To become a prosperous recording engineer in Chicago, you must possess both a wide and unique set of skills in and out of the field. Nowadays, not only do you have to be a good musician, computer tech and gear junkie, but you also have to be an extremely good salesman, business manager, psychologist and even journalist. When it comes to the subtleties of sound, the engineer needs to have or develop a trained ear, master complicated analog and digital devices, be in the know on new technologies and methods that achieve specific artistic results.
It isn’t too surprising that most premier recording engineers in Chicago and elsewhere are musicians themselves. Many of them at one time were eager musicians who eventually realized their affinity for being in the studio, helping other artists make the most out of the projects they are recording.
One of the most important skills a recording engineer needs to master is having a sense of balance. No, I am not talking about standing up and falling down. We are not gymnasts. We are recording engineers, specialists of audio and sound. Mostly everything the recording engineer undertakes before, during, and after the recording session primarily has to do with determining and maintaining balance relationships with all the elements or parts that make up a song. The vocal can’t be too quiet. The drums can’t be too overpowering, etc.
One important thing to keep in mind with balance is unless you have learned how to use the tools to properly achieve it, having a good ear is pretty useless. A professionally experienced recording engineer will commonly say that the control board or DAW system is really just an extension of himself, a third hand that invisibly manipulates and paints the sound into a 3 dimensional sonic painting. Kind of like a jigsaw puzzle builder. You will also hear them say that to be a good engineer one must be able to see or visualize the song before it is finished. This visualization is key to understanding what the level of each particular element inside a song should be relative to the rest of the elements.
Commonly with powerful digital audio workstations (DAWs) like Pro Tools and Logic, there is an allurement to really go overboard and use every engineering trick out there on every track. A professional recording engineer will not only know how to balance levels in a session, but also how to balance compression, equalization, and effects through a vast array of editing tricks and software based plug-ins. There is, you know, that thing called being overproduced.
It is also important that a recording engineer should be intimately knowledgeable with every piece of equipment in the studio. This means understanding how each piece of equipment works, how each piece of equipment affects the sound of recorded audio, and what it’s strength’s and weakness’ are. For example, certain compressors sound good on drums, while others sound better on vocals. The engineer must also be a specialist on the varieties of microphones available to him in the studio (condenser, dynamic, ribbon), as well as the different pre-amplifiers and amplifiers that will be used to amplify signal from the microphones.
Another uber important skill that defines the good engineers from the bad is the ability to continuously maintain a strong work ethic while also paying incredibly close attention to detail. The profession of the audio engineer doesn’t always follow the usual 9-5 pm work routine found with most professions. It really isn’t that uncommon for a recording engineer to endure marathon studio sessions that last several days or more, even weeks! No matter what the working conditions might be, the engineer is always expected to make the best recordings he or she can while keeping everything in the session running smoothly.
It is also important that a good recording engineer learns how to work in the studio quickly. He or she must never be a bump in the road to the overall creative process in the studio. For the client trying to record new, spontaneous ideas, if the engineer isn’t ready to go, the client could lose confidence and creativity, thus creating frustration and tension during the recording session. Even though the recording engineer’s job can be incredibly complex, managing many different important tasks at once, it should never dominate the focus of the actual studio session. The focus should be on the creative process at hand as well as the prostitutes you ordered 10 minutes ago to help additionally ‘inspire’ your client.
This brings us to the final and perhaps most demanding skill that the Chicago recording engineer must master in and even out of the studio, communication. Recording artists, who each have their own style of communication, can sometimes make the job quite difficult for the recording engineer. It is important for the recording engineer to learn when to speak out and when to be quiet, as well as learn the intricacies of the words the client speaks. A good recording engineer will designate his or herself early in the recording session as a helpful resource in the creative process. If the client is a new client, the recording engineer will usually try to get to know the client a little bit before the session begins. This can take place by either inviting the client to the studio for a pre session meeting or tour, going to the client’s rehearsal space or home, or even attending a live show of the clients. By creating these personal relationships with your clients, you will ease the process of communication and make the overall recording session more pleasant for everyone involved.