Tips for Sound Engineers running a Studio Session

Being a Sound Engineering student, I have had quite a bit of experience with studio sessions. So I thought I would do a post on some of tips on how to make the most out of your studio sessions, no matter where you are recording or what you are recording.

The band or artist

I can’t stress this enough. Make it PERFECTLY clear to your band or artist that they should all know their parts AND have practised. It will make the session go SO much smoother. My worst recording sessions have always been when people that don’t know what they are doing. For now it just takes the piss because I normally offer free recording sessions to bands so it just wastes my time and they are wasting a free session trying to record drums with the guitarist standing in the room, “so the drummer knows where he is in the track”, but if the band is paying for a session you wanna make it clear that they should know it to get the most out of their time in recording sessions….unless you don’t really care and they will spend most of their money just trying to figure out what parts they are supposed to be playing.

Draw up a plan

Always have an initial plan. You should have list of what order you are going to record instruments but also you should have list of what microphones you are going to use and how you are going to place them. You don’t want to be standing there stroking your beard working out what you are going to do to record drums. Not only does it not look professional, but it wastes recording time. These bands are probably paying for this session, you should at least have the decency to be prepared for them. Try asking the band for a rough recording of the songs, ask them to do it with their phones or whatever. It’s always good to hear what it is you going to be recording.

Knowing the Studio

Especially if you plan to be freelance, you wanna give yourself some time to familiarize yourself with your studio. Try and get into the studio at least 30 mins before the band gets there if you can, and learn your way around the studio. Look at the patch bay, learn where all the controls are on the desk if you aren’t familiar with it and get in the live room and get a feel for the sound of the room. Also while you’re in the live room, it might help finding the microphone inputs. Like I said earlier, you don’t want to be standing there waving a microphone cable around trying to find the wall box to plug your cables in. It wastes your time and the bands time.

Finally before the band gets there, try and get a signal through the desk into your DAW and out the monitors. It’s all very well being prepared and knowing the studio but you don’t want the drummer being in there all ready to go and then have to sit there whacking a snare drum while you try to figure out why no sound is coming through the monitors. There is useful tool for doing this without the need of someone in the live room, which I will go into next.

Helpful tools to take with you

It’s always good going into the studio with tools to help you with your session. This is a list of what I take to my sessions, but if you want to add your own that’s great! Post a comment if you can think of something else to take as I would much appreciate it.

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  • Spare picks: you’d be surprised how many guitarists don’t bring their own pick
  • Tuning key: Always important to have the drums tuned, and sometimes drummers won’t have a tuning key, so having one spare is always helpful
  • Memory stick or hard drive: Make sure there is enough space for large sessions, you want at LEAST 10gb free, but ideally more. Also, make sure your memory stick works with both PCs and Macs. You don’t want to go to take your session away and find you can’t because it’s not formatted correctly to the Mac or PC.
  • 1/4 inch to 3.5mm adaptor: VERY important as most headphones nowadays have a 3.5mm jack but most studios have 1/4 inch jack slots.
  • Pink noise generator: Probably the most useful tool in my kit, it plugs into an XLR socket and, with phantom power, generates constant pink noise. This tool is SO useful to trying to get a sound through the desk, like I said earlier, as it means you don’t need someone in the studio clapping their hands, shouting “test, test, test” or whacking a snare drum. It’s also useful for trouble shooting too if a microphone cable or microphone is broken.
Pink Noise Generator

Pink Noise Generator

Take it all with you in a little bag to keep it together as well. I used an old make up bag my Mother had. Mock me if you will, it just works.

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Expect the inevitable

Be prepared for SOMETHING to go wrong. There is nothing you can do about, something WILL go wrong. It might be a nice small thing like a cable doesn’t work or the speakers aren’t working because you forgot to turn them on. But there is almost ALWAYS going to be something that goes wrong, whether technically or by other means. Only advice I can give is be prepared for it to happen and don’t get too worked up about it. It happens to all of us. Some greater power is at work with us engineers when this happens and you just gotta get through it.

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So I hope these tips are helpful for aspiring engineers or even current engineers. If you have any more tips I would love it if you posted in the comment box. Not only will it be helpful for me, but anyone else who stumbles upon this blog. Much appreciated, happy recording!

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