Where to find more info on writing music in the studio.
October 31, 2006 10:22 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find more information about bands and the writing of albums in the studio.

While randomly linking across the internet I found and article on the album "Euthanasia" by Megadeth and how they made a film about the album which was the first "studio written" album. I have introduced a similar concept to my band for our current endeavor which will be our second album. Our first album was written and then taken to the studio. Now we have the equipment available to us that we can essentially have unlimited studio time and would like to use the studio as part of the writing process. I have read about the production of Radiohead's "OK Computer" being a studio endeavor in addition to a number of other great albums. My question is related to locating more items like the making of "Euthanasia" film. I would like to find more resources about bands using the studio which focus on the process more than the band. So rather than being like "LOOK! at Radiohead do a brilliant album" it would be along the lines of "let's examine the process of Radiohead creating a brilliant album." The focus here would be on methodology and the ideas that formed the process without delving into the shallow (mtv-esque) or the overly technical (some production how-to video) but a balance between the forces in the creation of the album. Also any input on why you think this is a good/bad idea is more than welcome.
posted by occidental to Media & Arts (15 answers total)
Where to begin? Well, the first thought that came to mind is The Beatles' "Let It Be" movie - which is a film of them making an album in the studio. It's incredibly depressing - they didn't really like each other so much anymore at this point, it would appear. McCartney comes across as a control-freak, Lennon as generally absent and high. But you do get to see them working out different arrangements of songs. It's not the most studio-oriented recording in the world, although if you compare what you hear in the movie with the Phil Spector produced version and the more recently released "Let It Be... Naked", you'll get a sense of how those guys used the studio. (Here's a link to a box set that includes the movie and both versions of the album. I think the movie has NOT been officially released on DVD - I bet 'cuz Sir Paul vetoed it - so I can't attest to the quality of this.)

I'm also reminded of Geoff Emerick's recent book, Here, There, and Everywhere. It's an excellent read - a nice combination of gossip (maybe a bit off-topic for you) and substance - he was, after all, engineer for most of the Beatles' career. He quite literally invented many of their sounds.

The introduction to that book is written by Elvis Costello, whose album "Imperial Bedroom" was engineered by Emerick. Elvis makes the point that a good engineer will be a bit of a taskmaster and keep the band from getting bogged down in "geniusville". In other words, with all the time, resources, and equipment at your disposal, you need to avoid the trap of following every single idea without judging its value. Some ideas are fits of inspired genius, others are distractions. It is incredibly easy to mistake the latter for the former. A good engineer (or really, any set of objective ears) will help immeasurably. I read this while in the middle of my THREE YEAR album-making process, and it seemed very fitting indeed.

I'd also suggest the "Classic Albums" series - I have the "Dark Side of the Moon" episode, and while it has its share of "Behind the music" moments, one still comes away with a good sense of the clarity of thought that all members of the band posessed while making that album. This applies both to their songwriting and their use of the technology at hand. I'm told other episodes are very good, too.

Back to the Beatles, their sessions have been documented exhaustively - fittingly so, since they basically invented the whole endeavor. Check out Mark Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, The Beatles Anthology, and, most recently, this fantastically obsessive volume Recording The Beatles.

Finally (for now, until I think of more), the lesson I drew from asking similar questions: the studio is indeed a great tool, but like all tools it needs to be used responsibly, in the service of great songwriting. "OK Computer" is a brilliant album (one of my all-time faves!), but I have heard acoustic versions of all of those songs, and they all stand up perfectly fine without all the production. My acid test: if you can't play it on acoustic guitar and sing it to your family at Thanksgiving dinner and have it be an enjoyable piece of music, then anything you do to it in the studio will sound like whitewash.

Best of luck.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:56 PM on October 31, 2006

(sorry for being so Beatle-centric - I'm a fanatic, I confess, but I do sincerely believe that the answers to your questions lie in those resources. They really are the source for SO much of this...)
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:57 PM on October 31, 2006

Wikipedia articles often offer tidbits on how records were made and songs were written.

One of the best ways to find out about how records were made is to read interviews with the bands who made them. For example, this Kathleen Hanna interview.

[Side note: fingers_of_fire - production cannot be used to polish a rubbish song into a good one, but it's silly to say that the hallmark of a good song is for it to be enjoyable when played on an acoustic guitar. Some songs totally require "studio" effects - loudness, artificial noises and so forth - and just wouldn't work without them. Xiu Xiu is the perfect example.]
posted by pollystark at 5:17 AM on November 1, 2006

pollystark - you say potato, I say potato. I like Boards of Canada, a perfect example of good music that can't be experienced without the production. But when it comes to the kind of songwriting that I think occidental is talking about, I think that all too often people get seduced by the studio without spending enough time on getting the material in order. Your standards are different than mine - but please don't tell me that my standards are "silly".
posted by fingers_of_fire at 5:56 AM on November 1, 2006

Does the Metallica movie "Some Kind of Monster" fit what you are looking for?
posted by Brando_T. at 6:40 AM on November 1, 2006

Tape Op has good interviews with bands that are very process-oriented. It's also full of interviews with producers and engineers that often mention working with bands writing in the studio. I can't really think of any interviews in particular right now, but if you're really interested they have free subscriptions. The topic seems to be mentioned a lot. The Deerhoof interview in the current issue is pretty interesting, as they talk about recording things at home and how their recording and mixing techniques affect their songs.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 8:36 AM on November 1, 2006

It's a little more overblown than the kind of film that you're talking about (as it takes a song and looks at the much broader political context) but there are plenty of shots of the recording session and it's a real classic in the genre so you should check out Jean-Luc Goddard's Sympathy for the Devil (it's called One Plus One in Europe).
posted by ob at 9:06 AM on November 1, 2006

Actually it's way more overblown than the kind of technical documentary that you're thinking of, but it's still really worth watching...
posted by ob at 9:08 AM on November 1, 2006

No links to other bands this time, sorry, but regarding your request for input:

Your band is like no other band. Go into your garage or basement or wherever the stuff is and start doing the things you guys (or girls) do. Record it. Listen back, talk about it, do more stuff, repeat.

Hold off on the drink/drugs/etc during this process - you need to be sharp and able to make critical decisions at the same time you're remaining open and creative to what's happening.

Making music in the studio (as opposed to recording material already written) is about as organic and non-linear as it gets. Any process that works for you will be, by definition, one you came up with yourself. I can guarantee from bitter experience that copying someone else's process may yield a result, but it won't really be yours.
posted by Aquaman at 9:35 AM on November 1, 2006

Also, get a free subscription to Tape Op. Every single band interview is illustrative of my point, to wit: every group does it differently.
posted by Aquaman at 9:37 AM on November 1, 2006

It's Youthanasia, not Euthanasia. Now you're on Dave Mustaine's shitlist.

And the DVD that comes with Lamb of God's new album 'Sacrament' has some interesting, if nonlinear and unthorough, studio footage.
posted by Darth Fedor at 10:26 AM on November 1, 2006

I remember reading years ago that the Allman Bros. worked in this way. Their writing happened in the studio, for the most part.
posted by wsg at 10:48 AM on November 1, 2006

Darth, you are correct! Thats what I get for blind copy/pasting off wikipedia. Dave will probably be by to punch me in the face.

Thanks for the comments so far, they have been helpful hopefully they will keep coming in.

Aquaman, thank you for your input, I definitely agree and I should clarify that I do not plan on following a bands process but I do like to see what other people do and how there process works. Its nice to snippet ideas here and there!
posted by occidental at 10:53 AM on November 1, 2006

I like the articles and interviews at Sound On Sound a lot -- anything more than 6 months old is free online -- they have tons of reading about production techniques and the process of writing an album in the studio, about a wide range of artists & engineers. Was just reading the one (Feb 06) on the Darkness, for a fun example of some mad studio excess (e.g. 160 guitar parts in a song), hehe.
posted by Xelf at 10:57 AM on November 1, 2006

Another account of studio sessions, though there isn't much writing going on: The diaries of a guy who calls himself "Mixerman". Not sure if it will help you, but it's a great read.
posted by Clay201 at 3:24 PM on November 1, 2006

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