The Best Player… Isn’t Always The Right Player

Kenny’s Tip of the Day - The Best Player… Isn’t Always The Right Player

I’m going to start this off with a story. Many many many years ago, I was producing a band name Marcy Playground. You may have heard of them as they were known for their hit single “Sex and Candy”.

When I (and my partner) were working with them, we struggled to get the drum parts. Their drummer was a very talented kid but he was not a great “studio” drummer. His tempo was very inconsistent, his dynamics were very inconsistent and his overall performances lacked the confidence we were going for. At least what we thought we should be going for. You have to remember that this record was recorded to tape. We didn’t have computers for recording back then. So what he played was what we got. No samples and no quantization.

Anyway, at the tail end of the making of that record, the band got rid of that drummer and came back to the studio with the plan of re-recording some of the songs on the album. I believe “Sex and Candy” was one of those songs.

They brought their new drummer in who was already a very accomplished “studio” drummer. This guy was great. But when we started to re-record these songs, we noticed something. It all felt wrong. This guy was an amazing drummer but he wasn’t the “right” drummer for this record. At least for many of the songs on this record. This was a very interesting and eye opening moment for me. The “better” drummer was the “wrong” drummer for this band and this record.

We all noticed this pretty quickly and only re-recorded one or two songs on that album as the others felt better with the original drummer.

If you want to hear an example. This is the original drummer on “Sex and Candy”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KT-r2vHeMM

And this was the new drummer on one of the re-done songs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPWZZ4QaSQ0

Can you hear the difference? Can you hear how the quirkiness on “Sex and Candy” really made sense for that song? And how the “better” drummer would have lost that for this song?

I’ll give you another great example. I was producing a record for a young aspiring male artist on RCA years later and the singer decided he didn’t want to sing harmonies on the record. So we brought in a “professional”.

The guy was great. Super talented. But he put his “character” all over the vocal harmonies. It sounded like a duet. Like two completely different people singing. And it was. But that wasn’t the desired sound. It sounded ridiculous.

So we brought in two other great singers to sing harmony. They both had the exact same problem. Too much interesting “character” in their voice. It wasn’t working.

So I sent everyone home to work on something else and then I tried something myself. I sang the harmonies. Yes. Me. A terrible singer sang the harmonies on this record. And it sounded perfect. Why? Because I have no “character” to my voice. My partner once said that I sing like a trumpet. I barely pronounce the words. I just hit all the notes consistently (thanks Antares) and stay in time with the lead vocal. But I never try to be heard. I was just adding harmonic content to the lead vocal.

What this does is actually quite interesting and also very eye opening for me. When my voice had no “character” to it, the listener actually assigns the character of the lead vocalist to it. So it winds up sounding exactly like the lead singer sang the harmonies. I know. It’s weird. But it works. I’ve done this with many female vocalists as well and you would never be able to tell it was me and not the lead singer.

My point is that in this case and with the drummer I mentioned earlier, the more “talented” or more “experienced” performer was actually the wrong way to go. What’s best isn’t always what’s “right”. Especially in the context of the track you’re working on.

Try to apply this to your productions. Does this track need to sound “professional” or “expensive” or are you going for a more loose or less seasoned sound? Sometimes the best players are not the right ones.

I hope this message finds you well. Kenny Gioia