I had a conversation with an engineer friend of mine a few months ago. He does recording, mixing, and mastering for a living here in Nashville. He pointed out something that I thought was really interesting and very true. Engineers are a very insecure group of people.

What did he mean by that? We’re in a very creative field, and our job consists of making hundreds and thousands of subjective, creative decisions.

There’s not much about music that’s objective. I can dial in a guitar tone. You can tell me that you don’t like the tone, but you can’t definitively say it’s a bad guitar tone. Everything must be taken in context and everything subjective.

This insecurity can be paralyzing for an engineer if you think about it too much. Here are some tips for getting over that insecurity and making sure that you’re moving in the right direction.

1. Know the goal

Your goal as an engineer should be to work on good music and develop good technique to capture that music. The goal is not to build up your ego and to come up with new, groundbreaking ways of recording or mixing music.

You’re job is simple. Take a great song, capture a great performance, and reproduce that in a way that enhances the music.

You also need to be able to take criticism on your work, either from clients or fellow engineers. Think about American Idol. There are some awful singers on that show, and they don’t even realize it. Don’t be that engineer.

Find people that will be honest with you about your work and will help you improve and get better. The worst thing that can happen is that you get better when you get constructive criticism from others.

2. Don’t become content/complacent

Professional engineers are constantly learning. They never settle for the same old way of doing things.

For example, a professional engineer, when setting up for a drum tracking session, will take time to find the right mic placement for that drum on that day. Yes, there are certain standards that apply to most drum tracking sessions, but the good engineers are the ones who take time to get a good sound every time.

What worked last week might not work this week. Therefore, you have to stay on top of things and not become complacent.

3. Embrace change/improvement

I already hinted at this, but it deserves its own section. Change is good. If you’re changing, chances are you’re improving.

Take the time to find engineers that you trust and send them a few of your mixes. Have them be honest about what they like and don’t like about the mixes.

It may hurt at first (and trust me. I know what this is like), but ultimately it is ridiculously good for you. You will glean things from that experience that you couldn’t get any other way.

So I got a little philosophical with you in today’s post, but tell me. Do you agree with what I wrote here? Leave a comment below. Let me know what you think.

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  • Grant Brott

    Who is the insecure Engineer? I read your content but not getting you. Kindly share it in more easy manner.

  • These three advices are one of most important lessons I learned today. I’m not a professional engineer, but I’m pretty familiar with sound engineers job.
    I like the “American Idol” comparison. Don’t be that engineer. Don’t be that musician.

    Great article, I guess you have a new regular for your blog πŸ™‚
    Cheers

  • Hey Joe, I need to confess, I’m sure I would be more grateful writing in my native language, but I’ll try…
    Since I started reading the HSC, and that was 5 months ago or something, every thing you write is so full of coherence, and makes us take our point of your opinion, makes us think, and that is the important thing, I say that I’m addicted to your posts, and to your old podcasts, your new podcasts with Graham, and the most effective part of it all is that now I do pratice much and much more, I want to improve more than never my recording techniques, to get it right from the source, I have a bigger concern in what is just bull and what really matters, and I know more and more that I know nothing and need to keep on trying…
    I really appreciate that you put all this information for free on internet and I mean, I follow a guy here in Brazil that makes a job similar yours (sometimes I think he copied somethings from you πŸ˜€ ) But he has more the music market speeches, and you are the engineering guy, and the engineering that I want to be… Thank you very much… You do a great job, and when I get some money I’ll get in “mix with us” because you are great!

  • J R Grootenhuis

    Hi Joe,

    I agree.

  • Andrew

    The main thing about this post (and please correct me if I’m wrong), is that no one engineer has the right answer. It’s almost seems to be a case of “it takes a village to raise a child” (except we’re not talking about a child).

    Take what you think, then check it against what other people say/think, then make a decision based on what needs to be don in the situation.

    • I agree. But if 5 engineers tell me my bass sound isn’t good…I’m going to start believing them. And I may never know that without their input.