At the end of our guitar tech Q&A with session guitarists Darryl Poulsen and Adrian Gross, the two began discussing some of the non-technical and mental aspects of going into the studio. The following post offers some great tips for artists as Gross and Poulsen chat about technique, attitude, and working with producers.
MM: What are examples of small things that are a lot different in the studio compared to live performance?
Tuning & Muting
DP: One session I did I was tuning every three takes. I was playing with a capo and I was playing a Strat and a Les Paul. They were mid-level guitars, which I guess maybe I probably should have gotten them set up a little bit better, but every three takes the producer was like “tune up”. We’d do a couple takes and he was like “tune up again”. Just the amount of tuning I had to do…
Muting strings is a huge thing. There would be a couple times I’d play like a B major chord, a power chord on the second and fourth fret with the top two strings ringing out. But one of those notes makes it a ‘sus’ chord and we weren’t going for that. So its just a matter of holding that string with my middle finger, strumming the guitar, so I could still get the same effect, and the same vibe of strumming it full on but without that string ringing out. Stuff like that.
AG: Even the non-musical things are really important. This is really funny, but I always make sure I have the name and number of every guitar store in town on my cell phone.
Just those things for being uber-prepared.
Bring a ton of picks cause you never know what sound you’re going to want. And chances are that sound that you grew accustomed to and are super married to live is not going to work in the studio and you have to change your pick.
Bring as many guitars as you can. Bring a bunch of guitars. Bring a bunch of string instruments. If you have a ukulele, a banjo, a mandolin, if you can hack your way through a piano track… the thing about the studio is you don’t need to be awesome at something to play it well. Bring as many instruments as you can bring. Especially guitars, amps, pedals, effects.
Have a tuner that totally works. Get the whole band to tune up using the same tuner, cause not all tuners are created equal. They’re all different. Make sure it’s calibrated to 440, cause there are so many times I’ve had to fix someone’s instrument cause they were tuned to 444.
DP: I played a whole show once where the singer tuned to 441. I almost couldn’t play the music cause something was so weird about it. It felt so weird I thought I was going to throw up.
[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]Be in a good headspace where you’re not getting emotionally defensive about things. You’ve got to be open minded. -Darryl Paulsen[/pullquote] DP: One thing is just attitude. I’ve been in one situation where I kept doing the take and there’s another guy there saying, “oh you messed it up. You made a mistake.” The producer and other engineer had to ask him to leave the room.
It’s hard to sit there and try and play as well as you can take after take. You might mess it up a couple times. But just be in a good headspace where you’re not getting emotionally defensive about things. You’ve got to be open minded.
AG: Being in the studio is so microscopic. It’s like having a pimple and staring in the mirror for an hour. It’s a really strange experience. Don’t get that emotionally attached, and be super open to criticism. Because chances are if the producer gives you criticism it’s not cause you’re not a great musician. It’s cause its not working for the track. And the goal in the studio isn’t to show off what you can do, it’s to work for the track.
Being able to replicate yourself is a huge thing. I was doing a pop-country session and had to record what ever I was going to do, and then play it identically again. If I was going to do a pass of a verse I had to think of where each little strum would change.
Working out a really distinct part that makes sense to the song… it’s hard to do but I could replicate it after. I found that went a long way for me.
AG: Always bring extra patch chords. Patch chords always break, and they always suck, and they always crackle. Extra patch chords.
Production & Working with a Producer
DP: If it is an original project its nice to have a producer you can put full trust into, and you know he’s going to get the sounds you want.
AG: Be really open with your producer or the person mixing your recording. Be as hands on and open to the dialogue as possible. I think a lot of people record and are too timid to let their opinions be known. Maybe they get their first mix and it’s not quite what they want yet. You should be totally open to going back and forth and talking about it as much as possible.
If you express yourself, a good mixer, producer, engineer, they’ll be able to get what you want. As much time as you’ve spent playing guitar, they’ve spent engineering records.
Generally you’ll end up with a sound you really like. Worst thing is having a recording that doesn’t sound exactly as you’d like, and its just because…
DP: … you didn’t speak up.
AG: It can be hard cause you often put a lot of trust in these guys. There are egos and everyone has opinions. But it’s good to make sure you’re clear about what you want. You’ve got to live with the recording for a long time. Knowing how to talk to people is important but you always want to make sure you’re happy with what you get.
DP: Sometimes you do get the feeling of “am I getting too picky about this?” But at the end of the day that’s recording in a nutshell. You’re supposed to be (picky). Everything is under a microscope, and you shouldn’t let anything slide if you don’t feel it’s right.
Listening to Different Styles of Music
[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]You can over think the life out of anything. And over think the music out of music. -Adrian Gross[/pullquote] DP: Check out a lot of different types of music if you want to be a studio guy.
I grew up playing metal, and then I got into rock stuff, then I went to Humber music for Jazz and started playing a lot of country music and bluegrass and folk, and that has definitely helped me a lot.
Just knowing the isms of all the genres. If you’re going to be a session guy, be ready to be thrown into a situation you might not have been in before.
AG: You don’t have to be a master of all the styles to be able to pull it off. Everyone has what they love. I finger pick a bit. I’m not a rock player but I can play rock music.
You don’t want to be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. You want to be able to focus on one or two things and really get into that, but also having a passing interest in a bunch of other kinds of music is really great. It opens your ears. Even if you’ve never played Latin music, learning about it makes your rock playing better.
Practice & Preparation
AG: My buddy John Williams always gives great advice. He says the most important thing about going in the studio is you want to be ridiculously prepared beforehand, and then not care or think about it all once you go in there.
You can over think the life out of anything. And over think the music out of music. If you practice and you’re super prepared beforehand, then in the studio you can focus on energy and vibe and putting some swagger into your music and making it confident and making it sound like its really exciting.
Whereas, if you go into the studio and you’re still practicing your parts as you’re playing them, they’re going to sound lifeless. If you’re worried you can’t pull it off, it’s going to be lifeless. You want to be able to kill it in your bedroom, and then go into the studio and just let loose, and play and make a great record.
Check out Darryl and Adrian in a studio session we did with Jadea Kelly: