By: Tony Williamette
This can be really difficult to talk about. The last thing I ever want to do is let time become a barrier for creativity. I never want to eat into the relaxed atmosphere that we’ve (hopefully) crafted.
For full transparency, our studio time is booked hourly. Because we’re a commercial studio, we might have 2, 3, or 4 sessions a day. This means we need to operate like a well-oiled machine to keep things on track and ensure artists have their guaranteed sessions. Our engineers do a great job of this, and we rarely have issues.
When I first started recording, this used to happen all the time:
Working alone, I think to myself “we have 30 minutes left; I should start tearing down the drum mics.”
Fast forward 45 minutes, and I’m finally cleaned up. I then need to bounce mixes (no offline bounce, we’re sitting through 10 song bounces of 3-minute songs. Then I have to (gulp) burn a CD of rough mixes for each of the 4 bandmembers.
Thankfully, things like real-time bounce and CDs are now (mostly) things of the past.
I’ve learned from these experiences, and even as much as two hours before session end, I’ll start mentally backing into the session end time:
-How long will it take to backup files on the band’s hard drive?
-Are there any un-bounced songs?
-How long will physical tear down of the mics/cables/instruments take?
-How long will it take the band to clean up their pedal boards/Culver’s garbage?
-Are there any extended conversations we need to have with the band about
scheduling or other production logistics?
I then start using this estimate to find a time when we need to start winding down. I’m usually conservative on this estimate but will push it if we need JUST ONE MORE TAKE to get a specific song tracked. This can be a slippery slope. As an engineer, this moment in particular can make it hard to set boundaries.
Once we begin the tear down, it goes something like this:
1. Phantom power off on all microphones.
2. All tube amps go to standby.
3. Turn off those hot tube preamps/compressors/EQs.
4. An assistant engineer starts to remove microphones, putting them in the mic
locker. Start with the most expensive microphones that may be in the way. We don’t
want the drummer banging their ride cymbal on our Coles 4038 overhead. We tear
down microphones before the band tears down. It gives everyone more space and limits
5. While our assistant engineer tears down microphones, I complete all requisite file
backups and catch up on bouncing mixes.
6. On bouncing rough mixes: I usually bounce a rough mix of each song after I think
we’re done tweaking it for the day. This can be hard to predict as we’re often jumping
between songs for guitar/vocal overdubs. I have to remind myself:
Spend a little extra time on rough mixes, this may be the only version the
band has for an extended amount of time. The band will understand.
Make sure any click track is muted and ask the band if they want the scratch vocal in
this version of the mix. I bounce both Wav and high-quality Mp3. Mp3s goes on the
server. Everything - including Pro Tools files - goes on the band’s hard drive.
7. Immediately upload the rough mixes to our private server. Ensure each
bandmember has access.
8. I then go help the assistant engineer wrap cables. I find it oddly satisfying.
9. We zero the room. Our control room and live room are free of La Croix cans and
discarded guitar picks. Outboard gear and the console are zeroed. A full microphone
inventory is taken. All cables and mic stands are away. Broken gear is set aside for
future repair. The room looks and feels like it did when we came in, ready to host the
Like anything, through repeated failures, I’ve gotten better at this.
Yes, much of this is day-to-day studio minutiae. However, these little things matter. They’ve made my life easier, artists happier, and the studio better for it.