Friday, 3 May 2013

Monarch to the Kingdom of the Dead

I’ll never forget the day I first heard Reign in Blood. I don’t think my neighbours will either. I was the only metal kid in my street and I’d just discovered the ability to wind people up by playing metal obnoxiously loud. I was only young, so don’t hate me too much.

Neckbrace covering "Angel of Death". (C) Scott Morgan 2013

I couldn’t believe the ferocity and the intensity of RIB. I’d never heard anything quite like it. If you’ll forgive a clumsy mixed metaphor, it was like I jumped from a Madras to a Phall. That first riff in Jeff Hanneman’s Angel of Death, the stabs, Tom’s scream…Or there’s the version on Decade of Aggression when out of the feedback from Mandatory Suicide, Tom introduces the song, and the crowd screams its approval…  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard or played the song, but when I hear the original it pushes my pulse way up.

On the other hand, my mum was horrified, she thought it was just noise, the worst noise I’d subjected her to. My dad quite liked it, in fact it was the start of a long period of me not being album to find albums as my dad had “borrowed” them. But anyway, I instantly loved the effect that the music had on me, and on other people.

I’d always loved watching Slayer videos, and my favourite memory was seeing them live at Donington in 1992. It was very odd seeing Slayer in the early afternoon whilst standing in a puddle, but the boys were awesome. Jeff  in his LA Kings shirt, Kerry actually having hair and Tom being amused at the “you fat bastard” chants, in the middle of a wet and windy field in Leicestershire. That was the first of many trips around the country to see Slayer. I think they’re the band I’ve seen the most and I saw them in small venues as well as at the large festivals.
I always felt Jeff was an underrated guitarist – I think his guitar was always quieter than Kerry’s and it’s a shame. My favourite solo of his was in Seasons in the Abyss, and I’m pretty sure that is the first solo I ever truly learnt. He wrote some of my favourite songs – War Ensemble, Seasons in the Abyss, Raining Blood and of course, Angel of Death. Hardly original I know, but we used to end the Parricide set with Raining Blood, and in my Neckbrace days, Angel of Death was one of our two covers (the other was Gung Ho).  So as a band, Slayer were a major part of my life growing up and of course they were the impossibly high benchmark against which we set ourselves in bands.

You see people on Twitter and Facebook moaning when people RIP celebrities, and of course one person’s hero is another’s zero. Yes, tens / hundreds of thousands of people die every day and for the individual’s family each death is tragic.  But when band members die, you have to remember that they had an integral part in their fans’ lives. Clearly Jeff wasn’t a superstar, but I never saw him as a celeb. For a good part of my life I felt that he and the rest of the band were just distant friends. And to die in such a bizarre way is horrendous for anyone.

A truly awful last few months of life followed what for us in the UK is the strangest thing, a spider bite. He was in a medically induced coma for a while, and originally there were concerns he’d have to have his arm amputated. The band thought he was on the way back to recovery but he fell ill again and died of liver failure on Thursday at the ridiculous age of 49.

Sleep well Jeff, and thanks for the inspiration. Monarch to the Kingdom of the Dead.

How not to get work experience in a recording studio

Me: Good morning Space Studios
Voice: (nice, pleasant) Oh Good morning, I’m sorry to bother you but I’m phoning to see if you have any work experience for my son…

Angry Engineer
I'd just hit record when the phone rang...

Yep, another frequent phone call for us. I find this one a bit more annoying than I probably should. It’s even worse when it’s a grandmother phoning. (It’s always a mother or grandmother incidentally). I could understand it if a school made an approach to us for work experience on behalf of the students – in fact I would feel much more comfortable with this. But no, it’s always a very nice, harassed sounding mum or nan, and never, ever the would be candidate.

It’s all a horrible joke though isn’t it, work experience? I remember when I was an apprentice mechanic, the only thing lower than me was the poor kid on work experience. Because of the insurance and H&S issues, said poor kid was only allowed to push a broom, and even then only in certain areas. All day, leaning on a broom. Some would say of course that that is perfect preparation for work, being bored and not allowed to do what you want, but really it is nonsense. And what do the kids themselves expect? When they come to us, do they expect to suddenly be working with a client, making mix decisions?

As it happens, yes, they do.

We have had several kids of different ages (from year 10 to second year degree students) come through on work experience, and on the whole, I’d employ three of them again - rather tellingly, one of them was a film student, the other two were marketing (and only did marketing in the studio).
Some of the engineering kids were ok, but if I ever gave them any real work to do, basically I’d have to redo it afterwards – and hell, that’s fine, I didn’t expect them to be able to do the job completely and they have to learn at some point don't they?

Actually one kid managed to debreath a whole bunch of voice recordings for me, which was pretty cool and saved me a bit of time.

But in the majority I remember sullen faces, or faces looking at me in wonder when I suggest they clean some mugs away, or tidy some leads up. One kid, a physics student actually suggested that as a physics student, tidying cables was below him. He then complained after half an hour of tidying (badly, I should add) that he was bored. Welcome to work!

Studio leads
The bane of every recording studio intern

Then there was the funniest thing I have ever seen with work experience. I told one lad that he could sit in on a foley session. I explained the process of recording these naturally occurring sound effects what they were and why we were recording them. He came in after we had recorded the footsteps, so we had moved onto spot effects. So, to set the scene, we were recording the layers of sound effects for an explosion, which was in a cartoon. This lad was sat watching me, intently watching a screen with a kids cartoon on, whilst in the foley stage another bloke made explosion noises with his mouth,  through a plastic bag wrapped around a mic. I think he thought we were trying to wind him up into not wanting to get into the recording industry. Or he was wondering whether he’d come to the right place. Or maybe he just thought we should have been committed. Poor fella, he really didn’t know where to look or what to say.

And what of unpaid interns. Or slave labour as other people might call it. Unpaid internships happen in several wildly different industries, and it’s kind of seen as you serving your apprenticeship with the company. Or slave labour as other people might call it. But some companies use internships to really help these kids grow into the role, and start them off on the very lowest rung, but with the prospect for the intern to move up that ladder. It’s very difficult for both the company and the intern – it can be and often is very dull for the intern, and it can be so frustrating for the company, because they do want you to make some kind of positive impact. I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of the legality of internships in the UK, that’s for anybody else to discuss. The fact is that they do exist here, they are probably unfair, but figures state that anything from 60% and upwards of people who do an internship get a full time job afterwards. Just because something has happened frequently before doesn’t necessarily make it right – however, the concept of doing unpaid work in creative industries such as recording or the media was something of a rite of passage. And let’s face it, there have always been more potential employees than positions in these industries, and they are highly desirable jobs, so you can understand why the employers might want to “try before they buy”.

I know of some employers, especially in our field, who see the internship as a way of making the knowledge the interns have learnt on their courses actually practical and useful before they employ them. I also know of interns who have bemoaned going back to Uni because what they have learned on the job has shown their course to be nonsense at best. I’ve mentioned some of this before.

But back to my original point. I can relate to all of this, because  I was exactly the same, I always wanted to get into recording when I was a kid and I had no help from my school or careers people. But did I get off my jacksie and actually phone anyone? Don’t be silly mum, Grandstand’s on in a minute.

We’re hoping that we can work with some kind of paid internship programme in the future, and if we do, we will probably go through work placement bodies. We’ll also make details available on our website and through social media. My suggestion to anyone looking for internship / work experience in the UK would be to go through such bodies, because they make contact with studios / related industries and they ensure that there is some kind of scheme in place to make sure you actually get to do something related to what you want to do.  But you are going to have sweep floors, or make coffee or tidy cables. You probably won’t get to see daft men making vocal explosion noises to cartoons though.

Christian Thomas is Production Director at Space Studios. He’s been an apprentice and he’s done internships. He’s also been the mad man making explosion noises through a carrier bag.