Welcome to Day 30 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Wait a second…what?!

I know. I know. This may seem like an odd topic for one of the last posts of 31 Days to Better Recordings, but I think this is hugely important, and it’s something that a lot of audio engineers simply ignore.

If we could rewind 30 days, and I asked you to give me 31 tips for better recordings, what would you say? Chances are you’d list off a lot of the same things I’ve talked about here on 31DBR. You would have had some tips about gear, technique, practice, etc. etc. But would you have mentioned anything about how you deal with people?

Hmm…

I talked about this in The Psychology of Recording, and I’ll reiterate it here.

Who are you recording? Robots? Animals? Space aliens? For most of you, I’d venture to say the answer is people. You’re bringing in artists and musicians to record. [Quick side-note: You may only record yourself, and that’s fine, but you really need to start branching out and recording other people. It’s a valuable skill.]

The “Typical” Audio Engineer

Remember back when your favorite albums would have “Produced by:” and “Engineered by:” in the liner notes? Have you ever wondered why the producer and engineer weren’t the same person? Could the producer have also engineered the recording? Yep. Could the engineer have also produced the recording? Yep.

Then why two people?

One good reason: Audio engineers aren’t good with people.

Okay, before you break out the tar and feathers, let me explain. I’m not saying ALL engineers aren’t good with people, but a lot of them aren’t. They get so focused on “nerding out” on gear and mic techniques and preamps and compressors and patchbays and phase and Fletcher-Munson Curves…that they fail to realize that they’re recording a person.

That’s a big reason why albums had producers. The producer was good with people, knew how to deal with the musician, how to bring out a fantastic performance. He was less concerned with how the recording was technically accomplished. His job was to simply create (or produce) a great product: a record.

Nowadays, most of us are recording in our spare bedrooms. We wear many hats, including both producer and engineer. Keep that in mind on your next session. If you get so wrapped up in the technical side of recording that you ignore this creative person sitting in front of the microphone, you’re not going to be happy with the results.

Your number one job is to make the musician comfortable. And this applies to more than just the tracking sessions. If you’re working on a mix, and the musician really doesn’t like the creative direction you’re taking the song, listen to her. Don’t let your arrogance cause you to burn bridges. You may find that musicians aren’t idiots after all :-), and that they can bring a lot of value to the table.

Day 30 Challenge

Your challenge today is to email a musician friend of yours and schedule a session. It can be a simple guitar/vocal session. That’s fine. But focus on making the musician happy and comfortable. You’ll be surprised how good it will still sound.

  • Matt

    Joe, this is GREAT advice. When I was first starting out in recording, I didn’t have a ton of equipment or experience. The one thing I did have was the ability to make people feel comfortable and relaxed. People were so patient with me and so willing to work with me because they enjoyed being here (they said). They felt at “home” here (they said). This took a lot of pressure off of me as an engineer and, I think it took pressure off of them as performers too. Now, a few years on, I have more equipment and more experience but, the most important thing is that I still have many of those same people working with me now that were there at the very beginning.
    Also, as you mentioned, the performances were always so good because the musicians were comfortable. I may not have been the best engineer but, the performances were great! LORD willing, I’m a better engineer now but, hopefully, still am able to make people feel comfortable and get great performances.

  • Arjun Ramesh

    Great post, Joe. Already on it. We had gone over this very same topic a lot in audio engineering school. Making the artist feel comfortable is a big thing, so that they can play much better.

  • Christopher w

    didn’t you already have this one? never mind, it was before this 31 day thing.

    anyway, my communication skills are terrible… especially explaining to people what I am doing (e.g. why you placing that mic there, why are you using so much eq, why can’t I rest my words on the reflection filter? etc.) they know it may be for the better but I somehow can’t explain to them why in a way that normal “un-techie” people would understand. I just confuse them or it sounds like I am being very sarcastic, and its an area I need to improve loads as I know it will help me greatly.

  • Ryusei Kawano

    Right now my projects have only been with my band and we’re all friends so we can get along pretty well. But I’m curious to how I would do with other bands.

  • mark b

    so true. at the Recording Workshop in Chillicothe OH, they actualy graded you partially on our “way” with people. for some reason i didn’t score as well as i thought i should have, but hey there ya go. i’m actually a people person! 🙂 i wonder if “mixerman” would score very high in that regard…hmm…

  • Wow!!! Interesting post especially when I’m starting a new session with w new client for some singer songwriter demos. I will definitely take this info and use it today.

  • Jim O

    Ain’t it the truth? There is so much to get caught up in that you tend to forget the living, breathing entity in front of you. I recorded our band 2 nights ago and I found myself sometimes “going off” at bandmates! Hey it happens! But in the end when the lead singer is tracking vocals from a closet and all you can hear is his reverbed voice from the monitors at your desk & you suddenly break out in stitches — you realize it all seems worth it… Comfort is key —