Tim Crich’s witty, yet useful, tips for becoming
a better Recording Engineer!
Tim Crich has over 20 years of experience in the recording studio, and worked on records by The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, KISS, Billy Joel, U2, David Bowie, Bon Jovi, Ozzy, Cher, Bryan Adams, Tuff Beans and many more.
Below are Tim’s witty tips for becoming a better Recording Engineer. This is an excerpt from Tim’s book Recording Tips for Engineers, 3e:
The recording engineer is responsible for keeping the session running smoothly, including setting up the control room, choosing the microphones, organizing the signal flow, choosing the track layout, getting the sounds, and pressing the record button. Good sounds or bad, the buck stops with the recording engineer.
Becoming a Better Recording Engineer
• Praise the lowered. Work at lower volume levels. The sounds will be more accurate and ear fatigue will be minimized. If the level must be loud, get your sounds, insert your earplugs, and turn it up. Occasionally listen at lower levels without the earplugs. There is nothing in the recording studio as important as your hearing. Longevity in the recording industry means good hearing for decades to come. Plus, the loud level might wake up the producer.
• Get musical. Recording music is so much easier if you understand music. Music plays a key role in the vast majority of recordings so most clients prefer ‘musical’ engineers. If you don’t play an instrument, buy a guitar or keyboard and learn some basic songs. While learning to play an instrument may seem daunting, you don’t need to become a virtuoso player; you just need to grasp song structures and musical progressions. If you get musical, you get work.
• Be consistent. Quality is no accident. Success comes from working every day at your craft, and that requires hard work and dedication. You become what you practice. The ultimate goal is to be the recording engineer that everyone wants to use because of your ears, your expertise, your vibe, and your impressive collection of Ramones T-shirts.
• I’m maintaining. Keep your body well-maintained or long hours will take their toll. Just like your car, if you give it the best gasoline you will get the best results. Eat healthily and drink enough water.
• Be professional. This is your craft and you must work at it. I have seen engineers lose gigs because they got wasted and became an idiot. Do what I do – wait until your day off to start drinking at 7 am.
• Don’t get mad, get even. An even temperament goes a long way. Mistakes and frustrations happen in all jobs and, in the long run, so what? A good engineer keeps the session at ease, especially during stressful times. Do you want clients and co-workers to remember you as the engineer who blows up, or the engineer who is a pro and can work around anything?
• A breath of fresh air. When you sit at the console next to someone for hours on end, a toothbrush, mouthwash, and breath mints may be in order.
• Fess up. As the engineer, you are responsible for the content of the recording. If you make a mistake or erase something, say so. You will get more respect in the long run.
• Discrete recording. Discretion for an engineer means knowing when to crank the volume for a playback, when to be quiet and twiddle the knobs, and when to move on. As the engineer, you lead the session. The producer has the road map, but you drive the car.
• Make it look good. Some engineers go through their careers simply setting up a microphone and pressing the record button. Engineering is an art. Much like cooking and sex, presentation is part of the package.
• So shut up already. There’s no reason to broadcast to everyone that you are manipulating an instrument or vocal sound. Just quietly do it and, if they ask, tell them any changes are minor. Announcing, ‘I really had to use a lot of equalization on your vocal’ helps no one. Just get the sound and, as Joe Perry said, ‘Let the music do the talking.’
• Record what the song requires. If the song requires bagpipes, don’t use something that sounds sort of like bagpipes – get the bagpipes. Whenever you compromise, you might save a couple of hours and a couple of dollars, but a mediocre substitute haunts you long after the money and time are forgotten. Money comes and goes but a recording is timeless. Especially the bagpipes.
• Record an instrument how it’s supposed to sound. This may be obvious, but, if you are recording an unfamiliar instrument, go into the studio and listen to the instrument being played. Maybe discuss how it’s supposed to sound with the player. Some instruments are heavy within a certain frequency range and are frequency-dependent. If the sound dwells within a limited frequency range, don’t ‘fix’ it with processing – record it how it’s supposed to sound. Then, if the natural sound of the instrument isn’t working, maybe it’s the wrong part or the wrong instrument, or both.
• Get a good sound fast. People lose perspective when the engineer takes three hours getting a bass sound. Unless it sounds horrible, move on.
• Spend the most time on the most important factor of the record. If the main part of the session is scheduled for vocals, don’t spend hours on the drums.
• A/B and see. Once you have processed a sound, press the bypass button to compare and check that the processed sound is an improvement over the unprocessed sound.
• Leave the solo button alone. An instrument in solo sounds very different when the rest of the tracks are in the monitor mix.
• Use microphone choice, setting, and placement over processing. If you can get a better sound by slightly moving the microphone, do that before adding equalization and compression.
• Commit to the sound. The confident engineer says, ‘This is the sound we want; let’s record it,’ rather than, ‘Hey, how’s this?’ Unless someone really doesn’t like the sound, everyone should go along. But you must be correct. If they don’t have confidence in the engineer, things can quickly deteriorate from,‘Sounds great,’ to,‘Gee I don’t know; what do you think?’
• Rule of thumb. Make the guy who signs your check sound best.
So, what is your witty tip? Comment below and be automatically entered to win a copy of Recording Tips for Engineers, 3e.
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