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20 Tips I’ve Learned from 12 Years in the Recording Studio

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  1. Arrive early. Nothing looks worse than having to delay a session because the basic setup wasn’t ready to go.
  2. Know what’s being recorded. The more you know about the session ahead of time the easier it will be to impress clients with your speed and skill.
  3. Understand your clientele. Sometimes I get producers who just need my studio for listening and tweak a few things on their laptops. I still have a mic set up and ready to go, because you never know when the client may have a vocal idea or percussion track to lay down last minute. It leaves a great impression when the client says “hey, could I track this idea” and you point to the booth and say, “the mic is already set up and ready to go.”
  4. Anticipate results, but dismiss confirmation bias! I know what certain gear should do. This helps me set up quickly. But sometimes things don’t do what they expect. Keep your ears and mind open. Just because it’s a C800-G through a Fairchild doesn’t mean it will always sound good.
  5. Take care of the ins-and-outs of payment up front, and in detail. I literally drop a message that says “I want to cover payment in detail now so that we don’t have to think about it later.” Talking money sucks, so get it over with.
  6. Wrap cables and decompress your stands. Leaving tension on cables and stands is what causes them to break. Take the extra ten minutes to leave your utility gear in good condition so you don’t have to replace things too often.
  7. Pay attention to amenities. Studios aren’t about gear, they aren’t even about results. They are about experience. Having water, tea, snacks, music stands, note pads, a TV and books in the lounge, a clean space that isn’t “clinical”, all adds up. Always keep in mind you are presenting an experience.
  8. Cover your “little things” bases. You know how many times I’ve been in studios that have an SSL with hundreds of thousands worth of mics and outboard gear, but don’t have an 1/8″ to 1/4″ splitter? They don’t have an extra Mac charger, batteries, Moongels or XLR-to-TT cables? How sad is it to watch an engineer chain XLR cables together to run them into the live room just to get back to the patch bay so an artist can record ideas in the control room?
  9. Holy shitballs, be polite! This should be easy, but even as recently as a month ago I had an in-house assistant (not my assistant, believe that) take a tone with my client because she couldn’t figure out how to work the cue system. Mind blower: not everyone knows that “Level” is synonymous with “Volume”. Working with other people is always frustrating — get over it — that goes with the job.
  10. Assign your role. Sometimes there’s a producer in the room and I’m the engineer. Sometimes there’s no producer in the room, so I’m kind of both. Sometimes I’m the producer and there’s another engineer. While the distinction can blur, it’s very important to stick to the role of the day to keep things running smoothly. As much as we might want to hear another take, that’s the producer’s job.
  11. Assign a pace. Vetted artists tend to want to move fast, so keep up. Less experienced artists can get intimidated if the pace is too fast, so slow it down. Don’t make the artist feel like they’re not good enough to be in the room with you, or next time: they won’t be in the room with you.
  12. Learn those hotkey commands. Studio sessions can move fast. “Ok next one.” “One more time.” “Save that, but let me do another.” “Ok, comp those two.” You want to do those things as fast as it took you to just read them.
  13. Stick to what you know. Some sessions have extra time to get sounds and experiment. Awesome! And bless the clients who know well enough that getting sounds is part of the creative process. But they are few and far between. Most sessions are in-and-out. I usually have two or three techniques for every sound source, sometimes just one for a bunch of others, and I stick to them. I’ll experiment on my own time. The most important part of the job is getting it done.
  14. Mix and edit on-the-fly. There’s about a 0.00% chance your client isn’t going to want to leave with a rough mix. That rough will be what they use to ascertain the results of working with you. You’re going to have about 10 minutes (give or take) to make that rough. So do as much on-the-fly as possible.
  15. Vocalists need mood. The voice is unlike any other instrument in that it is a living part of a person. Everyone needs to get in their zone, but this is about a thousand times more true for vocalists. Close the curtain so they’re in a private space. Give them good lighting. Do your best to create an environment conducive to the vocalist being as uninhibited as possible so they can let those notes fly.
  16. Be kind, yet clear. It’s very important that boundaries are defined in your studio space. Drinks are on the house, but never on the SSL. Smoking is fine—there’s a patio outside. The lounge is a fantastic place to hang out—the machine room is not. Deposit must be cleared one week in advance with a remainder to be paid before you walk out the door, and in between — this session is going to be awesome!
  17. Performing artists have different preferences. For vocalists in particular—some like to sing with reverb or delay, some prefer dry. Some like to sing through auto-tune, some do not. Some like to hear themselves way over the track, some like to hear themselves blended. Figure out what helps them perform and do that. And if you’re morally opposed to autotune, who gives a damn, put it on there, it’s not about you!
  18. Put your phone away. The client can talk, you cannot. This seems obvious, but I’ve seen it more than once. But, never more than once at the same studio, if you get what I’m saying.
  19. Talk to your tech. If you’re in a shared studio, keep a good relationship with the tech, and try to know what channels and patch points are dead.
  20. Command + S habitually. Do it now.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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