A Musician's Guide to the Studio Engineer's Mind
So, my last blog was about how bands in the country need to step up their game in order to compete with international bands and the way they work. I also talk about how bands must be more prepared and aware of how a studio and it's engineer functions, their work etc.
This time, let's talk about things from my perspective, i.e, the engineer's perspective. What I expect a band or artist to do when coming in to record or get a song mixed. These views may vary quite a lot from one studio to another. Different engineers have different preferences, which can vary depending on the equipment they have, how bad their OCD is and how experienced they are.
Also, I won't go into the financial aspects of things here, as that's a whole other topic, but yes, the way a band handles their financials show how mature and experienced they are, and makes the process much more easier. So, let's delve into some other things I expect the band to get right.
1. Getting in Touch
There's an etiquette to speaking on the phone(if that's your first choice of contacting the engineer). Please introduce yourself, your band and let the engineer know what exactly you're looking for, what exactly his role would be in the process etc. If the engineer has a contact email ID, send him a mail with your material, references, details about the band etc. Let the phone call be a secondary option, as a mail is more detailed and gives a clearer picture.
Refrain from just dropping into the studio unbeknownst and calling the engineer from below his/her building(Yes, that's happened). That JUST does not give a good impression to ANYONE for that matter.
2. How Clear your idea of your material is
Arrange a meeting with the engineer ONLY and ONLY after you know your material inside out. When a band or artist arranges a meeting with me, I just hope that the band or artist has a clear understanding of what his/her material must sound like as a final product, otherwise the mix engineer will just do what he/she feels is right, sonically and creatively, which might not match the band's vision. If possible, also take the time to explain to the engineers involved what the story behind each song is(if it exists), because believe it or not , that helps us engineers come up with some crazy stuff. Having said all this, I would suggest the band to be open to suggestions by the engineer about certain elements of the song, especially if the engineer is really experienced, because at the end of the day, you chose that particular engineer for what he/she brings to the table and because he/she has his/her own identity and is known for a certain style. It all comes down to what's best for the SONG.
3. Pre Production
This is something that isn't really followed in the country, but it would be awesome if bands started following this here. I've always noticed that bands are in such a hurry to put out their material. It isn't going anywhere. Take your time, invest in the album, treat it like your own, and most importantly, YOU should love your record/song more than anyone else.
So, what's usually done in this process is that the band takes the time to actually set up individual tones and makes sure all parts of their songs are the best that it can be. This is usually done with the engineer, but is not always the case.
This is just an overview. Bigger bands spend weeks/months finalising the parts and recording scratch tracks with the engineer so that both the engineer and the band is thorough with the parts BEFORE EVEN STARTING TO RECORD. In short, it's being prepared for the PRODUCTION stage (recording) and making final decisions on songs. I understand that it's not possible for every band and you don't really need to go to this extent, but the least you could do is come prepared with your material and your individual parts finalised.
4. Song Arrangement (Once the project is accepted)
This is something that I know that very few bands actually pay attention to. While composing your song, elements have to be added for a reason, not just because it sounds cool(which can be done occasionally). It has to fit that part of the song, shouldn't clash with other elements of the song sonically, etc. Bring your signature into the song, create your 'SOUND'. This is something I feel is really important and missed out a lot.
5. Your VISION of the song
I've already briefly talked about this, but let me expand on this. While I think that it's very important for the band to have a clear vision of their song, they have to understand that it just MIGHT not be perfect always. So, if the engineer has a suggestion for a particular part of the song, just take it into consideration before disregarding it straight off. Think about it. Will it make the song better? If yes, at least check out how it sounds.
6. References (I can't and WON'T make it sound exactly like XYZ band)
So, references are well known songs or your favourite band's songs that you think is well produced and think is CLOSE to what you want your final product to sound like. Pay Attention! CLOSE to what you want it to sound like! Not EXACTLY the way it should sound like. You're hiring the engineer because you think he's right for the project and because you TRUST and like his style of mixing. So, telling him/her to make it sound exactly like the reference is kind of like an insult. Also, it isn't really possible, because the equipment, plugins and tools used for the production of the reference was entirely different, not to mention the METHOD used to record each instrument itself would have been different. So, look at the reference as kind of like a blueprint, not a photocopy.
7. Mix Revisions
This is something taken for granted by bands, as they're unaware of the entire process of recalling a session. For someone who works without any outboard equipment, it's a much easier process, but for someone who works with such equipment, it's a real pain to recall sessions to make revisions. Most experienced engineers have a fixed number of revisions that they do, which is made clear to the band before hand. But even then, the band should know that it's a very tedious process. So, when listing out things to be changed in a mix, make sure it's done as a band, with everyone feeling the same way about each point listed. It's not right when JUST the bassist wants the bass to go up. That's just insecurity(kidding). But, yeah, make sure that the changes you're asking the engineer to make is valid and is actually what the band really wants. In that way, you'll get a better result within ONE or TWO revisions.
So, you see, from the above points, every decision the band makes affects the engineer directly. So, just like every other aspect of life, put yourself in the other person's shoes (in this case, the engineer) and make your decisions.
I was the guitarist for a band too, so I know that the above is not something that's very tough to take care of as a band. Maybe in the near future, I'll write another piece about the band's point of view, until then, keep calm and concentrate on the music, let the engineer take care of everything else.
Studio Engineer/Freelance Live Sound Engineer
Eleven Gauge Recordings