Pro Audio Files

3 Essential Skills for Better Recording Sessions

Audio engineers often have their technical hat on and can sometimes overlook some of the psychology of making a record. The psychology can not only make a record, it can also change the way an artist feels about it in the end.

There are some realities to making modern records that can make artists feel bad about themselves.

1. Editing

A lot of modern production is taking pieces and moving them around. You may want to move a drum fill from the first verse to the last verse. Only now, it doesn’t lock to the rhythm guitar in the same way that it did before.

This may require some gentle adjustments on one or more instruments. As audio engineers, we sometimes don’t take this to heart as much as we should.

Musicians and artists will often become self-aware. Upset that their part wasn’t perfectly locked in for the whole song.

The reality is, it’s not that it’s out of time or bad. Subtle feel shifts happen during performances. Especially when playing live together. You’re on the same bus.

Flying parts in from other sections is like jumping from the the A to F train without stopping.

One way of avoiding artists and musicians from feeling this way is to give them a break. Send them out for a walk to clear their head. Just say you need a minute to get it ready for playback. It’s a good idea for them to have a break after they’ve just laid down a bunch of takes anyway.

A little separation gives them objectivity. This is not something they need to be there for anyway. They can still be creatively involved, but it keeps them from getting iced.

Stuck in the Middle

It’s likely at some point in your career you’ll have to do more editing than you want to. This can be due to … Well, how do you say it … I guess I don’t have to.

Sometimes, you’re stuck with a band or musicians on a project. If you can’t replace a player that isn’t carrying their own weight, you’ll be very busy editing. Or secretly replacing.

Definitely get them to leave for the day. You’re going to be doing major surgery and it’s going to make you grumpy. Keep someone close so you can privately blow off steam. These projects are frustrating.

2. Punch Drunk Love

Occasionally punches need to be made. It saves time. Sure it’s nice to please your ego and do numerous takes until you prove you can nail it. But most people aren’t dealing with these kind of budgets anymore.

If it’s one note or one phrase that you don’t like, just punch it in. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds though. I’ve worked with engineers that made punches feel completely out of context.

I’ve also worked with engineers that made punches feel as if they naturally fit in the track as I’m laying them in.

Don’t wait for an important session to learn how to effectively do punches. I was working on a session recently with producer Anthony Resta and engineer Karyadi Sutedja.


Karyadi was the quickest punch in the West (it really was the West). He was able to punch in and out multiple times in a phrase and I didn’t even know it.

In order to do this, he had to have a strong musical sense of timing. He dropped me in and out on specific notes as if he was a drummer.

This came in handy when I was double tracking an improvised solo. I needed to match bends and vibrato. This task would have taken much longer without his skill.

The Workout

Practice counting in. Know everything about the punch settings in your DAW. Get experience with auto-punches and freehand punches. Make it effortless.

Pre Roll

This can be a real mind twister when tracking. It’s important when you’re doing punches or multiple takes that you have the same amount of pre-roll and a consistent starting point.

Randomly starting from different beats will not put the performer in a solid state of mind. Pay attention to the time ruler. Have a law of either one or two bars of pre-roll. Stay away from odd numbers of beats unless the song is in an odd time signature.

You always want the artist to feel grounded. If your start times are jerky jerky, you can expect weaker performances.

3. Markers

Hide and seek may be a fun game, but not on a session. Make sure you label each section of the song. Do this as early in the project as possible. Nobody likes hearing you search for a section with headphones on.

The best engineers I’ve worked with know exactly where the second chorus is when I ask for it.

DAWs have different options. Logic allows you to name and color code markers. You can even come up with a system for yourself. Perhaps verses are light blue and pink is for the chorus. If you do this for every song, it will make navigation much easier for each song because there is consistency.

It’s all the small things that add up to making an experience memorable. Try these tips to add value to your studio experience.

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Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at

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