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Talk to top audio engineers and music producers about what it takes to make it in music and sure enough the words “studio etiquette” are going to pop up. More than knowing your quick keys on Pro Tools, how to patch between gear on the patchbay, or having great ears, when it comes to working in the recording studio, knowing the etiquette is vital so take heed.
Here are a number of choice insights from number of Recording Connection mentors on what and what not to do when you’re in the studio.
Tip 1 – Hangability is Paramount
The truth of the matter is some of us are just cooler and more comfortable with people than others are. If you’re the kind of person who can hang with anyone, don’t change. If you’re awkward with strangers or are seriously aflutter at the sight of a famous artist walking in the door, do whatever you need to to get yourself in check!
“I’d say being polite and kind and being just very likable and pleasant is probably the best thing that you can do. I tell my students at Recording Connection that studio etiquette is probably, at the entry level, the biggest thing that you have to learn. It doesn’t matter about any of the technical stuff because if no one likes you, you’re not going to get the job anyway…”
Recording Connection mentor Steve Catizone of Infinite Music in Boston says, “If people enjoy having you in the room, it’s a big thing. A lot of that comes down to personality, basically just being a positive force in the room, being creative and knowing when to offer up ideas and how to tactfully do so, and knowing when to not be the guy ‘doing your job’ but just being cool to hang around with.”
Mentor and John Terrell (A$AP Ferg, Bruce Springsteen) at Soul Haven Studios in Virginia Beach, VA says, “[Make] sure the needs of the room are met. So, if somebody looks a little uncomfortable, just sort that out. But yeah, etiquette is everything in the room…So much of this business comes down to, ‘I don’t like that guy.’ So you just need to be the person everybody wants to be around and be honest and genuine.”
Tip 2 – But this Ain’t Social Hour
Sharrief Thomas (K-9 Posse, Big Bub) of Water Music Publishing in Virginia Beach, VA says, “You’re there to learn and watch. Not to comment. Not to start rapping. And definitely not to try to tell the artist what they should do.”
Tip 3 – So Don’t Distract Your Mentor During a Session
Grammy-winner and Recording Connection mentor Tre Nagella (Lady Gaga, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Kirk Franklin) of Luminous Sound Studios in Dallas, Texas is big on preserving the sanctity of the recording session with clients. An over-eager apprentice can quickly throw a wrench in the works.
He says, “My job is to facilitate [my clients] to create, so it really bothers me when you get a guy that’s trying to talk to the client all the time, they’re trying to show them their beats they made at home and trying to get their phone number. You can’t do that, it’s not really appropriate. There is a studio etiquette. Write your questions down so that you can remember, and then when we’re alone and you want to ask me what was I doing, I’m more than happy to answer. But while the client’s paying big dollars to be in there and trying to create his album, that is not the time you start blurting out questions.”
Sharrief Thomas also advises the following: “Do not open your mouth unless they ask you a question or what do you think. You’re there to just watch and pay attention, because it’s a live session going on and you don’t have a right to say something to the engineer…He needs to stay focused.”
Tip 4 – And Abide by the Pecking Order
John Terrell has more advice on being observant and knowing one’s place: “You have to figure out the relationship in the room, who’s leading the session, and then understand the pecking order. [If] you’re the assistant and have something that you want to suggest, like, telling people, ‘Hey, this would work well.’ If you go to the artist and say that, now you’ve bypassed the producer, engineer, and the other members of the band, when really you’re just there to take notes and move a mic. So understanding the order in which things need to happen, and how to creatively suggest things [is vital].”
Tip 5 – Keep it Cool but Professional
Powerhouse Sax DMA of Brooklyn NY says, “You cannot act like a fan, you know, it’s not like that at all. You’ve got to step back down…If somebody’s an assistant at a studio and like J. Cole was in the studio, you do not tweet, ‘Oh, J. Cole’s in the studio”… These artists are paying a lot of money for their privacy. So if you just start tweeting or putting it on Facebook that you’re with them and you’re tagging a location with that artist, they’re going to have fans outside. And they’re not going to like that, and they’re not going to come back to the studio.”
Josh Monroy reminds us to put the fanfare on ice: “If someone’s coming through, offer them a handshake. Say, “Hi, I’m Josh. It’s very nice to meet you.” I wouldn’t go into, “I’m a big fan,” or any of that stuff like that. They don’t want to be fan bombarded in the studio. They want to be treated like they’re paying $200 an hour for this place…I think the genuine approach is what people latch onto and they’re like, ‘Okay. Man, this guy or this girl, they seem very serious about what they’re doing.’ You’re setting the tone for that professionalism there.”
Tip 6 – And Remember Vibe is Vital
Recording Connection mentor, audio engineer Vic Abreu (Doug E. Fresh, David Campbell) Clear Track Studios in Tampa Bay, FL, says, If you’re just comfortable with people, it becomes very easy. An artist will come in to sing. I understand that singing isn’t a robotic thing…They have to feel comfortable when they stand in front of the microphone and sing and do it well. It takes some kind of passion, you know. To be comfortable around people, I feel like that creates that environment to where the artist is able to perform, because that moment when you hit record is a very important moment—that’s what makes a record great. When you think about David Bowie and all the times he sung, those moments when they were recording him and he was able to just sing the way he was able to sing, that’s timeless. So it’s all just based on being comfortable. They’re there to make music. You’re there to make music as well.
Tip 7 – And Ego is a Killer
Luis Pacheco (Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa) at The Hideout in Las Vegas, NV says, “You’ve got to leave that [ego] at the door. You have one goal as a co-producer: To make something sound good, make something good, create something good. So it’s like if you have some sort of negative vibe, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to have an open mind.”