Are you about to record a new song?
Common sense would suggest that you want to draw the best out of your studio engineer. That way, you know that you’re getting your time and money’s worth.
Although you might have certain expectations for your engineer, you also need to recognize that they’re going to have certain expectations around how you’re going to behave in their studio.
Plainly, there will be some give and take if you want your new single to sparkle.
Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your studio engineer when you’re recording a song with them.
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Reassure Your Studio Engineer
Come prepared. Although an engineer will still work with people who don’t know their music and aren’t sure what they want out of it, if that's the case, it’s pretty much just a paycheck for them. Passion will fly out the window.
Spend some time in pre-production figuring out what you want to achieve with your song, and if you really want to impress your engineer, bring your demo recording with you, along with a playlist of songs by other artists you think have great production value.
Again, an engineer will take on a “bad project” if they have to, because it might help them pay their bills, but you’re not likely to draw the best out of them this way. Take some time to practice and study the basics of studio recording to put your engineer at ease.
Help Your Studio Engineer Understand The Scope Of Your Project
Studio time can be expensive, especially if you end up dilly-dallying.
If you don’t have any budgetary concerns, then you might want to try 90 takes at that vocal part that’s “a little pitchy”, and overdub the 37th guitar part for one of your songs. Otherwise, you’re probably going to want to keep things simple.
Either way, you should take some time to communicate with your engineer. Let them know what your expectations are, and what you hope to accomplish with your recording project. Let them know about the different instruments you’ll be recording, and how long you think the project will take.
If you overestimate what needs doing and the session wraps up early, you’re a hero. If you underestimate and things take longer than expected, you should work on new projections and put together a new plan with your engineer.
Communicate What You’re Trying To Achieve In Terms Of Sound
Do you have any preferences in terms of sound? Are there any songs that you’d like to model yours after?
Odds are your engineer is going to be limited somewhat in terms of gear, knowledge, and experience, but if you let them know what you want in advance, you'll come closer to being satisfied with the finished product than not.
Moreover, if you voice your preferences in the beginning, you’ll probably have fewer misgivings towards the end of the project when things don’t turn out exactly as expected. After all, you probably don’t sound exactly like your favorite vocalist, and you probably don’t play precisely like your favorite drummer either.
You need to trust your engineer. It’s their job to achieve different sounds, and if you give them a fair chance, they’ll deliver the results you’re looking for (or at least come close in the process).
Foster A Collaborative Relationship
If you want to get the best out of someone, you need to give them ownership over their area of work.
Although your recording project may be a one-off, developing a collaborative relationship can definitely help with getting the creative juices flowing.
There are plenty of things engineers would love to do, but often never get the chance to with their clients (I should know – I’m an engineer myself).
It could be something as simple as taking a guitar chord and playing the track in reverse, or adding delay to a piano. These are the kinds of things engineers like to geek out over.
If your sentence starts with “imagine if…” or “what if…” you’re speaking their language. Any engineer worth his or her salt should be up for the extra work or the challenge.
A lot of positive things can come out of a collaborative relationship, especially over the long term.
Be Patient With Your Engineer
Really think about this for a second. You’re about to invade an engineer’s studio space where there is plenty of expensive gear. You’re about to spend hours of your time in this environment crafting and shaping your songs.
Although performing in a studio as a musician isn’t easy, and you definitely don’t want to add any more pressure than necessary (particularly if you have time and budgetary constraints), it’s important to recognize that your engineer is trusting you with their studio environment and equipment.
If they’re going to be patient with you, you should also be patient with them. Setting up mics can take time. Achieving the right mix can take time. Getting a guitar sound that you’re happy with can take time.
If it seems like they’re wasting time unnecessarily, politely ask them what they’re working on. They should be able to give you a good answer if they’re just trying to tweak something.
If you don’t want them to be perfectionistic, then let them know that you’re okay with not getting everything “just right”. This, however, is something you should have covered when you were discussing the project scope with your engineer.
You and your studio engineer have the opportunity to grow together.
Brand loyalty is a rare thing, and many people jump from one place to another looking for something new, different, or possibly even better.
But if you continue to work with the same engineer, they’ll gain experience, and so will you. They’ll gain an understanding of how you work, and you’ll figure out what makes them tick. If you succeed, they succeed.
Although a long-term partnership may be hard to find, the benefits are definitely there. If you come across an engineer that you really like, consider working together to achieve your common objective of being heard, being seen, being paid, and being appreciated.