Arlen Roth’s Recording Studio Tips
Many musicians, myself included, have experienced a kind of extra-added “pressure” when dealing with the act of recording. I grew up in the studios of New York City, where there was always a kind of “time’s money, money’s time” attitude, and with their need to bang out tons of jingles and other kinds of tracks in haste, rarely even left room for mistakes! In most of these situations, one can rarely even do more than one take, and the pressure can be enormous.
There’s also very little sympathy or leeway when it comes to these sessions and you being a newcomer. You’re either in or you’re out. Sure, there were many times when I was touted as the new hot kid, or received certain accolades just because I was so young and accomplishing so much, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty and “crunch time” the session has to be done, and the takes have to be good!
I suppose some of this has changed with just how much more fixable things are with the advent of digital recording and programs such as Pro Tools and Performer, but it’s the attitudetowards you as a recording musician that really will determine if you continue to get more work or not. I know that in my early days the recording pressure I was feeling was because I was a raw musician whose best work was always live in front of audiences, where I had a chance to be completely spontaneous and free. Well then folks would hear me, be blown away, and then say, “Please come in the studio and record for me,” and my excitement would soon turn to tension… why? Because they didn’t want me to sound like I did up there on that stage… it all became about layering tracks, playing simple backbeat on the guitar, and doing what often seemed like an endless amount of takes until they had nit-picked it all to death!
This can all be rather demoralizing, as it can take the soul and freedom out of your playing rather quickly, as you’re concentrating more on just getting it right as opposed to really being the player and creative soul you are! It even affected me when I had started my own albums, but over the years, and especially now, I simply relish and look forward to the session for my music, and see it as having to please no one but myself. Working with a great and all-star type of band certainly helps too, as the feedback I get from my players means the world to me, and it takes a lot of the pressure off, as I can defer to others and bounce certain ideas off of them. Best case scenario for me is “no charts, no set arrangement, no rehearsals… just go for it!” When I was doing a lot of recording with Paul Simon it was refreshing to see that that was just how he worked. We would keep running down the tunes, experimenting with different parts, and when it just “felt” right, we would cut it. That’s the best way to handle pressure in the studio… play and create right through it!
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician – and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all – Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.