Words by DJ Swivel

How to Work In A Recording Studio

Knowing how to act in a studio session or around an artist whether it be your an engineer, producer or songwriter is not always common sense and its not uncommon to feel overwhelmed, especially if you didn’t go to school or have any prior training. Hopefully this breakdown can demystify the fact that it’s actually not that complicated!

The Business

The first thing before you even get into the studio is ensuring the business is sorted. There should be a mutual understanding on how exactly both parties are handling the business. Depending on your field the outline below should be very helpful, for this article we will focus on engineers.

The Discussion

Engineers typically get paid a day rate or an hourly rate and you want to make sure that the communication regarding the business has all happened before you get to the studio. The last thing you want is to have that discussion in the beginning, middle or end of a studio session – more often than not its not going to work out in your favor. Make sure you have a clear understanding prior to the session so you can go into the session with a clear head.

Get To The Session Early

  1. Getting to the studio early is the most common sense thing any engineer can do. Get there at least 30 minuets early and find your bearings, make sure that you know all the different elements of the studio, every studio is different. You want to make sure that you can get setup, have your session open and functioning before the artist shows up and when the artist does show up you will be ready for anything the artist throws at you!
  2. If you have not worked with the artist before it’s a great idea to reach out to their management or friend to try and get an understanding of what the artist likes. You might want to set the mood and get the lighting right in studio or even light some candles to set the vibe. If the manager or label has requested certain drinks or foods, make sure they are at the studio and ready for the artist. Most major artist’s have a rider which the management or label may provide to the studio prior to the session.
  3. If your working in a major professional studio there’s often going to be assistance there who will help you get set up and get everything that you need so you will always have support. Regardless of the assistance you may have it is still your sole responsibility to make sure by the time artist walks into the studio everything is perfect and ready to go if the artist wants to work right away. 

Adapting to the Artist and Environment

  1. Every artist is different and works different, you want to make sure you cater to how the artist works. Some artists like to write on the microphone and you need to make sure you are recording literally everything they do and you have to make sure you keep the files organized and know where every take is. You do not want to loose anything because sometimes the magic is in those random recordings.
  2. Anticipate the artist’s needs and not just the artist, anticipate the needs of whoever the artist has brought to the studio, whether it be management, friends, whoever – those people are an extension of the artist and therefore are an equal, everyone needs to be treated exceptionally well.
  3. When the artist is ready to record make sure you go to the booth and ensure the mic stand is at the approximate height it needs to be, make sure the pop filter is in the right position and the artist is aware of how to use the headphone mix module, volume, and they are aware of where the lighting controls are.
  4. It’s very important to be aware of any mistakes you make or habits and immediately correct them. Sometimes producers and engineers will make the same mistakes over and over again and thats a real quick way to get fired and to be honest in most cases it’s not because you are doing a bad job it’s just that the artist wants to be as comfortable as possible. The studio is an artists sanctuary and if there is anything that you do that bothers them even a little bit they’re going to find somebody else who doesn’t bother them. 

General Common Sense & Best Practices

  1. Brush your teeth and have fresh breath!
  2. Make sure you’ve got fresh clothes on and deodorant, just have good general hygiene
  3. If your an engineer try to anticipate the artists needs, but don’t try to do too much but most importantly listen! Be a sponge and listen to what they want to do and what they need and as your relationship with artist builds over a number of sessions you’ll start to get more familiar with the artist and more accustomed to what they do and with time you will begin to have more freedom to be able to speak up.

When The Session Is Over

  1. Make sure you do not lose any files and when the artist leaves the session make sure you do a backup and be redundant and have an additional backup as well. If you loose any files you end up wasting a day and that’s a lot of money wasted on the engineer, the studio, transportation, food and the people around the artist. Engineers get fired all the time for this, this is major key to a successful engineer & artist relationship.

For the most part these are the general rules that I live by to make sure that a session goes well with an artist. I must again stress the most important thing is to read the room. If you are not familiar with the artist, take a step back and be more quiet and read the room and try to anticipate everything the artist is going to want & need, if you can do that successfully I guarantee you the artist going to want to work with you again. This is a very hard skill to perfect and you really just need to be paying attention to every single thing, not just verbal cues but body language cues as well and once you start to pick up on those things without them even having to tell you it will eventually get to a point where you can literally run a whole session without even speaking to the artist, you will just know them so well that you will be ahead of everything that they want to do and that’s the ultimate goal.

It all starts with just paying attention, keeping your mouth shut and and just doing the best job you can and artists will recognize that hard work and they will recognize how much effort you’re putting in, so make sure you put in the effort and you’ll probably stick around.

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