Musicians are Strange

Oct 9, 2013

What I've learned about musicians after working for an NPR station for a year

They are obsessed with tuning their instruments.

Boss could discontinue every stompbox they make and just produce the TU-3 Tuner and still make a killing. Every guitarist and bassist has one and uses it before and after every song. The mute feature is nice but most forget that strumming the strings on a semi hollow electric still produces quite a bit of sound in a small studio. This especially doesn’t help when a host is trying to interview the singer and all you hear is harmonics and open strings played repeatedly.

I also learned that drums and acoustic pianos need to be tuned quite frequently and that they can be tuned to very different tastes. Most drummers have a drum key attached to them in some way at all times.

If the studio has an acoustic piano, everyone must touch it and play it.

You can’t fit a Steinway Concert Grand in the back of a U-Haul, let alone an upright. Most keyboardists I saw played Nord’s and they like them for synths but hated them for piano. Everyone from the drummer to the roadie has to play with the upright acoustic piano for at least thirty seconds.

They are obsessed with their headphone mixes.

The most important thing a musician is concerned with when performing is being able to hear the right combination of themselves, their drummer, the vocals, and the base. Mixing headphones to each musician’s preference usually takes twice as long as mixing the main recording.

They steal.

Losing $100 Sony headphones and Shure SM58 microphones was par for the course every week. It got really bad when a $3,000 Neumann U87 went missing.

They leave things behind.

We accumulated a bin full of random power supplies, stands, and articles of clothing. Occasionally we’d have to negotiate the return of a guitar, phone, or laptop.

They quickly make themselves at home.

Me: Hey there, guy with the shaggy beard, why are raiding the cabinets in the kitchen? Wait, how did you even find the kitchen?

Guy: Oh, I’m just looking around. Thanks though.

They don’t like to wear shoes.

See previous. Every opportunity a musician gets, they take their shoes off. I don’t know if this is a symptom of being on the road and not being able to kick off your shoes when you walk in that door at home or what.

They crave free Wi-Fi and power for their iPhones.

Musicians mainly connect to the web with their phones. Unlimited data plans don’t exist anymore so free Wi-Fi is always sought after. I saw more iPhones with cracked screens than not cracked screens. I had to make sure my iPhone charger didn’t disappear everyday.

They tell way better stories after the interview.

Most interviews follow a similar pattern where the same five questions get asked. Musicians get bored with this since they answer the same questions every day so they don’t open up much in interviews. Hosts are not smart enough to realize this.

Once an interview is over and the musician is treated like a normal human being again, amazing stories are told.