Whether performing a voice over script or singing a song, recording session retakes can be like a stroll in the park, or like having a tooth pulled without the benefit of Novocain. And sometimes they can be both in the same session!
Generally, retakes are easier for us to tolerate when someone else is doing the production duties. But even when the session is at an outside studio, retakes can be tough and time consuming. It’s easy for nerves to become frayed and for tempers to be tested.
The former, happier scenario happens when the session Director says, “we have what we need, but since we’re ahead of schedule let’s have a little fun with it.” Love that. Happy to oblige!
One painful but revelatory example of the less enjoyable, latter scenario is laid bare in D.A. Pennebaker’s remarkable documentary “Company: Original Cast Album.” The film covers the 18½ hour recording session for Steven Sondheim’s 1970 Broadway musical, “Company.” The climactic sequence features the late, great stage, film and TV star Elaine Stritch, as she attempts to record her iconic number “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch.”
As you watch this keep in mind that the session had run into the wee hours of the morning of a performance day off, well into the run of the show. Her live rendition of this song was by now bringing down the house on stage eight shows a week, and would shortly thereafter earn Ms. Stritch a Tony Award. Think Sondheim or the album’s producer, Tom Shepard were going to give her a pass? Not a chance:
You can feel the pressure she was under, with an orchestra full of musicians clocking “golden time” session rates. Did I say frayed nerves? Try lacerated. It’s kind of amazing how civil everyone remained – probably had something to do with the cameras. But as painful as it is to watch, there’s no denying the results, and they are there, on tape forever – to be enjoyed long after the wounds had healed and the heels had cooled.
I often flash back on the memory of Ms. Stritch’s primal scream when I’m having trouble giving producers or clients exactly what they want in one of my sessions (which, of course, almost never happens. Ahem.)
There’s another great moment at the end of a similar documentary – this one the original cast recording for the show “The Producers.” Towards the end of the session, as most people’s energy is visibly flagging, Mel Brooks, still full of pep and creative inspiration, calls for just one more take of a song, at which point someone leans over and whispers to him that “we’re about to go into overtime.” Mr. Brooks pauses for a moment to process this information, turns and proclaims to all with a satisfied finality, “That’s a wrap!!!”
So next time you’re asked to do “just one more” for the umpteenth time, don’t pull your hair out (or the producer’s!). We’ve all been there.