take you back a bit. Once upon a time when I was a skinny little eager assistant engineer trying to make my mark on the world, things didn't always come very easily for me. It's not that I was a slow learner, but there were so many things to learn in the recording environment that sometimes I'd forget to do some of the basics. To combat this, I developed routines for session setups, tape machine alignment, etc. I would then put all these routines into a larger routine, say my morning routine and my late-night shutdown routine, so that everything always got done, and got done right. One of the things that I got in the habit of doing was cleaning the "highlights" or common focal points of the studio every morning. I would wipe down the producers' desk, the top of the near-field speakers, the console bolster and computer screens with Windex. Then with Pledge I would wipe down the piano and both sides of the control room windowsill about an hour before any session or meeting that would take place. The reason I would clean just the highlights, and clean them an hour before anyone got there was to ensure that the bouquet would mellow just enough so the artist, engineer and producer didn't walk into a sensory overload situation. I didn't want it to appear that I cleaned because the place was dirty, or that I had cleaned at all... it would just smell clean.
Why my obsession with Windex and Pledge? Well, here we are at the crossroads between theory and superstition, and it's a good place to be, because we're just barely outside the jurisdiction of sheriff "facts" and his deputy, "the burden of proof". Here's my take on it: no matter what role you play in the recording process (or anywhere for that matter), it's important to establish trust with whomever you're working for. People trust what they know, and people know what clean smells like. People also know that what smells clean generally is clean, and things that are clean are well maintained due to someone taking pride in them. This trust breeds confidence in where and with whom you're working — both highly valued currencies within the studio walls.
I've found that when people walk into an environment that has my special blend of aromatherapy and studio psychology, they will tend to relax just a bit and subliminally trust their surroundings (and me!) a bit more. Sessions seem to run a bit smoother, and people generally have a better time too.
"Hey Chris, those are pretty bold statements!" you say? Well, that's the beauty of theories formed from superstitions! But I actually do have some facts to back it up. It's been proven time and time again that smell is the primary memory trigger in humans. Now who doesn't associate Windex and Pledge with spring cleaning? You see, spring cleaning happens in the spring, when butterflies land on puppies' noses in the midday sun. And honestly, who doesn't like puppies? Pretty incontrovertible truth, I'd say. On the flipside — think of all the unclean words we use to describe broken or malfunctioning equipment: "dirty" pots, "funky" cables and the pièce de résistance — that drummer "stinks".
Yeah, I know I'm a little left-of-center on this one... but I really do feel strongly about it. All we do day in and day out is try to get people to trust us with their creative vision, so why not get proactive with it? Besides, what's some glass cleaner or furniture polish gonna set you back anyway, a few measly bucks? I'd say that's pretty cheap for a six-pack of trust.