Billy Ward’s Four Tips For Studio Preparation

It’s About Experience

“And that means taking that Greek-wedding-band gig just so that you’ve done that, and it’s in your musical suitcase. I think you have to show up and be totally overqualified stylistically — to be able to play all styles and to have had playing experiences with lots of different types of musicians and lots of different types of music. As far as you walking into the studio, that’s what you bring. I bring my wardrobe of past experiences, and I draw from that. We all draw from that when we perform. Those are the filters through which the music goes.”

Listen Up

“Your ears are your toolbox. There’s been a great change in the last ten or fifteen years, where recording equipment is now affordable to people. People should record themselves. They should become engineers. They should learn how to record drums. It’s a worthy investment at least to have a tape recorder, even if it’s from RadioShack, and just to put yourself, two days after the gig, what you put your band through — listen to it. It’s sometimes pretty stunning to learn the grid of a good performance — because there will be a gig that went really well, and you listen to the tape and it turned out you were maybe overplaying and rushing. And then there could be another tape that you listen to where your drum pedal broke all night, and it was a horrible gig. In fact, maybe you even turned the tape recorder off at some point in your frustration, but in listening to the part that you recorded, maybe that pedal actually distracted you enough to play music.”

Getting Gigs

“There’s no secret handshake. There’s no secret black book that you can pay money for to get phone numbers. I’ve never heard of anybody sending demos and getting work from that. It’s all word of mouth. So maybe the keyboard player in that Greek wedding band is in seven years going to be producing something, and he calls you for it because you were so competent and because you’ve remained in touch. Whoever it is you’re working with today — whether it’s unpaid work or it’s just in your basement or garage — these are people that you may be making really great music with down the road. You never know.”

In The Studio

“It’s important to understand when they [engineers] say, ’What do you want in your headphones?’ then to ask for the right things so that you’re not handicapping yourself. You might not want to say, ’Everything.’ You want the good musicians in your headphones. The guys who will help you perform a great drum track are the guys you want in your headphones. So sometimes, you have to maybe walk into the control room and say, ’I don’t want any of this person’ and keep it quiet, or just say, ’I need a lot of this and not a lot of that.’

There’s an extension off of that, which is as a drummer our headphone mix is not their concern. Their concern is the headphone mix of the star. And I’m not as a professional going to interrupt the flow of the session to say, ’Gee, I can’t hear this other guitarist right now,’ unless I really, simply can’t do my job. Part of the reason I think people hire the sort of A-team guys is because there will be a lot less hassle. They won’t ask for anything: They’ll just do the damn job.”