No Studio

7 Ways To Get A Performance From Musicians

I believe that the performance of an artist or band is way more important than what mic or preamp it is recorded through. As the first part of the signal chain, if it’s not right then it becomes a fight to create the record everyone wants. Here are seven tips for getting the performance you want from musicians.

1. Where are they? Bands need to be comfortable, and look cool in any studio footage or photos. This is especially important for singers. Make sure you create an environment and a mood that puts them at ease, even if it means recording screaming in your flat, just be considerate and leave a note for your neighbours.

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2. Only human. Remember, as much as you need to get the record done, the human body has its limits. If your artist has blown their voice, shredded their fingers or burst an eardrum leave them the fuck alone, get them some tea and/or plasters and go back the next day. Unless they are trying to be GG Allin, in which case put down some newspaper for the mess and let them create self destructive carnage everywhere.

3. Leave it running. There are some bands who will create absolute magic between takes – I will never forgive myself for not recording Dan Crywank‘s “Bread” song because I was too busy laughing. If you find a band like this, record every second and whittle it down later, sometimes even artistic arguments can get turned into album tracks.

4. Don’t tell the bride. Every band has one member who has practiced their stage moves and can bust a jump perfectly before a breakdown but has forgotten that they need to play anything other than open notes. Here you have two options, let another member of the band take over and record their parts for the good of the record, or let them carry on tracking, pat themselves on the back, and then as soon as they leave record it again yourself.

5. Party hard. Some people give their best performance when they are REAL loose. Careful with this though, keep an eye out for when your artist gets a slightly wild look in their eyes as it means your guitar recording session could dissolve into riding fixies down a corridor trying to knock each other off the bikes with a broom or a mop.

6. Fight for your right. I record a lot of hardcore bands whose music is supposed to sound angry and passionate, and some people feed off conflict. If you need to throw a steel chair at someone to get them to perform I advise you do it, then sample the sound and put it in the song.

7. Live and let live. Sometimes you just need to let the band wear sunglasses and do their thing because they are right.

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Getting to work with bands like Gust from Sweden is incredible. During their UK tour with Old Skin a show fell through, so I brought them into the studio to record and film a live session. GREAT bands make GREAT records and these guys absolutely killed it during their set. Their album is amazing, so make sure you check out their self-titled LP on Southern Lord Records.

Amp Worship

When I started getting into music more seriously, I would watch footage of bands with guitarists playing through multiple full stacks I would think “gah, this fuckin’ guy” every few seconds, whilst secretly wishing it was me. Over a few years of working on recording sessions I began to get to grips with the nuances of layering guitar tones in the studio and it started to dawn on me that in order to achieve the kind of sound I was after at shows, I might have become ‘that guy’ that needs multiple amps. Finally.

Having seen Manchester’s (now defunct)  Hammers a few times over the years I was really excited to work with guitarist Sacha Zucconi on his new project Glarus. Sacha has a really distinctive playing style, and I was really looking forward to seeing how he used his two Marshall heads to produce his very particular guitar tone. Initially his multi-amp setup was to cover up the fact that Hammers had become a single-guitar band (play loud enough and no one will ask questions), but inspired by Kylesa he adapted his setup to create a sound that allowed his riffs the clarity he wanted whilst still being heavy enough to make me grin from ear to ear. With a Marshall JCM2000 TSL100 partnered with a Marshall 1960 cab he uses the amp’s gain to dial in a crunchy tone, dominated by frequencies in the presence range and not particularly ‘bottom-heavy’. This tone is more akin to a classic Marshall lead sound, and remains clear even throughout some of Sacha’s faster and more technical sections of songs. The TSL is accompanied for most sections of Glarus tracks by a Marshall JCM2000 DSL100, paired with another (darker sounding despite being the same model) Marshall 1960 cab. With the DSL set up for a heavier, yet still mid-range dominant sound, the weight that was missing from the TSL is filled out, and often at stunning volume.

glarus amp

I am a big fan of using pedals to boost guitar signals, but Sacha prefers the distortion that comes from pushing the Marshalls themselves, so when we were tracking the Glarus EP I had him set up the amps just as he normally would before I went tweaking slightly to get them to complement each other. It sounded great. The two driven Marshall sounds had very slightly different voicings and overtones and they just worked so well together. If something sounds good in the studio, that’s half the battle won, so I chucked up a couple of mics before settling on a few old favourites and we tracked, double tracked and occasionally triple tracked the guitar parts for the EP.

We were all really happy with how the record came out, and I feel like guitar tone on record reflected the sound when I caught them live with Full of Hell back in July and more recently with Geranium. Check out ‘Fire’ above from their 2014 EP and make sure you see these guys live if you get the chance. Guitar signal chain was:

Gibson SG > ABY pedal

> A > Marshall JCM2000 TSL 100 > Marshall 1960 cab > Shure SM57

> B > Marshall JCM2000 DSL 100 > Marshall 1960 cab > Heil PR30 & Cascade Fathead