Record Producers Guide To Saving 306 Lives

This is a guide to being respected, feeling valued, and creating personal brand ambassadors. In PART ONE, we went over how to identify the problem clients. In PART TWO, we discussed how to hack the primal brain using dogs, Ben Franklin, and elevators. In PART THREE we focused on diffusing initial tension with an honest and forthright introduction. I promised to start giving you the silver bullets for the record ruining monsters that you see in the studio. The first monster we will deal with is reactive thinking.

Reactive thinking is a skill taught to athletes, pilots, and marines. It’s the reason they can make split second decisions when they encounter a change. It’s how professional baseball players decide what pitch is being thrown, if it’s a ball or strike, and how to best hit the pitch in less than 4 tenths of a second! Reactive thinking has also caused airplanes crashes, surgeries deaths, and your recording sessions to fall apart.

First, here’s how to train your brain to make reactive decisions:

1. Make a mental picture of how things should be. Consider the baseball player. He would picture the perfect release of a fastball that crosses perfectly in the center of the strike zone.
2. Consider the alternatives. The baseball player may picture a poor release that will guarantee a ball. He may also consider a release that causes spin on the ball. Go through every alternative to the perfect mental picture that you originally had in your head, and tell your brain what you should do in each situation.
3. Run the situation in real life as much as possible. Your brain will now process new alternatives to the perfect mental picture and attempt to come up with the proper reaction to it.

This is a skill that can make you incredibly valuable in high-pressure situations that need split second analysis. It can also cause catastrophic failures.

Air Transair Flight 236 was in danger of crashing due to reactive thinking. This airplane, carrying 306 people, had a fuel leak in the line leading to the right engine. The fuel there was leaking at a rate of a gallon per second. The onboard computer alerted the pilot that there was a fuel imbalance. This was not a part of the perfect mental picture he had in his head. Reactive thinking told him to correct it the way he had so many times before. He diverted fuel from his working engine, into the leaking engine. This caused both engines to flame out due to fuel starvation.

This seems like an illogical decision to make. But, reactive thinking isn’t based on logic. It’s more akin to muscle memory. And, if you’re wondering, the pilot recovered from this and was able to make an emergency landing by gliding his massive plane to the closest runway and doing what’s called a “dead-stick” landing. He was a very skilled, experienced, and smart pilot.

What does this have to do with your recording session? Everything! This type of thinking doesn’t just happen when you need to make split second decisions. An artist almost always has a mental picture of how their song should sound. Sometimes they have a mental picture of how the session should go, and how you should do your job. If something does not fit into the perfect picture the artist has in his head, he will attempt to remedy that.

Before I explain how to break this cycle of reactive thinking, you’ll need to understand something very important. It will not work if you’re trying to manipulate the situation in your favor. I have used this method before and it works extremely well. But, only in situations where it is in the artists best interest. I once had a band in for a preproduction session that hit a wall. I pointed out a transition that was destroying the lift of their chorus. The drummer was starting the chorus on a downbeat while the rest of the band and the vocal came in on the previous upbeat. They were literally starting to play the part at different times! After pointing it out to the drummer he told me that was how it’s supposed to go. Of course, he was referring to the mental picture in his head rather than the actual song. He was sure he was right, and would not even attempt to play it properly. Here’s what I did.

How To Break Someone Out Of A Reactive Thinking Cycle:

1. Ask for a temporary change for experimentation. Instead of saying “You’re absolutely wrong!” (Even if the person is.) Ask the person to consider it a different way.
2. Ask why he can’t try it differently. If you still get pushback ask the person why he won’t attempt it a different way. Remember that his brain is holding him hostage, and he won’t have a logical answer.
3. Show your human side. If you’re still met with a storm of no! Make a grandiose statement to diffuse the tension he’s feeling like “I’ve been known to be stuck in my ways from time to time. Truth be told, I’ve been in this situation before. It feels like some imaginary person is holding a gun to your head and telling you any change is wrong. So, you don’t try any of it. When I get that person in my head, I try to remember I’m in control. Then, I dress the imaginary person up like Wilma Flintstone and imagine that Stone Age cutie cheering me on.”
4. Explain the psychology behind his feelings. This is a last resort. People generally don’t like being told how their own brain works. Soften the blow by telling the airplane story. Don’t forget to explain how talented and smart the pilot was when he stopped thinking reactively and assessed the situation properly. If this doesn’t work on the person thinking reactively, it has a good chance of convincing his band mates to continue the conversation for you.

Now that you know how reactive thinking works, consider if you may think reactively as a creative professional. Do you cringe when you so the cheap guitar the artist brought in for the recording? Do you hear it out on the setup that he apparently thinks sounds great before starting to defend the affront to your perfect mental picture?

Ready for the next monster?


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