Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Customer Satisfaction in the Recording Studio

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The clientele and the size of the business of any recording studio are always determined by the satisfaction of their clients. A lot of engineers, producers and studio owners don’t realize that the recording industry is not just product-oriented business, but a service industry as well; like a restaurant for example. Yes the quality of the food is very important, but the total atmosphere and the attitude of the waiter are just as important. As an engineer, I feel like the final quality of the mix for example is just as important as the process that delivered that final mix. Since music and the recording process are very subjective and not tangible, there are a lot of situations that remind me of the fable "The Emperor's New Clothes". For example an electric guitar track recorded through a $5,000 microphone will always sound better to the untrained ear if that person knew the price of the microphone, even if a $75 microphone is way more appropriate for the job. See the article “The Essential Microphones - The Shure SM57 & the Neumann U87” http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Essential-Microphones---The-Shure-SM57-and-the-Neumann-U87&id=1777297
 At the very beginning of my career as an engineer I was fortunate enough to work with great engineers and producers. As an assistant engineer I’ve witnessed the following scenario in the studio on more than one occasion:
After 8 or 10 hours of working on a mix the engineer is pretty happy with the sound and ready to print the final mix and go home. Instead we find out that the record label executives, A&R, or the band’s managers are on their way to check on the progress of the song. Two minutes before they walk in the control room, the engineer takes the bass track and turns it way down, to a point where you can barely hear it. After the A&R guys heard the mix they all agreed “It’s perfect, except it needs more bass”. The engineer brings the level of the bass back where it used to be, and everyone approves the mix and goes home. Later he explained to me that if he hadn’t done that, we were all going to spend the entire night trying to find a flaw in the mix so that the A&R guys would feel like they contributed somehow to the great final product.

On many other occasions when working with an inexperienced producers, as an engineer I’m forced to play mind games. For example I might be asked to ad more effects on a vocal, when it’s obvious to me and everyone else in the studio that the vocals have too much effect already. In this case I would pretend I’m adjusting the effects while doing nothing, and magically the producer feels like the vocals sound so much better now.
 The studio I worked for a few years ago had a few thousand dollars extra in their budget. The dilemma was whether to buy the latest model ribbon microphone, or a giant screen TV with Play Station and X-Box. Guess what, we ended up getting the game system. Having good microphones and gear is very important, but that only satisfies the engineer. The real paying clients in the studio are the artists and the record labels behind them. Getting them occupied while doing the tedious techy stuff in the recording process, turned out to be more lucrative then getting the shiny microphone. See article by “Record Productions” http://www.recordproduction.com/sanctum-sound.html
All those examples prove that client satisfaction in the recording studio includes the process of getting to the final product as well as the product itself. Many studios I’ve been to, don’t take that in consideration. They focus only on the technical aspect for the project, not realizing that even with a great sounding final product, they are providing a horrible service to their clients.

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