Some time ago, I built a small project studio with the goal of capturing my own musical ideas and possibly producing a couple of albums of original material. But as word got out that I was dabbling in sound engineering, people began calling and asking if I would record them as well. The promise of a paycheck while learning the ropes of recording, mixing, and editing was too sweet to pass up. I have since recorded and produced several local, national, and international projects, all in what was supposed to be little more than a hobby studio.
As I began working with other musicians from the “other side of the glass,” as they say (full disclosure: There is no glass in my studio), I started to realize how difficult the job of a sound engineer and producer is. And, looking back, I understood why the engineers I worked with had a number of rules we were expected to follow. Back then, I thought those rules were unreasonable. But I soon realized what an ass I was being, and how efficient the engineer was trying to be.
In the interest of helping local (and, more important, inexperienced) musicians smooth out their studio process, I offer some words of advice. Take ’em or leave ’em, but do so at your own peril.
PRACTICE AND PREPARE
Nothing is worse than getting in the studio with an unrehearsed, unprepared band. Though engineers usually get paid for the time they’re in the studio, it is wholly unappealing to sit at a mixing console waiting for a group of lunkheads to decide if they were supposed to go to the bridge or straight to the chorus. Have this shit worked out in advance. Granted, once in the studio, there will be minor tweaks to arrangements, new ideas like how solos are played and how vocal lines run, and instrument adjustments. But there have been several times when I’ve watched a band argue for a half-hour about how something was supposed to be played, sometimes leading to session-ending blowups. (Honestly, I’ve done it, too.) It’s a time and money waster. Get it together as much as possible before you press “record.” It’ll save you and your engineer a lot of headaches.
Sure, you got into the business because you love the art, but oddly, that art came nicely coupled with a drinking and toking habit you just can’t shake. Fine; just keep it out of the studio. Getting bombed out of your skull may be great on the gig, when performance is secondary to the show. (Maybe that’s why your band rarely gets hired.) But in the studio, your full focus should be on recording the music with precision and feel. Real feel, not the fabricated buzz feel you’re on. And drunk musicians are typically belligerent musicians, and belligerent musicians make things difficult for all. Be professional, for crying out loud. Drink after the session.
LEARN TO PLAY WITH A CLICK TRACK
This is especially important for drummers, but everyone in the band should be comfortable playing with a click. Click tracks are ubiquitous in today’s studios, as it makes it much easier to punch in, mix and edit. Unless you’re going for that loosey-goosey garage band feel, get familiar playing with and around a click. More experienced musicians will be able to do just that, play just ahead, just behind or right on top of the click track. This is how “feel” is created with a metronomic device. If you’ve never played with a click, and face an impending studio session, start practicing now. The click does not lie, and it will expose you for the horrible timekeeper you are.
LEAVE THE FOOD AND DRINK OUTSIDE
This may seem draconian, but there’s a good reason for this rule. You may enjoy chucking half-full beer cans all over your filthy rehearsal studio, but an engineer’s studio is his or her home.
Respect it. And don’t ever, under any circumstances, put a drink on or near the mixing console. A client did this once at my mixing desk and guess what? Yes, it spilled onto the desk and beneath the console. Luckily, the board is slightly raised, so no electronics were affected. Needless to say, now no drinks are allowed near my console – ever.
SHUT THE HELL UP
Yes, just shut up. You hired the engineer to do his job, so shut up and let him do it. And if you hired an engineer/producer, listen to what he has to say and seriously consider it. He’s been doing this a long time. If you don’t trust him to make these decisions, why did you hire him? Suck it up. Especially during the mix. If you can’t, leave the room. Engineers hate helicopter musicians. Hovering around the desk, pointing at the screen and saying, “Dude, can you bring up the solo here?” and “There’s no low end on my kick” only makes the engineer hate you and hope you slowly drown in a pool of vomit. He won’t tell you this, because you’re paying him to be professional and get the job done well. But he’s thinking it, believe me. Let go of your pride, shut the hell up, and listen for once.