What makes good recording engineers?

by caro on June 19, 2011 · 2 comments

I was discussing this question recently and thought it may be interesting to share and throw out some of the ideas I felt were clear and evident. Do feel free to express your thoughts and opinions to keep us all learning and growing – like all the lush and abundant greenery out there getting so much rain in Manchester.

VU meter

It’s a science and an art

I feel it important to want to keep learning – to have a passion for the mad science that is sound. So we need to take the time to grasp the science – perhaps more specifically physics. And have the humility to respect the complexity of the science. Frequencies work in weird and wonderful ways. Once the tools on offer have been mastered/mistressed enough, we can then enjoy the art of sound recording and mixing music, capturing and sculpting sound as you feel fit.

Empathy and diplomacy

As a studio producer I often describe myself as a midwife – delivering others’ voice and vision. They may not want to make creative music like my favourite music. Non-judgement is part of coaching an artist or band in what they want to. This may involve encouraging the artist(s), helping them to get and stay relaxed. Using positive helpful language, such as ‘how about trying this/that?’ As opposed to ‘don’t do this’ or that. Diplomacy is sometimes the key to keeping a band together for a more cohesive performance and more pleasant working day for all.

piano & headphones

A variety of music

I think it does help to listen to and respect lots of different styles of music and instruments. There is variety of timbre, recording and mixing techniques involved in genres from classical recordings to dubstep, from Indian classical music to the 1960’s Motown sound. For example electronic music tends to employ more heavy compression and clinical EQ while a classical symphonic orchestra will be largely left untreated as Reverb from the recording space – and therefore mic placement – is the magic that can bring it together and alive.

Patience and it’s not about you

Through interviews in magazines such as Sound on Sound and Tape Op, we can learn a lot from more famous (mostly male) music producers. I liked what Thom Russo had to say in an interview with Music Coaching. He talks of the importance of being patient. It may take that guitarist 10 (or more) takes to be happy with his/her performance and get all the nuances right. He wisely points out “The most important thing you have to realize is that it’s not about you – it’s about the music.”

andy drumming pic

Recording engineers who care

Ultimately I think good recording engineers are engineers who care. They enjoy what they do, are present and listen carefully to what is coming out of the monitors/headphones. And then they remember the magic is in the music, the science (acoustics and psycho-acoustics) and the machines (microphones & recording equipment). We just have to learn how to use our tools available to optimum application. And this is as much as 50% technical skills and 50% personal/communication skills.

Surely our aim is to make music that decisively expresses its need and intention and resonates with the listener as the artist(s) hoped and intended?

And finally, I have to share this hilarious yet most adequately crafted new single and video from my very talented friends of Beatabet. Enjoy!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

admin June 19, 2011 at 7:56 pm

interesting Iain. Yes i was assuming engineers are musical but not necessarily music makers i guess. interesting that u prefer to work with female engineers. Do you have one in a studio near you?

Iain June 19, 2011 at 7:06 pm

I have worked with some people not all professionals but good people who have recorded and engineered music… Some were very musical and some technical, i must admit working with some one who is musical is alot easier, as you can either sing, hum, or play parts and they understand… as far as the technical side, understanding music and genre is very important and having a voice on style is too… The whole female producer thing is difficult, i did a paper at university on this, and even when i love certain women in music there strong collaboration partners are men, eg Bjork, yet you then have someone like missy elliot so its difficult, but i do prefer working with women on such music, because they seem to understand music and form and sound while working with men can be more about ego, rather than the actual sound in recording…

Leave a Comment

Previous post: my current 3 top creative music albums for optimum post-op healing

Next post: Making money with your music in the UK