Recording Engineers —
As Seen From A Musician's Point Of View
When we enter the recording studio to
make music, someone has the job of getting
our music recorded properly. It's not an easy
job, and the recording engineers are usually trying to accomplish this while dealing
with all kinds of personalities in the room,
differing political agendas, and having to
satisfy the "wants" and "have-to-haves" of
the artists, producers and musicians.
While trying to do their job, engineers even
find time to answer tough questions like
"Where's the bathroom?" or "Can I use the
phone?" as well as my favorite, "Where
should my girlfriend sit?"
Recording engineers come in all sizes, shapes and egos. Some are strictly "wireheads" who can spout technical wisdom in
amazing proportions. A "wirehead" can tell
the second engineer (an assistant, usually
working for free or close to it) to "bring up
the level 5 dB at 400 Hz, widen the bandwidth, adjust the azimuth and replace the
capacitor" all in one breath! Strict "wireheads" can be very useful and definitely
have their place in the recording studio. But
when it's time to record and create, I do not
find them very musical, and yet — that's why
I'm in the studio, to make music.
The other kind of engineer is the musical engineer — my favorite. He is usually a
musician as well as a sound engineer and
understands a musician having to deal
with the uptight world of the recording
studio. He knows what it is like to get on
a creative roll and will not do anything to
disrupt the flow.
Make the recording engineer your best
friend. He can make you sound great, or he
can make you sound like crap if — for some
reason — he doesn't like you. He can help
you solve a sound problem with your instrument and even suggest ways to make your
instrument sound better in the future. If he
is a musical engineer, many times he can
even help with your performance.
Here's a story for you. I'm in the studio
with some of L.A.'s finest musicians, and
we've got all the sounds set to go to tape.
The producer, artist and musicians are discussing musical ideas and the creative
juices are starting to flow. Just about every
time we begin to record an idea, the engineer interrupts with some comment like,
"Should we try a different mic on the
piano?" or "Hey Chet — can I hear your second rack tom for a minute?" This totally
aborts any creativity that was about to happen. As it turned out, we never recorded anything as well as we could have that day. The
engineer was also the studio owner! This guy was not a "musical engineer." He had no
clue about the creative process. He did not
understand the term "creative flow."
Another story? Sure, why not? I remember the time when a compassionate "musical and technical" engineer did me a huge
favor that has lasted my entire career! I
was very young, it may have been my first
or near-first time inside a recording studio,
and he could sense the pressure I was feeling. I was a member of a band called "The
Evergreen Blueshoes" that had rehearsed,
rehearsed, and rehearsed some more. I was
having a little trouble satisfying Skip and
AI, the leaders of the band, with my drumming abilities. Skip, AI and the producer,
the legendary Mike Post, even went so far
as to have a studio pro drummer, the legendary Jim Gordon, standing on the sideline waiting for me to crash and burn! This
was a very logical thing to do considering
their insecurity about me.
So here we are doing some takes and getting tracks. Engineer Mic Lietz from Amos
Engineering Inc. approaches me on a break
and says that the best thing I can do for him
is to "make the needles on the meters hit in the same spot every time you hit a drum" (with the exception of musical dynamics, of
course). "The kick drum should hit the
same level every time you kick it, and the
snare should hit the same level every time you smack it."
Following his advice I came up with very
smooth and consistent drum tracks, and the
stand-by studio pro drummer went home!
Not long ago I pulled this album out (I hadn't listened to it in 30 years) and gave it a
spin. In my opinion I was one of the best
musicians on the record! I owe Mic Lietz
quite a lot for his quick but brief "musical
as well as technical" advice.
I have great respect for recording engineers. Their job carries many problems
most of us don't recognize while we are in
the studio recording our musical treasures.
As I enter the studio, if I don't know the
engineer, I ask for his or her name, and I
don't forget it. I always treat them with the
utmost respect, leave them alone to do their
job and never, ever ask them where my girlfriend should sit!!!
is a Los Angeles session musician (for a zillion years), studio owner/operator (Studio C&C) and recording engineer/producer.