Being an audio engineer with your own studio is about more than setting microphone levels and flipping switches. To ensure that having a studio is both fun and profitable, it helps to follow a few rules – and make sure your clients are aware of them before they walk inside, too. Being professional and prepared to deal with different personality types is crucial, especially when the clock is ticking. Even if you’re not running your own studio, and, instead, going in for a session, the following rules can help you have a more successful and efficient experience all around.
Keep a strict schedule.
Let clients know in advance that they need to show up on time and ready to work. If a client shows up late or unprepared to start recording, no matter how great their excuse for being late may be, they need to know that your time comes at a price, and that doesn’t mean you’ll be extending the session.
Same goes for you and your bandmates showing up to record a session - be professional and be on time so that you’re not wasting the time of the studio. It goes a long way being in good standing with the studio manager.
Just as you expect clients to be ready to perform, you also need to be ready before they arrive – you don’t want to be searching for cables or fixing wonky equipment when a client is waiting. The night before, check headphones, microphones, and other recording devices, and be sure to use the configuration of the group coming into the studio as a blueprint. Set volume levels, but be prepared to tweak them once the clients arrive and start to warm up. Finally, check all cables, mics, and instruments for buzzes or unwanted noise.
If you’re scheduled for a session the next day, make sure you’re totally ready the night before. Pack up all your equipment, have extra writing tools, and whatever else you need to be comfortable. That keeps you from rushing and ultimately forgetting something the next day.
Prepare clients to be prepared.
Part of ensuring neither your client’s time or yours is wasted is making sure all your client knows all major structural revamps like rewriting lyrics from scratch are best done before entering the studio – and making your expectations clear before they arrive is worthwhile. While there is always some last-minute jiggering that takes place, they are paying for time to write song lyrics in which they aren’t really using the studio facilities or your services. Also, set the expectation that the incoming musicians are well-rehearsed before arriving. Since “time is money” in this scenario, coming in prepared to perform is vital - whether you’re the studio manager running the session or the creators coming in to record.
Do you charge by the hour or by the session? What are the rules? What are the liabilities and expectations? Be clear in advance so that the client has a rough idea of what they will end up spending and won’t feel misled. It’s best to spell out in a contract that, say, you expect to be reimbursed for broken equipment, for example, then try to explain after the fact.
As creators coming into a studio, remember that you’re still a guest which means that you should be prepared to work and not goof off. But, you’re also paying for your time there, sometimes a good amount of money, so make sure to ask all the important questions beforehand. A clear expectation on both sides means for a smoother session in the end.
Keeping “in-house” gear like piano, drums, guitars and instrument amplifiers allows an engineer to prepare in advance and saves musicians from having to unload equipment when they could be recording. If the band prefers to use their own equipment remind them that the time they spend tuning up and getting levels could be spent recording.
Knowing what equipment is available at the studio, as the creator coming in, is just as important. You don’t want to show up and a vital instrument is missing!
Set the tone.
To be professional, a studio doesn’t have to be cold and official-looking. Instead, try to make the space comfortable. Set up the group as if they were rehearsing or performing on stage, even using live vocal mics if you can. If you can arrange the group members in a tight semi-circle so that they can maintain eye contact, they’ll likely appreciate it.
Do the same if you’re going in for a session - set the tone amongst your co-writers so you’re all on the same page about what you plan to accomplish by the end of the session. You don’t want to be the only one with the intent of leaving with a final version of your song.
Hand over the tapes.
While it might seem as if your studio is the safest place to keep the recordings if a band is constantly on the move, make sure that your client brings in a mobile drive every time they come in so the day’s work can be uploaded to it. Since they’re paying for the recording session, you don’t own the master recordings – and if you lose them, you’re liable.
Be prepared to receive the work you’ve been chipping away at all day! Double check with the studio what type of external drive you should have to take home any recordings you finish.
Back in the old days, no one wanted to “waste tape,” but that’s no longer a concern. Musicians can feel pressure knowing the red light is on, so don’t tell them – and you may get great stuff. Also, keep all of it, as you never know what might be useful - it could make for a great “behind the scenes” footage later on!
While perfectionism may have made someone a great musician, it can derail a recording session. Be prepared to deal with artists who are never satisfied by being encouraging – and firm. This is also a reason to do final mixes with the band long gone. If you’re mixing the session, be sure to give the client a set number of revisions they can request before charging an additional fee.
As the creators - keep in mind that the studio could have other musicians booked or sessions to mix, so try not to go over your allotted time because “it’s just not there yet”. If you really feel strongly that the song isn’t finished, schedule another session and take some time to review what you’ve worked on.
Because we’ve all had a computer crash or a smartphone die, we know that technology isn’t risk-free. Make sure everything is backed up to a dedicated storage unit. If your hard drive crashes, a backup drive on to which you’ve been faithfully downloading is the difference between a mild inconvenience and potentially losing a week’s worth of work.
Whether you’re running your own studio - DIY or professionally - or booking a session at a studio for yourself or your band, it’s important to be prepared, professional, and to make the most of the time you’re there. And once you’re finished with your song, don’t forget to get your publishing in order so that all that hard work doesn’t go to waste!