Friday, June 13, 2008

Food For Thought

I am starting this blog primarily as a way to pass on some hints on how to have a better recording session at our studio based on our collective experience with countless number of clients. At the same time, I would like to share our thinking on why we operate the way we do and how we think we bring value to the whole recording process. By doing so, I hope to start a dialog with clients, colleagues and people from the industry to ultimately improve what happens in recording sessions. I welcome any comments you might have. If you have any topics you would like us to cover, feel free to drop us a line at blog@avatarstudios.net. Hope to hear from you.

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QUESTION: What is the best way to handle meal breaks?
ANSWER:
I want to start with a mundane but very essential topic about food as it relates to a recording session. An old Power Station staff member used to say to a new recruit, “Never mess with people’s food.” That is because one hitch with a food order can result in an emotional ordeal that can ruin the best of moods and the most robust of sessions. This is why you want to have a food strategy.

In preparation for a recording session, you have planned out the order of tracks, worked out the instrumentation and written out the charts, hired an engineer and figured out who will make artistic and production related decisions. The last thing you want to worry about is what to have for meals and when to have them. No, you cannot plan out everything in advance, but you may find that you’ll have a better session if the eating part of it goes smoothly.

There are several reasons for this. First, it is important to maintain energy and enthusiasm throughout the session. When your blood sugar starts running low, the performance will start to suffer. You definitely want to eat before that happens. Second, if you can time the lunch breaks just right, you’ll be more efficient with your time and end up being more productive.

Our suggestion is to find out what people want for lunch / dinner before the session starts, give the order list to the receptionist or assistant and have them call in the order 30-45 minutes before when you think a meal break should be taken. If things happen as planned, the musicians will walk into the lounge with their meals waiting for them.

Catering is another painless solution. It can be an inexpensive option as long as you choose your caterer wisely. Better yet, order multiple portions of food directly from the restaurant your band likes. You might be able to get a good deal from the restaurant. They could use the business. Asking assistants at the studio for restaurant suggestions ahead of time will help you make a tastier choice.

I have seen many sessions where people waste a lot of time deciding what to order. When they do, they end up waiting anxiously for their food to show up another 30-45 minutes later. By this time, people are pretty hungry and a little grumpy.

We are certainly not the ones who came up with this idea. Many experienced producers use this strategy. The responsibility of executing this strategy usually fell on coordinators when there was such a thing. After doing a few sessions, it becomes pretty clear that employing this type of approach makes a big difference.

Going back to the blood sugar issue, it might be good to have snacks to munch on in between takes just to keep energy levels up. Organic unsalted almonds might be a good snack for this purpose. Almonds are packed with protein and are a good source of vitamin E, fiber, magnesium and antioxidants. They will help lower "bad" cholesterol levels and help reduce risk of heart disease to boot. A champion chess master by the name of Josh Waitzkin mentions in his book, The Art of Learning, that he eats five almonds every forty-five minutes during a long drawn out chess game, to stay in a steady state of alertness and maintain his energy level.

On occasion, food has been used as a carrot to coax performance out of musicians. This may not necessarily be the best of strategies. It is the quickest way to lose focus with the thought of food permeating in their heads. Depending on the degree of hunger, the drive to take the shortest path to food will take over. You won’t get too many good takes in this kind of situation. It is just human nature.

One last thing – please don’t forget to give the poor engineer / assistant engineer a brief lunch break or even a restroom break. Don’t laugh, it happens. Same thing that can be said about musicians can be said about the production staff. I understand studio time is not cheap and time is money, but they are also part of the productivity equation. They’ll thank you for it with their attentiveness and energy level, which can only help your session.

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