The Most Common Problem You Come Across When Recording an Artist? | with Abbey Road Engineer John Barrett

When you’re new to the recording studio environment, some common issues may present themselves. Nerves during recording sessions are an extremely common issue amongst both beginners and professionals alike. Abbey Road engineer John Barrett discusses some of the most faced problems when recording artists and musicians, along with the steps he takes to help them overcome it.
 

What is the most common problem that you come across when you record an artist?

Something that’s a real bugbear of mine is guitars. It always makes me feel slightly nervous when a guitarist starts changing strings just as you’re about to record. I’m a recovering guitarist. I was into guitar worship for years before I started playing around with faders and microphones. I always think you should bed your strings in before you come into a recording session. So, change the strings a couple of days before to give them a chance to settle in. Otherwise, you’ll have to sit there tuning up after every take.

More significant is dealing with people's nerves. It can be a bit overwhelming sometimes coming here and recording at Abbey Road. You get two kinds of people: you get those who rise to the challenge and embrace it, and those people who get a bit overwhelmed. It’s essential to create a comfortable environment that’s calm and relaxed. And, if things go wrong, it’s up to you to reassure people that it will all be okay – to take a breath, to take five minutes. The number of times when you’re recording a vocal, I genuinely believe that there’s a strange phenomenon that if you haven’t got a vocal within the first five or six takes, it’s going to be 30 takes.

Naturally, this isn’t set in stone, but there’s something psychologically where you either do a few takes or do loads of takes. There can be many takes in the middle that aren’t great because the performer is overthinking it, or getting stressed about it. Alternatively, sometimes there’s a certain magic that’s been lost. By the time you’ve got round to take 30, hopefully, some of that has come back again.

Or you could take a break. A favourite of mine, especially with singers, is to get them in to do a couple of warm-up takes and then go and get a cup of tea with them. Because by that point, they’ve settled into the headphones and the mic, and they’ve got their initial nervous energy out. They calm down, you go and have a chat with them by the coffee machine.

Then you go back and record the vocals and it seems to work. Sometimes, people want to carry on and you can see that it’s a stumbling block. That’s when it’s time to say: “Let’s just take five minutes and it will be okay.” The psychology of it is the thing. Taking a break is sometimes the best course of action. Guiding people through that is one of the most common problems that you face. Navigating your way through something that might seem quite daunting at first, but ultimately, it’s meant to be fun.
 
 

Is there anything else musicians should know not to do in the studio?

It’s always good to bring all of your gear with you. That’s a classic. I’ve been asked several times whether I have a plectrum or a pair of drumsticks. The other thing that’s quite a problem with guitars is noisy pedals or power supplies. If you can avoid any of that stuff, you’re onto an absolute winner. If you can get a nice little rig put together that just works where you just plug in and play, you’ll look a total pro. The only reason I’m bashing guitarists is that I used to be one and I’m slightly jealous!

Preparation is crucial, too. If you can turn up to a studio knowing the song, knowing the parts and having an arrangement, that’s going to pay dividends when you record. Of course, people get creative and go off on a tangent in the studio, but there’s a lot to be said for pre-production and being prepared. I think that’s invaluable. If you can turn up and it’s all ready to go, then everyone’s going to have a more enjoyable time. And you’ll get through stuff really quickly.

By contrast, if you turn up to a recording session and have no idea about the song, the parts, the structure or the key, it’s going to be less enjoyable for all involved. I like people being prepared, having a vision and knowing what they want.