Excerpt – From Ch. 7

Once all the equipment is set up and the session is ready to go, here are a few guidelines to help you keep the session running smooth and efficient for everyone:

•     Keep up with the engineer. Understand the complete signal flow of the session, including all patching, bussing, and signal routing. You can’t tell if something isn’t reacting correctly if you don’t know or understand the signal path. If he tells you to do something that seems wrong, such as changing a tape half way through the reel, you can question it because you are right there with him. Zero in on his wavelength. The ideal situation is to know what he wants before he tells you.

•     Keep the session rolling. All changes must be fast and efficient. There is no time to chat while changing the song or setting up equipment. If someone asks you to do something, wait until the equipment is set up and the engineer has everything he needs to continue.

•     If you don’t know something, say you don’t know. If you did something wrong, say you did something wrong. You and the engineer must be on the same team. This isn’t like the medical profession, where you can fake it as you go.

•     Ensure that all tracksheets, recording maps, takesheets, labels and notes are always up to date, clear and complete.

•     Set priorities for each situation. If the engineer wants a limiter in the vocal channel, a sandwich from the deli, a fire extinguisher, and details of studio scheduling, you need to re-arrange these in the order of priorities. You wouldn’t leave the room to order a sandwich before making the patches, and it seems more important to put out the fire before asking the manager about studio availability.

•     Continually scan the room to confirm everything is acting and reacting as it should, including the inputs to the machines, the meters on all the equipment, triggers on the samplers, the console, the outboard, and even the musicians. Keep all doors closed, and listen for any fans or air conditioners that may be on. If you see or hear something wrong, tell the engineer before he presses the record button.

•     Don’t let the engineer record over anything. When he puts a track in record-ready, check the tracksheet and confirm the proper signal is going to the proper track. This should become second nature. When he changes something on the console, lean over his shoulder and check that his change is correct. If he changes the signal path incorrectly, or busses something incorrectly, go over and quietly point it out. It’s like looking after your grandfather—he can teach you a lot, but you always need to keep an eye on him.

•     When there is a problem, don’t let the session know. The clients should never know of any troubles or malfunctions. If a problem occurs, such as equipment not working, simply work around it without making a big deal. Either quietly tell the engineer, or slip him a note. Of course, urgent problems call for urgent actions. If he is about to record over an important track, don’t slip him a note telling him so.

•     If the engineer makes a mistake, don’t let the rest of the session know. The musicians and the producer must have faith in him, and you shouldn’t undermine that. Don’t make him look like an idiot in front of everyone. He can do that himself.

•     Don’t wait for the engineer to ask you to do things—just do them. If someone in the session asks the engineer to play a specific section of a song, find it before the engineer asks you. If you hear the engineer tell a musician he is going to put an equalizer on his instrument, don’t wait for him to tell you, just make the patch. If he tells a musician to wait because a microphone needs changing, be out the door to change it. As well, if you know how the engineer likes certain equipment set up, do it without being asked. For example, if a vocal overdub is next, and you know the engineer always uses a specific equalizer and limiter in a certain order, set it up without him having to ask you.

•     Watch the musicians to make sure they have everything they need to be comfortable and ready for the session. When anything needs changing, such as headphones or cables, change them fast. Occasionally listen to the headphone cue mixes to hear if anything is unusually loud or quiet. If you hear something wrong, tell the engineer. Some musicians won’t hear anything specific, they will just know something is not right in their headphone mix.

•     All equipment must be turned on and ready for use. When something is not working correctly, label it as out-of-order, and get the technical staff on it. Check all machines for proper input levels.

•     Do something good early in the project. This should earn you a goodly amount of trust throughout the rest of the project from the producer and engineer, enough perhaps for them to consider you for some minor engineering. This will also allow you some freedom with small mistakes. If they feel you are doing a great job, small mistakes will be forgotten. If they feel you are doing a poor job, that same small mistake becomes a large mistake.

•     If you are working with an engineer you have never worked with before, after a few days, ask him how you are doing, and what you can do to help him more effectively. This will show him that you really care about doing the best job you possibly can.

•     Stay in the control room. The engineer needs you to set up equipment, change routing, fetch coffee, answer questions or address any problems. He doesn’t want to have to hunt around for you when he needs a patch. You can’t keep up if you are in the lobby playing video games.

•     During an intimate vocal, a musician may become distracted with you moving around in the control room, or worse, staring at her while she sings. These are times when you dim the lights, settle into the darkness and quietly do your job.

•     Don’t change the settings on anything without the engineer knowing about it. If something doesn’t seem right, mention it, and let him deal with it. During recording, he has many things to listen to, so any setting changes may not be immediately realized. If you must make a change, for instance when the engineer is out of the room, mention it when he returns. Keep him up to date.

•     Keep quiet. Your job is to assist the engineer, not to give your opinion. There is nothing much worse than an assistant who won’t shut up. Of course, as you get more comfortable with a musician, producer and engineer you can feel out how casual to be. Take a second to think before asking any stupid questions.

•     Don’t start talking about other sessions. Something that happened last week in another session may seem funny to you, but the client doesn’t want to hear it. He wants to concentrate on his project, not be interrupted with your so-called “humorous” little anecdotes.

•     Maintain quiet in the control room. Only what the session is working on should be heard. Use headphones to find samples, set delay times, or find sections of music. Switch the channel off when changing cables, patches, microphones or their settings, or anything involved with signal.  Lower the monitor level when the analog machine is in rewind so the tape whizzing past the heads can’t be heard. A quiet control room also means not yelling across the room to the engineer. Go over and speak to him, not to everyone in the control room.

•     Get the client in and out on time. Warn the engineer if another session is scheduled to start right after yours. But don’t tell the musician, leave that to the engineer or producer. It can be a difficult situation when the next client is waiting to start, and the engineer wants a little more time to finish the mix. Of course, if you are working into the night, or if the sessions are locked out, being out on time may not be an issue. A lock-out is when the client rents the studio full-time, 24 hours a day.

•     Stay awake. Don’t even yawn (it’s catchy.) The client should feel that you are in complete control, not about to doze off. This may sound funny, but when working long hours, falling asleep can easily happen. Having finished all your work, you must sit around the control room and watch everyone else work. There may be times when you gently slip into the arms of Morpheus.

•     Don’t sit around and read when there is work to do. It’s fine if you are reading a manual, or researching something for the engineer, but in general, don’t do it unless you have done absolutely everything else. The client may not have total faith in you if he sees you with your feet up on the console reading an Archie comic.

•     Don’t treat any project casually. No one knows who the next major stars and producers will be, or where the next hit record comes from. You always want to do your best for the people you are working with.

•     Don’t go into the studio when something is being recorded. That magical take can happen at any time, and it will be unusable if you can be heard clomping around in the background. If you absolutely must go into the studio while recording, be as quiet as possible.

•     Sit at the console next to the engineer whenever you can. This will give you the engineers’ sonic perspective, so when he makes a change you can hear what he is hearing. If he asks you to move, then move, but return when you can. Of course, if there is only one extra chair, the producer has rank.

•     Avoid drugs and alcohol. To get ahead in the studio, you must be on the ball. It is important for everyone in the session to have full confidence in your abilities and the decisions you are expected to make. If you make a mistake under the influence, it will not be forgotten.

•     Wear earplugs, even if no one else does. Don’t let some deaf recording engineer blast you with loud volumes for hours on end. Use them at any sign of increased volumes, in the studio or out. In the good old days, the gauge of having a good time at a concert was directly related to the amount of ringing in your ears. “I had such a good time at the concert that my ears are still ringing, and the show was last year.” Your hearing is your livelihood, protect it.

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Tim Crich wrote and illustrated both the "Assistant Engineers Handbook" and "Recording Tips For Engineers". Tim has worked on CD's such as Rolling Stones Dirty Work, U2 Silver and Gold, John Lennon Live in NYC, Aretha Franklin Who's Zoomin' Who, Bob Dylan Empire Burlesque, David Bowie Tonight, Billy Joel Stormfront, Bryan Adams Waking Up The Neighbours, Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet, and Tuff Beans We are BUFF TEENS. Plus hundreds of jingles, dance mixes, movie and television soundtracks.