Pro Audio Review

Editor's View: Note to Self

by Stephen Murphy

When you have engineered several thousand recording sessions - a couple of sessions a day for more than 10 years - you start to notice some things. If you don't, you are most likely dead - probably a good time to get out of the business.

After engineering so many sessions, the technical side of recording fades into the background and becomes second nature - like riding a bicycle or shifting a manual-transmission car (assuming you don't usually drive an automatic). You become free to concentrate on another part of engineering - encouraging good performances.

One way to do this is to use past recording experiences to improve the present. For instance, take note of different performer's working styles. Despite the sheer number and diversity of performers with whom an engineer works, general similarities will emerge.

After a while, you can identify several general performance profiles (e.g. singers who are consistently sharp, people who like lots of verbal feedback, players who always push the beat when overdubbing, whatever).

Next, you start to develop tools or tricks that work with different performance profiles. Some of the tools are simple, while others require a high degree of creativity and finesse.

Learn to recognize when a certain technique that helped one performer get a good take will also work with another one. It is a subtle yet effective way to be better at your job - clients notice this and you become more valuable to them.

In an upcoming column, I'll share some performance profiles - and corresponding tools - that I have noted.

On a related note...

A motivational speaker was in the studio recording a book-on-tape for a major publishing house. The target audience was professional salespeople, and the title was something like Close More Sales Through Dynamic Interpersonal Adjustment.

The script covered the usual tips like, "Notice the pictures on your prospective client's desk. Enthusiastically express interest in the same subject."

The next section recommended mimicking the prospective client's actions, like crossing your legs shortly after he crosses his.

Another tip says to formulate your follow-up question while the other person is answering your first one. If this requires not listening to the entire first answer, fine. Rapid-fire questions make you appear self-assured and in command.

To me, someone practicing the above recommendations would seem, at best, insincere and aloof. At worst, they would be down right annoying.

The motivational speaker did, however, mention one thing that piqued my curiosity. He said each person has a prevailing sense (as in the five senses: see, hear, smell, touch, taste). He strongly encouraged identifying the prospective client's prevailing sense as early as possible. Then adopt the same sense for the duration of the sales pitch.

To do this, listen for telltale buzzwords in the conversation. For example, a "touch" person will use phrases like "How does this grab you?" or "I feel that ·." A "see" person will say, "How does this look to you?" or "Picture this ·"

I must admit this fascinated me. The rest of the tape's suggestions were questionable, but this one seemed to have some merit.

I immediately recognized one of my recording clients as a "hear" person. Every time he called on the phone, his first words to me were "Steve, listen…" Sometimes he would throw me a curve ball and say, "Listen, Steve…," but he never failed to open with some combination of "Steve" and "listen."

It used to bother me that he would say "listen" all the time, as if he had to remind me to do so. But thanks to the motivational speaker, I had a newfound understanding of where my client was coming from. What a breakthrough!

I could not wait until my client called again so I could put into practice what I had just learned. I prepared phrases like "Sounds good to me," "Hear me out" and "That has a nice ring to it."

The next time he called, the people in the studio were stunned as I dropped the phone and fell out of my chair, laughing so hard that tears came to my eyes. The client, for the first time ever, had started the call by saying, "Steve, look..."

So much for Dynamic Interpersonal Adjustments. The moral: don't believe everything you record.

So when you get a salesperson in your office who a) enthusiastically expresses interest in your spouse, b) mirrors your actions like a kindergartner, c) asks you questions but doesn't listen to your answers, and d) asks, "How does this deal smell to you?" don't blame me, I only recorded the damn thing.