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Author Topic: The Emperors New Clothes?  (Read 17234 times)

Greg Dixon

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The Emperors New Clothes?
« on: March 29, 2005, 10:48:55 pm »

Following on from the mix dilemma and Zoolander threads, I've often wondered why it is that some people seem to be so much better at 'selling' themselves and in so many cases convincing people that they are better than they are. I've seen and heard so many stories over the years, about people who really know nothing, but keep working. It's easy to knock the 'name' guys, but they aren't the only ones.

I was thinking about the engineer I mentioned in the Mixing Dilemma tread. This engineer works a lot and seems to be well regarded. Whenever I speak to this engineer, they are always blaming the equipment for why the recording wasn't great or telling me that the mix sucked, because they had to do two songs a day and you can't do a good mix in less than a day etc. This engineer has also complained to me about how noisy certain desks are. They did an overdub session at my studio once and I noticed that they'd set all the faders in a line and then got a balance by turning down the tape return trims! I realized, that they didn't understand signal to noise and the relationship between gain stages, hence the noisy desks. One of my regular clients has also pointed out that this engineer seems to hate guitars in general, as they are always completely buried in their mixes.

Another guy I've know, was in a band that I used to record very regularly. This guy showed absolutely no technical ability, although he did have some pretty good arrangement and production ideas. One day I had a band inquire about doing a recording and bringing him in to engineer. I told them that they were mistaken, as he wasn't an engineer, but by all means use him as producer. The guy rang me and was absolutely furious that I'd told the band that he wasn't an engineer, saying he'd been doing an audio course and was now engineering. A while after that I was asked by a regular client if I would mind this guy recording the drums on his next demo, to give him some more experience? He arrived quite late for the session, by which stage the drummer had the kit sounding as close to perfect as possible. This guy then tried to hide that he knew nothing, by trying to look busy and saying that if I wanted to set up some mics on the kit, he was cool with that. I of course said, no it's fine, it's your session, I'll stay out of the way. Very Happy   He set up 421s on the toms, as if they were 'side address' (yes, I did correct him) and got the drummer to set up the overhead mics, by saying (in mock tones) 'you'd better set up your precious overheads, so you can have them the way you like them'. He then spent about 3 hours going back and forwards between the control room and studio 'looking' at everything, but doing nothing. He recorded the drums to 12 tracks of a 16 track machine! This guy too, is making a name for himself as a producer and engineer.

Anyway, I'm aware that self promotion, has always been the thing that I'm worst at, but I was curious to know if anyone had come up with any theories as to why this happens and anyway to combat it, without looking petty. Rolling Eyes
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compasspnt

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2005, 11:18:30 pm »

Greg,

You have obviously failed to consider one very important fact:  these Emperors are selling themselves to HUMANS.  Hence the easy deceit.






I too would like to hear people's opinions on this subject.



One small question...you mention the one engineer several times in the plural...?
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Greg Dixon

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2005, 11:36:10 pm »

Mmm. I was trying to avoid using gender terms on that one, as it would narrow it down too much.......
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wwittman

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2005, 01:17:53 am »

Ah that explains all the horribly ungrammatical "theys" {g}

So it was a woman.

The Emperor's New Clothes principle works, which is why people employ it if they can.
People WANT to believe, generally.

Worked for the President.
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Brian Kehew

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2005, 06:00:05 am »

Over and over - I have to remind others that quality has nothing to do with success. We SEEM to think it does "He's good - and he is succeeding as a famous engineer." These examples always pop up. But I also have as MANY examples of people who are pretty bad at the job and succeed. Some are FILTHY rich and popular too...

On the converse - some of the best engineers I've ever seen make astounding recordings with very limited gear and musicians. They can make a very "pro" record with nothing, or very little. And yet they are poor and losing work to others who are inferior.

Same with singers - look at the top 10. Are they the best singers/writers in the country? Nope. Some might be. Many of the best are never even heard beyond indie world.

So talent=success is not a true equation in the real world.

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rush909

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2005, 06:59:41 am »

Brian Kehew wrote on Wed, 30 March 2005 12:00



So talent=success is not a true equation in the real world.





to take your comment a bit futher...   One thing that misses from people's minds is that producing/mixing or any other art form is SUBJECTIVE!   and not only is it subjective, it runs under non-logical rules.   There are many producers out there that I think suck, but are undeniable in their ability to produce hits!   now, whether a more "talented" producer is able to produce the same hit with that same song/band/record company/promotion etc... is and will always be unknown.

there is a certain degree of "magic" to creating hits, and most of the time it is not the most qualitified, or most studied, or most skilled that make them.  

Many record companies are after hits (which generate money), not artistic excellence.  so they will use whoever has gotten the job done in the past, which will inevitably include losers with no talent.   but when you have skilled talented people producing hits, those are the ones that you will remember...

r.
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Fibes

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2005, 07:48:00 am »

It's all about self aggrandizing promotion. Ya either do it well or you don't.

That said, there are plenty of very talented engineers who would rather lay low where the art is and give up the big bucks, limelight and sushi so they don't have to deal with irreverent dumbass major label mooks, hit single politics, backstabbing and all that other fun stuff.

Just a thought.

FWIW i think some of the most artistic records being made today are under 30 grand. 10 or 12 of those a year would be fine with me...  
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Fibes
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cgc

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2005, 08:56:15 am »

Fibes wrote on Wed, 30 March 2005 06:48


FWIW i think some of the most artistic records being made today are under 30 grand. 10 or 12 of those a year would be fine with me...  


Thirty grand is a large sum of money for a record here (and probably anywhere not LA or NYC).  Most of the good engineers in town make about that per year and the musicians even less.  I'm not aware of any of the local labels putting that kind of money into project either (major label types like Billy Corgan notwithstanding).  A lot of the notable records from Chicago in the past 20 years have been made for less than the 'tape' budget of the average major label session.  The studios walk a fine line between just breaking even and attracting the artists they want.  I'm sure Albini can fill a few pages on this subject as he deals with this everyday.

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McAllister

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2005, 09:28:42 am »

I'd like to find more engineers who can do great work with very limited gear. I'd even hire 'em. The only thing I know about the engineering side of things is that the person running the gear is WAY more important than the gear itself. The converse is true: put me in charge at Ocean Way and I'd make a crappy recording (sonically speaking).

The rest is marketing. Why some bands get big, and some don't. Promotion and marketing are vital; with very rare exception. Most engineers I've met don't really give a rat's ass about marketing themselves, they just wanna make great music. But then a mediocre engineer will come along who wants to be famousand/or rich, will market the hell out of himself, and get more gigs.

Of course, as ever, I could be wrong.

M
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Fibes

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2005, 11:15:01 am »

cgc wrote on Wed, 30 March 2005 08:56

Fibes wrote on Wed, 30 March 2005 06:48


FWIW i think some of the most artistic records being made today are under 30 grand. 10 or 12 of those a year would be fine with me...  


Thirty grand is a large sum of money for a record here (and probably anywhere not LA or NYC).  Most of the good engineers in town make about that per year and the musicians even less.  I'm not aware of any of the local labels putting that kind of money into project either (major label types like Billy Corgan notwithstanding).  A lot of the notable records from Chicago in the past 20 years have been made for less than the 'tape' budget of the average major label session.  The studios walk a fine line between just breaking even and attracting the artists they want.  I'm sure Albini can fill a few pages on this subject as he deals with this everyday.




Yeah 30 is large and i did say UNDER 30 grand. Typically the stuff over that loses the art and gains pressure from the "bottom line." I'm usually happy with records made for 6 grand if the band can "bring it." Give me 6 0r 10 of them and I'd still be happy...
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Fibes
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Radd 47

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2005, 12:34:56 pm »

This self promotion isn't confined to the music bizz, it happens everywhere. Every bad manager I have had at work has had a wife that bossed him. What a coincidence.
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Arf! Mastering

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2005, 12:40:14 pm »

I think the three deciding keys to success in the producer/engineer world are a strong musical instinct, the 'hang' factor, and a lot of luck.  Any one of these trumps engineering skill.
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zboy2854

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2005, 05:08:44 pm »

I know a producer/engineer who worked for many years under the thumb of a very successful and famous "producer".  My friend in fact came up with the lion's share of the arrangements and ideas responsible for many of the big name producer's successes, yet of course he was never given production credit or royalties, only perhaps an "additional arrangement by" credit.  Meanwhile, said big name producer was happy to take all the glory and kudos for the projects and success, which of course led to more clamoring for his "services".

Sadly, when my friend finally left this situation, Mr. big name Producer just found other uber-talented producer/engineers to pick up the slack and keep the appearances that he was still the man with all the talent.  
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Greg Dixon

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2005, 05:40:51 pm »

zboy2854 wrote on Thu, 31 March 2005 08:08

I know a producer/engineer who worked for many years under the thumb of a very successful and famous "producer".  My friend in fact came up with the lion's share of the arrangements and ideas responsible for many of the big name producer's successes, yet of course he was never given production credit or royalties, only perhaps an "additional arrangement by" credit.  Meanwhile, said big name producer was happy to take all the glory and kudos for the projects and success, which of course led to more clamoring for his "services".

Sadly, when my friend finally left this situation, Mr. big name Producer just found other uber-talented producer/engineers to pick up the slack and keep the appearances that he was still the man with all the talent.  


Well obviously, a large part of being a producer, is choosing the right people to work with and getting the best out of them. I think ideally, the above example should be fine, as the producer has the skills to 'sell' the team and the engineer, has the skills to make it all happen. It's the claiming credit for the engineers work that is the problem.
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Bill Mueller

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Re: The Emperors New Clothes?
« Reply #14 on: March 30, 2005, 06:47:46 pm »

I have stayed out of the Zoolander thread and out of this one so far, because I feel my experiences have run against the grain of the group.

So far most of these negative comments are about untalented engineer/producer types, who "hit it big" because they knew the right person or were good at self promotion, not making music. However, over the years I have heard the very same criticizems about artists themselves. "Oh that guy sucks, the only reason he made it big was because they doctored his voice in the studio". While I am sure some artists have been given undeserved exposure because they were the sister of a famous singer, my experience is that nearly everyone I have worked with who "made it big" did so because they were damn good. I include in this group some really hateful, mean spirited bastards who were perfectly willing to make my life difficult, but who were nontheless very talented at making music.

I have experienced however, so-called engineers and producers whose ego exceeded their capability. Usually, either their capability catches up with their ego's or the loose their gig.

I have always been confounded as to why being an audio engineer is cause for an inflated ego. We are all servents to our clients, trusted with assisting them with bringing THEIR vision to fruition.

I was once in a session with this guy named Barry who is one of the world's greatest songwriters, has sold millions and millions of records and can sing like an angel, one take better than the last for hours and hours, perfectly in tune. He complained bitterly about this guy named Bruce who couldn't sing well and yet the whole world seemed to love him better.

It seems that feeling has no limits.

Best Regards,

Bill
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