On Ego in the Studio
*(IM)MATURE CONTENT WARNING* This particular topic is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, so I’ll do my best to limit my profanity-laced tirade to a minimum.
But holy shit, you guys.
There is almost nothing that can slow, derail, poison, or obliterate a productive session more than an out-of-check ego. I’m not even talking about the booze-soaked narcissism of “artists” like Robin Thicke or the straight-up unhinged lunacy of a Phil Spector. It doesn’t have to come close to that, and it can still bring an otherwise fruitful, creative moment crashing to the ground. To be fair, we’ve all been one of these guys or gals at some point in our lives, so let’s make a little fun of ourselves and list just a few of the many varieties of egomaniacs commonly found in the music industry!
- The DIVA: The Diva is special. No, like you don’t even KNOW. They got the lead in the school musical as a freshman, have nearly 1000 Instagram followers and have been making music since they were, like, 5 years old. There is nothing more to be learned, as their talent glands and brain pans are so packed with worldly knowledge (they get called “old souls” a lot for being mature beyond their years) that there is literally nothing that you can say that they didn’t already know.
- The Name Dropper: “Dude, you know how I can prove that I’m legit? One time I was back stage at a Yo La Tengo concert and Ben Gibbard walked by and told me he liked my Sunny Day Real Estate t-shirt. We go totally hammered and jammed and he really dug my music. And now we talk on the phone all the time. Also, one time I opened for Third Eye Blind before they got big and they totally sucked. We were way better than them.”
- The Banana: Nothing bruises quite so easily as a banana. Tell a vocalist they were a tad sharp or flat in a section? “I don’t feel like singing anymore.” Drummer rushing through his fills? “If you’re so good, why don’t YOU do it?” Guitarist out of tune? “That’s not what my tuner says, producer man. Check your ears.” Bassist can’t stay in the groove? “Screw it, I’ll just do my part when everyone else is done.”
- The Gear Snob: There are only three categories of acceptable gear for this fellow. Really old, really new, or really expensive. Lines I’ve actually heard… “That other studio had me sing on a $20,000 mic that was once owned by Frank Sinatra Jr.” “Um, you’re not going to need to put a microphone on this, Mr. Engineer. This is an $80,000 viola.” “The only plug-ins I’ll use are 64 bit. The rest sound totally digital to me.”
- Add Your Own: In the comments below, add your own categories! Try to be nice if you can… but definitely have fun with it!
Now, in an attempt to head off the hate mail, let me point out that I have had VERY few clients like any of these… so let’s be CLEAR:
(On Divas) Most of the people I’ve worked with who had early success are also blessed with a kind nature, a genuine sense of humility, and almost always, the brand of talent and work ethic that could back up any appearance of overconfidence.
(On Name Droppers) Sometimes in this industry you have to do it. There have been times when I was literally FORCED to share names of people I’ve worked with in order for them to judge whether I was worth talking to or working with. It really sucked.
(On Bananas) Artists are a sensitive group by nature. We open ourselves emotionally and are therefore more sensitive to criticism than most, which is why we sometimes overreact, even to constructive criticism. So if this sort of thing happens, it’s usually because the producer has shitty communication skills.
(On Gear Snobs) I have (many times) been wowed by “hot new” or “sweet vintage” gear. But I’ve also heard great recordings done on crappy gear and crappy recordings done with great gear. A very wise friend once gave me a very public shaming on my own gear snobbery (I can’t thank him enough), which concluded with the simple and cutting statement, “never blame your tools.”
The point of all of this is to say that the best place for ego in the studio is a the DOOR. Once you’ve committed to recording a song and putting it on display to the world, it’s no longer about YOU. That goes for producers, engineers, studio musicians and anyone else who has committed to putting their self-interest aside, and doing their best to serve both the artist and the song.
Thanks for reading, and as always, thank you for your friendship, your interest, and your art.
Owen Sartori is a 35-year veteran in the music industry as a musician, songwriter, and producer. Currently, he is a co-owner of F5 SoundHouse in Minneapolis, MN and helps mentor, produce and write with/for artists wherever he is needed.
For more, visit f5soundhouse.com.