Thursday, 16 June 2011

The work experience boy - day four: decision time

Day four: I arrive at Assault & Battery studios and, as is now customary, Drew buzzes me into the reception door. It transpires that once again he hasn’t been home so that’s at least four nights he’s spent in the studio – his girlfriend must be understanding.

With the Big Pink sessions finished, Alan Moulder and his two assistants aren’t in A&B1 today (a day off?!) and maintenance man Barney leaves in the morning to complete the studio fitting he’s doing on the south coast. At lunchtime, Drew – finally! – leaves the studio. He’s going to London Bridge to meet his girlfriend (I hope she recognises him) and even has the next week off to go to Disneyland Paris with her and her family. It’s reassuring to know that he does actually get to take time off, and Disneyland is probably removed enough from the real world to be manageable after so long being holed-up in the alternate reality of the studio. He kindly leaves a couple of beers behind then leaves. I imagine him emerging through the security gates, blinking back the harsh sunlight that he’s grown unaccustomed to: a free man at last.

So, all in all the studio is pretty quiet today. Paloma Faith and her (severely hungover) songwriter/co-writer Ed come in to see Dimitri (who is similarly hungover) once again. As I did yesterday, I offer her tea but she just asks for a hot water as she’s brought her own teabags in. Is this yet another indictment of my hot drink making skills? I decide it’s best not to dwell on it.

Being a music journalist I don’t tend to get overly nervous when speaking to musicians any more (just a few pre-interview nerves that keep me on my toes). But as it’s still my first week in the studio and the fact that – unlike most of the electronic artists I usually interview – these people have the aura of ‘stars’ (which is of course a load of old bollocks), I fear I have the appearance of some fawning teenage sycophant. It’s one of those circular paranoid feedback loops where I know the worst thing I can do is be a red-faced, bumbling buffoon around these people (as that’s all they are after all) so that’s exactly what I become. Whatever the reason, it’s bizarre to feel like a novice when speaking to musicians in a different context. It’s a good job I only have to offer them hot drinks and fetch their lunch eh?

With not much to do but browse Sound On Sound online (brownie points if I get caught), follow Andy Murray’s progress at the French Open and play Scrabble on Facebook, I offer help as often as I can. Steve Rhodes (the 'writer' from upstairs whose name does nothing to help me place his accent) finally takes me up on the offer and gets me to carry some old tapes (the huge reels, not cassettes) down from his studio to place in storage. In a bid to prove myself indispensably helpful I take a few too many than my normally sedentary arms can handle but, in spite of a slight slip at the end, I manage to transfer them to the storeroom successfully.

Having not spoken much to him during the week, Steve comes across as a humble and quiet – perhaps even shy – person but he seems like a genuine person free of the ego many producers may develop after continued exposure to working in the studio with the stars. Shortly after my odd-job is complete he places some cake on reception, which I’m grateful for and have a good munch on.

A few minutes later he asks me how long I’ll be in the studio. I say three weeks but that I don’t know which Miloco studio I’ll be based in the week after. Steve says he’s got some work moving his studio to do in July and asks if I’d like to come in with a friend to help out. He says he’ll pay us £80 each for a day’s work – the rate he normally pays his assistants. So, after a week of gaining an insight into studio life but with little to show for it as far as future prospects go, here was a chink of light. Perhaps I’ll only be training to be a removal man rather than a producer but other opportunities may arise through this.

When I told him I would be working for another fortnight, I wasn’t being entirely truthful though. I’d already decided that this would be my last day. The people were welcoming and friendly and the work, while menial, was exactly what I’d been expecting. But I soon realised that it would take far more than three weeks to earn myself a genuine opening with one of the producers in the studio, and even longer if I insisted on retaining my life outside the studio and not effectively becoming a live-in tea boy.

Besides, even if I was given an opportunity, I lacked the studio knowledge to be able to grasp it. Other people who had done work experience placements at the studio included award-winning Australian heavy metal producers or had at least been plying their trade as producers with local bands for the past few years. I decided that my time would be better spent getting myself up to speed so that I could grasp such an opportunity if it came my way.

Besides, work experience is unpaid and completing the three weeks would have meant turning down paid journalism work. Being a poor student I desperately need to earn some money so surely it would have been stupid to stay? But one opportunity has already come my way after only four days work so have I cut off my nose to spite my face? Have I let fear take over rather than rationally thinking things through? Should I have stayed and worked until the early hours to show my worth or have I made an intelligent decision? What do you think?

Originally posted on on 16 June 2011.

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