I recently witnessed the perfect triangle of recording in action. Last week I was in Nashville Tennessee putting on a recording and mixing workshop and I spent a couple of days hanging out with some friends and stopping in some studio sessions for fun. I was fortunate to find myself sitting in Ocean Way Studios during a strings tracking session for an upcoming Celine Dion album. It was amazing.
Via Neil Cummings Flickr
The Three Key Roles In The Studio
But what was even more interesting was being able to witness the clearly defined roles of the people involved. There was not just one guy running the session, rather there where three people whose jobs were inter connected and critical to the success of the recording. Much like a three legged stool needs all the legs to be solid, the session was dependent on three key people. These roles where the producer, the engineer, and the Pro Tools operator. The perfect triangle of recording.
The producer was the visionary. He had been a part of the entire album creation from initial ideas, to tracking the band, to now. He didn’t push any buttons or even talk to the talent very much. Rather he just listened, bobbed his head with the beat, and gave his seal of approval when things sounded good (which was pretty much the entire session). The engineer was in charge of actually working with the talent, determining what needed to be re-recorded, where to start, what to overdub, etc. He was assisted by the third and final person, the Pro Tools operator. This guy was actually running the tracks, hitting record, tweaking headphone levels, and making sure everything looked good going to “tape.”
The Challenge Of Being All Three
As cool as this system was to watch in person, it only served to remind me of the challenge we home/project studio owners face of having to play all three parts during our recording sessions. We serve as the producer when we have a vision for an album. What style should it be? What instruments should we record? How long should the second chorus be? This is the musical side of you kicking in. Without it, you aren’t creating art.
Then there’s the engineer side of you. The one that understands how to capture good audio. Which mics should you use? Which preamps? How should we mic up the drum kit this time? Does the talent have a good headphone mix? This is the critical side of the coin, without which you’ll get a crappy recording, technically speaking. And then of course we all have to know our DAW and operate it. We can have all the musical vision and engineering wisdom in the world, but without knowing our DAW, we’ll never get anything recorded.
Which One Do You Favor?
A helpful exercise for you might be to assess which role you gravitate to the most. Which one comes most naturally to you? If you find yourself most creative with arrangements, songwriting, and “hearing” the style of a recording before you enter the studio then you’re likely a producer at heart. You’ll need to make sure your engineering and DAW skills are up to par then. If you’re mostly a computer junkie, and you love tweaking your DAW all day long then you might need to work on setting musical vision and brushing up on your engineering skills.
You can see where this is going. In this new landscape of solo recording, if we want to deliver pro sounding tracks like those we listen to all the time, then we have to acknowledge that there is this perfect triangle of recording. You have to think like a producer, engineer, and daw operator in order to cover all of your bases and give your songs the star treatment they deserve!