This Afternoon at NX35: In His Keynote Talk, Steve Albini Urges Bands To Be More Cutthroat--And Never To Sign Anything
Venue: Hailey's Club
Time: 1 p.m.
Musical and recording expertise aside, Steve Albini thinks he might have a knack for instilling guidelines for effective business meetings: "Just tell the motherfucker you're going to cut his throat if he charges you anymore."
It has been Albini's experience that this kind of approach usually works.
Day Two of the NX35 Conferette began with an afternoon discussion with Steve Albini at Hailey's Club in Denton.
For those of you that don't know: This guy is kind of a big deal. Not just because of prolific skills as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, but more for his musical production prowess. Not one to appreciate "record producer" as a professional title, Albini has engineered musical recordings for hundreds of artists over the past 20 years. Most notable among them? The Jesus Lizard, The Pixies, Robert Plant, and Nirvana (for its final album as a band, In Untero) just to name a few.
What has set Albini apart over the years from every other record producing stooge in the business is not his massive, self-designed recording studio, Electrical Audio, or even his impressively affordable studio rates (a flat $700 fee for Albini for the day). Rather, Albini is the guy who is willing to let a band make the record they want to make--without the self-indulged opinion of a mega-producer.
"The first step I take with a band is to ask them what kind of record they want to make," Albini said. "The secret to making a good record is having a band just blow it out; have a band kick ass."
To Albini, the only way to achieve that is to let bands do their own thing.
In keeping with a staunch adherence to that very ideal, Albini also refuses to take record royalties and prefers that bands not acknowledge him on their packaging. Albini truly considers himself an engineer meant to simply contrive a recording authentic to an artist's sound.
"I don't think a doctor should get paid more just because someone doesn't die," he said. "And I don't think I should get paid when a band achieves their own success."
Born in Missoula, Montana in the '60s, Albini credits The Ramones as the band that initially got him plugged into punk rock music. Throughout the rest of his teenage years, he started playing in bands and immersing himself into Montana's punk landscape. After high school, Albini moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern University and never looked back. After graduating--with a degree in journalism no less--he randomly became the "demo recording guy" on the Chicago punk scene, and, from those beginnings, a truly exhaustive recording career began.
Sitting center stage in a black t-shirt with what appeared to be an eagle flying through moonbeams emblazoned across the front, Albini kept the crowd laughing for the better part of the afternoon. Through all of his musings and opinions on things relevant (and even not so much) to music and recording, his main mantra and ultimate bottom line comes back to this: Don't sign anything.
"From 1986 on, I have only signed things when required by a policemen or buying a house," Albini said. For him, with his studio and record label, hand shaken agreements take the place of standard industry contracts label lawyers love to pedal.
While he tried to stay chronological in his recollections about his progression in the music industry, he frequently launched into hilarious and biting tangents on issues ranging from one extreme to the other. But regardless of whether it was the topic of his last job before he became a full-time record producer (as a professional photo re-toucher for cigarette companies), to libraries ("It's where you find all the shit you never would have thought of..."), to his palpable hatred of record labels (and I do mean absolute hatred), Albini made sure to share his insight into how he has stayed successful in a business where so many are losing money.
"The only lasting business strategy is to act like a normal fucking person," Albini argued. "Treat everybody else like a regular person because, fuck it, they're regular people."
And after an afternoon with Albini, you'd almost be inclined to think the same thing.