Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Customer Satisfaction in the Recording Studio

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.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Time Management in the Recording Studio.

--> Managing your time in an efficient way when in the recording studio is the most important skill you may learn as a producer and an engineer. Almost every session I've worked on in my life has ended late with not quite everything scheduled done.

Make the most of your time in a recording studio: 10 great tips

written by: Alex Fraser; article published: year 2007, month 11

Two main reasons recording budgets always run short - poor time management, and personal conflicts between band members, engineers, producers, A&R. If you take both of those factors out, every record should always turn out as planned. The reality is that we can’t quite predict other people’s actions and avoid confrontation. With a little experience we can definitely foresee the amount of time needed for a particular task in the studio. What most producers usually don’t accommodate for in their scheduling is the time it takes to resolve the personal conflicts. We all tend to ignore the human factor in everything we do, but it is a very real condition that’s unavoidable. For better or worse we are all humans. Because of that human factor, a lot of times our ambitions are higher than what we are capable of doing. In general that’s a good thing, but when it comes to studio time, the opposite has proven to be more efficient. Don’t go in the studio with a huge plan for the day. Be well organized, but don’t try to schedule every second of the session. A well-rehearsed band can probably do six basic tracks in about six ours of recording time. The same band with the same songs on a different day might do only three songs in the same given time. That’s the reality of it when taken the human factor in consideration. So don’t plan on getting six tracks in six ours. At the same time studio time and tasks performed never have a linier relationship. If you can record six tracks in six hours that doesn’t mean you can record three tracks in three hours, nor does it mean you can do twelve tracks in twelve hours. Time management in the studio always comes down to preparation. Think of your session time as a robot that needs to run on autopilot. If you didn’t program it well at home it will crash and burn and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s usually a fine line between preparation and setup time vs. session time. If you need to print scores or learn lyrics obviously that would be a part of your personal preparation you can do at home ahead of time. When it comes to the actual physical setup in the studio a lot of times that’s done right before the downbeat of the session or sometimes as a part of the session time. All those factors should be taken in consideration to achieve effective time management in the studio. The producer of the session should be the one responsible and act as the time manager, but a lot of times no one takes control and sessions run into a grinding halt, mainly because of a poor time management.
See also "Top 5 Recording studio tips" by Joe Shambro