Sunday, September 26, 2010

SO... You want to be a recording engineer?

Before we jump into the technical stuff, I have compiled a short list of attributes and things which you will need to have (or develop) in order to become an adequate audio recordist.

-Astute observational abilities
-Good working ears
-An Understanding of Music
-Disposable income
-A decent computer and software
-An Audio interface
-Mics, cables, speakers and instruments
-Music to record!

Let me Elaborate...

Astute Observational abilities: Alot of the processes of getting a song recorded to HardDrive (or Tape) and sounding good during final mixdown involve a lot of minute subtle interactions and changes that need to be performed properly.  Mic Placement, Phase Relationships, Preamp choices, and other outboard gear choices are things that need to be carefully dealt with during tracking because changing them even a little bit can effect the sound drastically, and if you f*ck it up on the way in  in you're gonna have a BAAAD TIIIIME!  I will tell you right now "Get it right from the source"  if anyone says to you "Fix it in the mix" smack them for me. 

  There isn't a lot of instant gratification in this trade.  It takes alot of work to take a rough idea an turn it into a polished professional recording, and if you dont put in the hours you will never get good quality results.  You will also need ALOT of patience due to the fact that working with musicians can be an absolute pain in the ass... Especially if it is their first time in a studio.

Good Working Ears:
This should really be a no-brainer but i will elaborate nonetheless... if you have hearing loss or any other ailment that affects your hearing in a negative way you should probably stay away from the engineering side of music production.  If you're a drummer who has been on tour for the last 10 years and played every night without ear plugs then you should probably pay someone else to do the fine-tuning of your record.  I listened to a drummers headphone mix recently and just the friggin click track by itself was so loud that it was physically painful on my ears...  The same goes for Frequency Response by the way.  If you cant hear the full spectrum properly due to hearing problems you are gonna have a hard time EQing your mixes... Some things to consider.

An Understanding of Music:  Although i'm sure not EVERY engineer has a solid foundation of music knowledge, (I'm looking at you DJ's)  The majority of them should have a solid musical background for a number of reasons.  For one its a lot easier to communicate with other musicians if you're both speaking the same language.  And even if you don't know your theory,  if you play an instrument you can get your point across by demonstrating on the guitar or piano or whatever the hell it is you play.   For people who strictly sequence their music in the computer it would be alot more difficult  to properly communicate their ideas.  Sessions will run more smoothly if you know what you're talking about.  And if your know your stuff but THE BAND is musically retarded.... Damn it man You're gonna have a rough session, and i feel for ya.  I know all of this from experience unfortunately.  Its all part of the game though.

Disposable Income:
  Lets get this straight from the beginning.  You need some extra cheddar in the bank to get into this game... You're gonna want to drop some cash on one thing or another whether it be School, a personal Mentor or gear of your own for you to start learning on at home.  Most audio schools are EXPENSIVE and you don't exactly get what you pay for in most cases.  They will pump groups of students in and out a few times a year and upon graduation they will hand you a diploma, kick you to the curb and say GTFO unless you want to come back for our more "advanced" Audio engineering program... Yeah....... NO!  Although i learned alot at school i harbor a slight resentment about the way they choose to operate their business.  The teachers at the school i attended were EXCELLENT though.  Really cool people! 

A Decent Computer and Software:
  These days technology is advancing so fast the old recording systems are quickly becoming inferior.  Protools used to rely on its own outboard processing chips and you would have to shell out THOUSANDS of dollars for just a basic barebones functioning protools HD setup.  Nowadays even moderately priced off the shelf stock computers have sufficient processing power for most "In the Box" mixes.  But lo and behold Avid (the company behind Protools) is still selling their outdated hardware at ridiculously inflated prices.  Since we're on the subject.  When you're starting out be sure to pick the DAW (digital recording software) that is right for you.  I would not recommend Protools unless you are getting work from professional studios.  It may be the "industry standard" but it's Hardware is waaaay to expensive and their LE (cheap) version of the software is intentionally crippled which has many people quite pissed. (myself included)  If you are looking for a very functional inexpensive recording software i would recommend Reaper.  If i could start again from scratch i would definitely use Reaper.

An Audio Interface: 
An audio interface is basically an external sound-card that connects to your computer via Firewire, usb, or pci slot.  There are microphone inputs, 1/4inch Direct Inputs, digital inputs, basically you connect all your mics/instruments to a box and it captures the signal and converts it to digital information (110100010110) so that it can be stored and played on your computer.  Before you buy an interface you should consider what style of music you wish to produce.  Whether or not you need many mic inputs or just one or two.  For example: Hiphop and electronic based producers may only need one input for vocals, whereas everyone else will need several.  (Especially if you plan on recording drums.)  And finally like i said before you should figure out which DAW you are going to use before you buy an interface because with protools you are forced to use their interfaces. (the software doesn't run unless the hardware in connected.)  Prices range from under $200 to $3000+

Mics, cables, speakers and instruments: 
Self explanatory.  I will get into the differences between microphones ect... later on...

Music to record: Its Simple.  At first you should find a buddy with a band to practice on.  if you don't have one then put out an add on craigslist or something.  Just find SOME way of practicing and advancing your understanding of Audio recording.  If you are a musician yourself then record some of your own songs!  plug in your guitar/bass and sequence some drums in your DAW.  Easy as that.  Anything is acceptable in the early learning stages!

SO!  Basically in summation: if you are the right type of person and have the extra beans in the bank then go for it.  Just make sure you have a backup plan in the likely event that you fail to make any decent money doing this LOL.


~Catch ya later

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