Yesterday an article on the making of Kim Dot Com’s album Good Times was released detailing the madness and excess, the extreme highs and lows of the process, and I was shocked. Not by the excess displayed- I’m sure worse has happened with certain notorious metal and rock acts (even jazz bands in the mid-twentieth century were notorious for their drug use during recording)- no I was shocked at their treatment of an unnamed “young recording engineer”. It seems that this young man was subject to hazing and harassment that in any other work place would have seen the harassers subject to civil and criminal court cases and tribunals. It’s hard enough being a freelancer as most recording engineers are, and there are many times that any freelancer needs to take a job to pay the rent, but this? This was beyond the level of most ‘bad jobs taken because I need money’, and what’s worse is that there is very little protection for him in terms of employment law.
The first thing I learned when I was involved in a recording session as a teenager was: don’t treat the recording engineer badly- they can make or break you. Always treat them with the respect that they and their job deserve because it’s a harder and more thankless job than being a musician. I’d say that the majority of professional musicians would abide by that commandment, but here’s the problem- Kim Dot Com is by no means a musician, this was the ultimate vanity piece and he literally threw millions of dollars at it because he could. Because he was holding the cash he held sway on the behaviour of the musicians and the engineers- he led and they followed his lead. It would appear that a number of the musicians involved felt that it was OK to indulge “in hijinks and hazing”, to the detriment of their fellows as well as the abovementioned recording engineer. This actually disgusts me. I understand that the situation was rather pressure cooker, and they all had to be on call whenever Dot Com wanted them to be. I understand that they were being paid very well by the standards of the New Zealand music industry. But. I do not understand why this was seen as a licence to abuse their fellows. This is a small industry, and word gets around very quickly- and when an article like this appears surely they now have to worry that other people won’t want them on their albums or in their bands because of this behaviour. Sure they may have been able to “put food on…the table and pay[ing] the mortgage”, but this job was never going to last forever (although it may have felt that way, since the album took two years to record), so what happens next? What about the next job? Much of this industry relies on good will and word of mouth- musicians talk, engineers talk, marketing people talk, everyone talks…and most importantly everyone listens.