5 Things Every Professional Sound Engineer Should Know... For Starters

02-08-2015 05:08 PM

Great news, you win the lottery and you’ve got all the gear you could dream of to build an amazing studio. Bad news, it’s not enough.
Yes there may be some hit tracks on iTunes or YouTube recorded by an amateur, with no experience, but they are the exception not the rule. A mugger may break the 100m world sprint record when trying to get away from the police, but that doesn’t make them an Olympic medal holder!
A good set of ears are the essential starting point and after that there’s more too. Here are 5 things for starters that you need to know if you want to make great recordings.
How To Plan And Manage A Recording Session

Recording sessions can be a nightmare if they are not managed and a well managed session puts the artists at ease so they can perform at their best. This means figuring out who needs to be doing what and when, how much time set-ups take, when breaks happen. Session rarely run to time, but starting with no plan is just asking for trouble. A good engineer is worth their weight in gold, I recall being at an Abbey Road session a couple of years ago and by the time the drummer showed up all the mics for the recording we’re on stands, plugged in and tested. Then it was simply a case of trying out some mic options before hitting record - those things don’t happen by accident.
Music Theory Is Essential For Engineers

A good sound engineer needs to know the basics of tuning, timing and harmony. A good engineer knows when they have a good take and when they need to do a re-take. Without the musical fundamentals you can be keeping stuff that needs to be re-done or fixing stuff that is fine. EQ is directly linked to the notes being played, not knowing this will have you doing all sorts of weird stuff when boosting and not knowing where to look when you cut. This is not to suggest you need to have a degree in music theory, but you certainly need to know when something is in tune and in time and how to fix it when it isn’t.
Know Your Microphones

Knowing how to use microphones is essential, this includes knowing which mic suits the instrument or voice your trying to capture. It means knowing the correct mic placement and position to get the sound you want both on people and instruments, that takes experience so that when you have a certain vocalist in front of you then you know which microphones to start with. It includes knowing about optimum gain settings on the pre-amp, it also means when the mic needs phantom and when it doesn’t! If you only have one microphone then it means knowing how to get the best from just one mic.
Understand Your Hardware And Your Plug-ins

I have some plug-ins I’ve been using for over a decade, Stylus is one of them. I know that there are certain productions when Stylus is going to be the plug-in to reach for, it seldom disappoints. It’s the same with my other plug-ins, I have several hundred (really) and a rack of hardware, but some of them are used all the time, some rarely. You need to know what to use, when to use it and how to use it. You can have all the gear in the world, but that doesn’t make you a sound engineer, just a collector.
How To Problem Solve Fast

Things can go wrong on a session, it can be anything from the computer crashing to the a weird noise on a mic line. Solving problems in the middle of a session fast is essential, it’s not the time to Google or phone a friend, great engineers can think well under pressure and have a session back up and running in minutes. Some of this is technical know-how, some of this is pragmatic problem solving in the right order, some of this is calling the hire company to swap out the bad mic they sent you.
The 5 things shown here are just for starters, so what would you add to the list?