March 25, 2019

Audio Engineer: In the Recording Studio

When people think of an audio engineer, it usually relates to the music industry, recording studios, or live sound. But the more I learn about audio, the more opportunities I see for the audio engineer. Check out my previous blog, “Careers in Audio,” which discusses a multitude of careers for the audio engineer.

However, in this blog, I will kick start my in-depth series on the various careers for the audio engineer, and of course, I will be starting with the role(s) of an audio engineer in the recording studio. I hope this blog will guide someone along the path of an audio engineer, and help them narrow down their search for a career in the audio field.

Please feel free to go into more depth in the comments. Let me know if I am missing important details or anything else that may be helpful to someone else!

Also, the audio engineer in the recording studio will usually wear all these hats, but it’s possible to specialize in each category. Here we go!
What are the audio engineer roles we will run into in the recording studio?

The Recording Engineer

What will they do?
They will record all the instruments and sounds you want in your song, usually into a digital format, so you can share it with the world.

How will they do that?
Choose appropriate microphones
Correct mic placement
Choose pre amps, compressors, equalizers etc. (understand the signal flow)
Create headphone mixes for artists
Record the session (usually in a Digital Audio Workstation)
Each one of these steps involves research, listening, and practice. I could write a separate blog (or book) on each step itself!

A quick tease: the recording engineer needs to understand the different types of microphones (dyanmic, condenser, ribbon etc.) and their pick up patters (cardiod, omni, hypercardiod, figure-8 etc.). He or she needs to understand the best way to mic up an instrument to capture its sound. They need to ask themselves: Is there a build up of a certain frequency in the room? Is there too much bleed from another instrument? Are the mics out of phase? What’s the signal flow: which pre-amp are we using and into what compressor, equalizer, reverb unit, special effect unit? Do we need to make sure the compressor is pre-fader/post-fader/pre-EQ/post-EQ? Etc. etc. etc. and so on.

And that was just a super short paragraph. But don’t worry, take everything one step at a time and everything turns into a simple process. I hope to take each step in future blogs and break them down into a simple understanding. So let’s continue to learn together!

The Mixing Engineer

What do they do?
If the recording engineer was unable to create a perfect mix while recording, then we will need a mixing engineer to mix the song.

How will they do that?
Create a static mix (balance the overall mix with only volume and panning)
Mix Buss processing (some mix engineers will do this here, or wait till the end, or wait for the mastering engineer to touch the mix buss)
Equalization (boosting/cutting frequencies)
Compression (automatic gain control)
Effects (reverb and delay)
Automation (automate faders and effects to bring the song to life)
Add finishing touches
Each step once again requires research and practice, so you can correctly hear and use all the sound manipulation tools you have, from compressors, equalizers, reverbs and more!

The Mastering Engineer

I am going to use the modern sense of a mastering engineer, working on the final mix down of a song and album, not the process of creating a physical record itself.

What do they do?
The mastering engineer will take the complete mix of a song or album and prepare it for distribution for the whole world to enjoy!

How will they do that?
Set the final level
Subtle EQ moves
Add any final compression
Add limiting and dithering if necessary
Set the track list on an album
Make sure each track flows seamlessly from one song to the next
Makes sure each song is ready for distribution on each platform (iTunes, CD, Vinyl etc.)

There is much to learn in this role as well, from the best dithering practices, to understanding how loud a song needs to be for iTunes, YouTube, Tidal, CD, Vinyl etc., and how to actual distribute in these mediums.
I hope this overview was beneficial and sparks your interest as an audio engineer in the recording studio, or maybe it might make you think, “oh shoot, I have still have lots more to learn” (That’s me) But don’t worry! We can learn this, one week at a time, so stay tuned for future blogs and podcasts here on my page!

If want to learn more about my recording, mixing, or mastering services, please go to my music page at www.nccaudio.com/music

Interested in hanging out with Nick in Austin, TX? Reach out here!


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