If you're an audio engineer with little experience and an artist approaches you to record a project with a deadline of two months, how do you possibly agree to that? Most of the time it seems projects takes three times longer than you expected, so how will you gage your expectations? My theory - do it and see what happens! You'll gain the experience you didn't have before and learn more about your limitations, which is ten times more valuable than saying no.
1) Be Realistic, but Be Creative
The default answer is, “Let’s see what we can do!” With that said, as audio engineers, our job is to foster creativity. If you tell a kid that Santa isn’t real, the child’s imagination is destroyed, and the possible becomes impossible. If you tell your artist ‘no’, their creative expression is hindered and you’ll never realize your full potential. Allow your artist to dream big, butcommunicate what they are asking of the process.
2) Plan, Plan, Plan
Plan before you start. Plan when plans have changed. Sit down with your artist with a calendar and write down their wants and desires: release date, marketing strategy, vision, instruments, featured artists, demos, and so on. Once you start marking down all the dates and deadlines for the recording sessions (the mixing, mastering, etc.) then you’ve got a plan. This schedule will reveal the reality of the process. Let the schedule speak for itself as far as what’s possible. Your plans will change the first day of recording. Learning to communicate and adapt with your artist is key.
3) Group your Recordings
If you have four songs in the album with guitar for example, try to knock out all the guitar parts in one session. This ensures that you have the same settings – mics, mic placement, pre-amp, gain staging – for the rest of the album. (This will help you with step 6.) While recording:
4) Work SMARTER on the front end of the Signal
If you want to make less work for yourself, do everything you can to make the recording sound good initially. Set up more mics than usual (you can always mute). Adding plug-ins and using them to their full potential takes time and experience, so if you lack both, use them sparingly. This makes for less plug-ins to tweak and mess with, which means less work and less time.
5) Plug-in Presets are your Best friend
If you do use a plug-in, any plug-in (unless it’s a plug-in for metering or tuning), will almost always come with presets. Someone has already done the work for you, utilize that or at least choose one to be the baseline to work from. Save your settings for step 6.
6) Save Track Settings to use on Other Songs
If you have an autobiography assignment due in multiple classes, don’t rewrite the same assignment, write one assignment – make some modifications to fit the class criteria – then turn it in. In the same way, get the guitar mix right, then save the settings to use on other songs. Make modifications to fit the overall mix of the song. You have already done the work for yourself, utilize that.
7) Done means YOU'RE DONE!
You won’t truly know what your signing up for until this step. Being finished is a perfectionist’s worst nightmare. When doing the final bounce, there’s a point where you should let the little nuances and little nitpicky details go. There were times I had to leave the room when I was bouncing, just because I knew what needed to get done. Two months is a short period of time, so anything that sounds “good” should be considered an accomplishment. Make a pact with your artist that you won’t mention those things you wish you would have changed with your audience. Let the audience be the judge of what they are listening to, and discuss what could’ve been done better amongst yourselves.
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