Chaos in the Control Room: Dealing with Conflict in the Studio
Conflict is one of the cornerstones of the creative act, so much so that its vernacular has made its way into the songwriting world: we’re told that a great tune is created from balancing tension and release, great composers tread a delicate line between evocative movements of dissonance and resolution. Good songwriters know that there’s gold to be found in risk and danger, from stepping outside of the clinical comfort zone. M. Scott Peck calls conflict the “cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure”
The self-contained tension of a song might make it moving, but that conflict can often spill out into the lives of the people making that song – and that’s a whole other problem.
A songwriter puts their heart on their sleeve when they write a song. They then have to put that song in front of fellow bandmates, producers, and label folk to be dissected, dismissed, or added to. When it’s recorded, the song is thrown into a boiler-room of different opinions, egos, and agendas. It’s no wonder that the studio can often contain more conflict than the United Nations lunchroom.
Legendary producer Quincy Jones realised this dynamic early on in his career and began referring to the recording studio as a place where psychology is as important as musical proficiency. It’s a setting full of fiercely invested artists, each with differing opinions over creative direction, drum sounds, lyrical choices, mixing notes. While this conflict in the right doses can ultimately lead to a better product, it also needs to be carefully managed to avoid it becoming counterproductive to the creative act. Peck is right when he says that greatness is found in our ability to work through creative problems, but there’s a balance between healthy disagreements and band-ending biffo.
Here’s a round-up of really helpful reading on how to manage creative conflict in the studio:
Ganesh Singaram from Blue Box Studios gives some great practical tips on how to create a harmonious recording environment. Everything from mood lighting, to a great headphone mix, to knowing when to give your singer a break.
A must-read. Guy Morrow, the former manager of Boy & Bear takes you inside the recording process of their 2011 album ‘Moonfire’. It’s a great fly-on-the-wall look at the realities of in-studio conflict. Morrow paints a picture of a band caught in a myriad of stresses, from differing bandmate opinions to pressures from their label. He also really nails the use of a producer as a helpful objective influence in the studio, concluding that “if the band and producer don’t hate each other by the end of the session then the producer is not doing their job”
Ian Ritchie, Director of the City of London Festival gives a great keynote on the relationship between music and conflict.
A great, brief primer from bandzoogle on learning to pick your battles, getting space, and being comfortable with being wrong.
Chris Robley nails the awkward back-and-forth of in-studio band stalemates and offers some practical techniques.