1. Bring In New Expertise
Singer James Hetfield stated that “It was pretty apparent that we needed some guidance” and the band invited producer Bob Rock to initially mix, and eventually produce the album.
Lars Ulrich has stated that “We felt that we still had our best record in us and Bob Rock could help us make it.” It wasn’t an easy decision to bring in Bob Rock as all of the previous albums had been written and produced by the members of the band themselves, and tensions were present in the initial stages of working together.
A fresh perspective can really inject some new energy into a team. Bob Rock says that he had a vision of what the album could be. If you’re bringing in someone to lead design or innovation, they should also have a vision for the product.
2. Break and Rebuild Your Process
The band were set in their own ways and had a formula that had earned them a certain degree of success. Deciding to work with Bob Rock meant breaking that routine and begin working with a more inclusive arrangement.
“..the work they had done before was pretty much every band member was recorded separately. So, I told them that how I worked was the band recording the song right in the studio together, and kind of approaching it that way, everybody playing together and getting a more of a feel for the song and the whole thing
” – Bob Rock
Bob Rock altered the band’s working schedule and routine so much that they swore never to work with him again.
3. Engage the Whole Team
Previous albums were written mainly by signer James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, but for The Black Album, several song ideas and concepts were composed by other members of the band. Guitarist Kirk Hammett wrote the riff for “Enter Sandman”, and bassist Jason Newsted wrote the main riff of “My Friend of Misery”.
“What we really wanted was a live feel. In the past, Lars and I constructed the rhythm parts without Kirk and Jason. This time I wanted to try playing as a band unit in the studio. It lightens things up and you get more of a vibe” – James Hetfield
Rather than isolate the designers from marketing, or developers from sales, engaging the different individuals from different backgrounds might spark innovation, and can make everyone feel a certain degree of shared responsibility for all aspects of the project.
4. Encourage Your Team to Upskill
After losing his voice during the recording sessions, James Hetfield decided to begin vocal training. Not only did this help with the initial problems of physical vocal chord disorders, it also built his confidence.
If you feel that a department could be delivering at a higher level, suggest sending them to a conference or workshop. Social media marketing in particular changes so regularly it’s easy to fall behind. Learning from the top individuals in a specialised field be what they need to boost their confidence and try something innovative.
5. Focus On Detail
Bob Rock encouraged James Hetfield to take on “different singing styles, different microphones, different feels and getting into different moods and things like that with the vocals…”
Encourage the different people involved in the project to focus on ways they can improve their input. Enriching the user experience through subtle design and performance enhancements might be what’s missing from your project. Once the functionality is complete, tidy things up and see if you can make it function faster.
So there ya have it, my round up of what development teams can learn from the troubled recording of the Black Album. The documentary is embedded below if you want to check it out.