Album Odor

I thought the record was nearly complete when I got a text from the Artist stating they wanted to change the album order as well as make a few mix revisions and one tracking addition. We had already gone through our first round of mastering for the record. Usually the way it works is once you submit your mixes to mastering, it’s done. Out of everyone’s hands. I had been working on this record on and off for over a year on Spec (def. for nothing, but the promise of something…hopefully) and had dedicated a majority of the past several months finalizing the record. You can say I was annoyed to say the least to receive these last minute requests.

Firstly, the content. I didn’t get the new album order. It was a simple switch of the first track and the fourth track. However, the track the Artist now wanted on top never even crossed my mind as being the opener. The Artist some months back had granted me the privilege of choosing the album order, a privilege I did not take lightly and spent a considerable amount of thought on. The track I had in the first slot was a no-brainer. It had been the opener all along. Not to mention, it kicked off an amazing flow, transitioning perfectly into the second track and so forth. This is to be the Artist’s debut LP, and the track I had on top I knew was our strongest. You might say that in the playlist era, album order doesn’t matter, but the Artist’s goal is to get signed, so when someone at a record label pops in your record, you want to lead off with a heavy hitter. The track the artist now wanted first is a great track, but slow, and I believed worked better within the album. I knew this was a risky choice.

As for the last minute post-mastering revisions, I was upset. Sure, it’s a matter of me going to my computer and opening things up again, but that window of time was already there. The band could rarely attend mixing sessions so I had to do most mixing on my own, but I would always send WIPS (works-in-progress) to the Artist and band for review and put their notes into effect to the best of my ability. When I had final mixes to share, the whole band had a substantial window to give me their final notes. So now we’re at mastering and I’ve been asked to make mix fixes, editing fixes, and retrack a guitar solo. These were all indeed minor requests, but all unnecessary in my opinion and could’ve been requested before mastering, causing me serious aggravation.

So I caused a fuss. And it didn’t end well.

Side-note: My situation with this particular band has changed throughout the course of producing this record. In the process, I became a quasi-member of the band filling in as a second guitar player. I’m also significantly younger than everyone in the group. This never seemed to be a problem while I was tracking the record, but the more time I spent with them as a bandmember (which began as I was finishing up tracking), the more this age difference became apparent and, I felt, interfered with the band viewing me as their producer. Also, when you go from producer to bandmember, your voice has to become more equal with everyones. Democracy is righteous, but I was brought into the life of this band to lead them through the album process. As a bandmember, your voice needs to be quieter. Boundaries became a little shadier.

There were a few back and forths on the phone where I pleaded not to change the album order, and the Artist agreed to keep the order intact, only to change his mind the next day, which led to an awful phone conversation where some ugly cats came out of the bag and caused me to write an email, stating more clearly as to why I thought the album order change was wrong and why I felt I had been disrespected as a professional by having to make these post-mastering revisions. At this point, I had agreed to make the revisions, but I felt the need to educate the Artist. As I said, there is a protocol. But I also understand that there’s a give and take. I had been given a serious amount of creative control on this record so I still felt obligated to honor the Artist’s requests. What was I to do? Refuse and sit on the Masters? Only scumbags do that…

The Artist didn’t like my email and told me “there’s a difference between disrespect and disagreeing” which told me that the Artist didn’t see the fact that I needed to do more work post-mastering as being the issue. Ultimately, I thought we had a finished record! Also, things had been going great up to this point, so it sucked to see that suddenly disrupted. I was seeing a lot of these changes as rash last-minute decisions. But sometimes you need to step back and tell yourself, it is not your record! You are in the service of the Artist. So I made the changes and that was that…almost…

A couple weeks had passed. Despite this record really beginning to feel like it would never end, we were actually near completion, awaiting a new master. But this meant that I needed to address my status as a band member in this particular act. Seeing that I had other producing gigs coming up, most out of town, I started to make it clear to the Artist that I could not be relied upon to play with the band. It should be known that I really have a great relationship with the Artist, so he was understanding, but feelings were still sore from our previous situation, so this didn’t make things better.

I also felt the urge to bring up the album order thing again. I felt passionately about this record and in my heart, I knew we were making a mistake, despite the Artist and band believing otherwise. So I pleaded my case one last time via email, with a couple industry opinions supporting my viewpoint. The Artist begrudgingly seemed to accept my request but asked for another mix revision to the track in question. I sucked it up and made the revision, but something in my heart didn’t feel right about the Artist’s response to my “final wish,” which led to this response to the band:

“Hope this doesn’t add to any stress levels, but despite my arguments, I want you to be happy with this record and with what I’ve done for y’all. So you decide on what you think is best and I won’t put up a fight anymore. There is still some time to rest on it. “

All was good after the fires settled. The Artist and I reflected upon all of this and realized our communication was just sloppy at the end of the process. No matter what, you have to keep your communication intact all the way to the last measure. Keep focused and your rhythm sharp always, no matter how sick you are with the record. Otherwise, people’s emotions seriously come into play.

You have problably been in a similar place before or certainly will somewhere down the line. When these sort of situations come up at the end of an album process, no matter how minor they are, there is hurt involved (way more hurt when money’s involved). What hurts the most is that you start thinking all of your efforts got compromised at the very end of the process because people are tired of it all. Insecurities over the record’s outcome and potential response really start to rise, and a lot of this pressure rides on your ass Mr./Ms. Producer. It hurts because you break your neck for someone, spending hours, days, weeks, months working on their music because you love it so much, and it doesn’t all end on the positive note you hoped it would. Your efforts aren’t recognized to your fullest satisfaction and sometimes they aren’t recognized even if the record is a success.

This was not the case with this album. Everyone involved has great respect for one another and each other’s convictions. And for all I know, this respect and admiration will last a long time. But I had been in a similar but much worse situation at the end of one of my previous productions, so similar feelings came back to haunt me. Money was involved in that situation. That situation was so hard for me that I couldn’t really stop these feelings from creeping up on me again, even over something as silly as album order and post-mastering mix revisions…

Remember this: you are not in this game to make friends. You are in it to make art…with many others. To put your convictions to tape and hope that someone… somewhere… near or far… picks it up (pays for it) and likes what they hear. And tells someone else about it…

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One Response to Album Odor

  1. Akara Etteh says:

    PREACH! Am just starting out, and have seen this sorta situations

    And thankfully the experience of collaborating on indaba has allowed me to “pretend” produce without the intensity of record labels, firm release dates, marketing campaigns etc. so when I get to do it for real I’ll be better prepared

    One of my good friends always talks of his experience of “managing” our DJ group at university went a long way towards helping him get his current job as a manager in banking. The skills of dealing with people and projects are universally desired and universally applicable.

    Thanks Jesse!

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