Keeping A Healthy Mindset When Making Mistakes

After graduating from the Blackbird Academy in 2016, Danny Pellegrini interned for Jacquire King and went on to fill the assistant engineering role for Jacquire’s production team.  Having worked in a wide range of recording situations alongside Kolton Lee as an assistant and engineer for Jacquire, we asked Danny to share some perspective on his experience along the way.

Everyone wants to be the ideal intern, fulfilling requests mistake-free. In reality, the studio is a technically and psychologically complex environment where you’re bound to get some things wrong. When you’re sitting in the back of the room all day with few tasks to prove your worth, it’s easy to make a huge deal of your errors when you finally have a chance to help out. I want to share some stories with you about mistakes I’ve made in the studio, how they turned out, and offer some perspective on avoiding negative spirals.

I was starting an internship with Jacquire King. We were tracking a band in Blackbird Studio D. Then, I spilled my coffee on a surge protector and knocked out the power to the control room gear. Being a relatively green intern, I thought there was a good chance I would be fired, or on the hook for some priceless vintage equipment. The outage caused a great deal of commotion and with my heart in my throat, I fessed up to Jacquire and apologized profusely. I was expecting the worst, however the worst never came... Jacquire shrugged it off and told me not to worry about it. In the end, all was well with a quick flip of a circuit breaker.

The next mishap was during the maiden tracking session at Jacquire’s studio. At this point, I had graduated from intern to assistant engineer. Being new to the dynamic of running a patch bay on a session, I accidentally patched...yes PATCHED...an AEA R88 ribbon microphone into phantom power. I was mortified at the thought of destroying one of Jacquire’s workhorse ribbon microphones. He was predictably less than excited by the prospect of replacing the microphone, but even in the heat of the moment, the mistake was chalked up to an accident. I got lucky and there was no damage to the microphone’s ribbons and a quick phone call to AEA confirmed that re-ribboning the microphone would not be a big deal in the worst case scenario. I certainly felt really bad, but once again, tracking resumed as usual.

In the Puremix video where my errors were generously edited out, I accidentally cut off one of the master takes of the song by confusing a Pro Tools quick command. Guess what? The video is out, the song has been mastered and Oak and Ash are on their way to releasing their sophomore album.

There is a common theme here. In all of these scenarios, I was convinced in the moment that there was no way to recover from the mistakes I made. In the end, everything ended up being okay. Was I super hard on myself? Absolutely! I did my very best to make sure that I had every system in place to avoid causing problems in the future (no drinks within a country mile of gear, cloud lifters on all Ribbon microphones etc., etc.). But, even with those systems in place, new trials and tribulations arose. No one is perfect and you can’t predict or prevent all potential pitfalls in the recording process.

It’s important to meet the standards of the people you’re working for, correct your bad habits, practice discipline and aim for fool proof work flows. With that in mind, none of those things will happen unless you maintain your positivity in those hard moments. From someone who has fallen into the negativity trap, I have a few thoughts that may be helpful if you find yourself in the same place.

In these situations I find the mental repeater loops usually stem from the fact that when you screw up, you have too much time to think about it. Try to redirect your nervous energy. You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish. Give yourself some studio-related projects that you can accomplish discreetly on the side. Ask yourself if there are any systems you can develop to speed up the workflow of the team.

In my time at the back of the room, I leveraged my nervous energy to digitize our documentation systems and migrate what we had on pen and paper to the cloud. If you’re working at a newly opened studio, scope out the restaurants in the area and get together a menu book so you’ll have good recommendations come lunch time. If you’re so inclined, keep track of the artist's orders to speed things up when they want “the same as last time.” Maybe there’s a piece of software out that would significantly increase the team’s productivity. Try to look into it and learn it! Art has never resisted technology, if you can be the guy with your finger on the pulse of modern methods, you’ll become a valuable resource. People are less likely to question your place in the studio if you are occupied, (even if it’s from a self-assigned task). Chances are, there’s something to be done if you’re just willing to look for it.

Having said all of this, there will still be situations in which you may be anxious and not know what to do with yourself because there’s simply nothing to do. In these scenarios, try to take a deep breath, slow your mind down and think about the following. As an intern or assistant, you’re likely the person with the least responsibilities and little attention will be on you. Luckily, when you make a mistake, this also holds true. If a record needs to be made, your screwed up lunch order might be annoying, but it will be the least of everyone’s worries. You will not be the greatest source of concern unless you go out of your way to make it as such by over apologizing or sulking.

If you’re in the studio with anyone worth working for, they have no intentions of putting you down, so don’t put yourself down either. If you receive constructive criticism after a problem occurs, you have two options: you can double down on the negativity and live in the problem, or you can view it as a great opportunity to learn from your mentor and build a strong relationship. People like to impart their knowledge to others. Hell...I was flattered to write this blog post! If you acknowledge your mentor’s criticism in a positive way, they’ll feel more comfortable coaching you and both of you will be more solution oriented when things go wrong.

You can walk on eggshells trying to be perfect in the pursuit of validation... and yes, I’ve made that mistake too. But when you try to be perfect, you’re just painting a target on your back. No one wants to help someone who is always projecting how great they are. Go for excellence NOT PERFECTION and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable about your shortcomings! It’s never easy for one’s ego, but the ability to be vulnerable is the key to authenticity and being authentic is essential for any artistic endeavor. My experience in the studio is only one of many, but after 163 recordings and my fair share of mistakes, I’ve gotten farther with humility and honesty than any of the technical know-how I’ve picked up along the way.

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You can watch Danny in action on Jacquire's Start To Finish Series Ft. Oak & Ash and find him at pellegriniaudio.com or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/dmpelly/

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