Studio Etiquette


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Studio or session etiquette could be thought of as all the things engineers say and do to make the artist, producer, and musicians comfortable and at ease. But it's much more than "please and thank you" niceties. It's a deep "thoughtfulness," because engineers work with people during the heat of their creative process. As a facilitator, the engineer becomes part of a process that's both personal and sometimes emotional. Being both personal and emotional makes each individual's creativity unique and valuable when brought together in the studio. Seasoned recording engineers know this and comport themselves accordingly, to the demands made by that creative flow.

Perceiving the subtle (or not so subtle) signs creative people emit to get others to react, speak out, offer a suggestion or to shut up is a slowly learned skill and important layer of your own session persona—part of working at success.

The Meet And Greet
It sounds obvious, but everyone at a recording session should meet and get to know each other by their first names. It should be the first thing anybody does when they walk into a new professional studio situation. Sometimes this is forgotten in the busy time of setting up and getting sounds. I'm outgoing, so I'll break the ice and introduce myself if nobody else does. I'll also make a list if there are several band members. Session starts are tense enough with anxieties over performance expectations, and little civilities such as knowing everyone's name helps relax the mood. Besides, remembering everyone's name, even after a month-long break, is impressive.

First introductions in the studio tell a lot about people beyond first impressions. At that time, I've noticed some people wanting to immediately establish their place in the production team hierarchy to me.

Confident & Motivated
This is the engineer's confidence test: strong willed, successful people want to be surrounded by and work with the similarly motivated. Interestingly, you'll get messages by unspoken implication such as: "I'm a diva so take especially good care of me!" or "I'm the boss and you work for me."

The "boss" intro happened to me by accident on the first day of tracking for a new Waylon Jennings album. Meeting the late Waylon Jennings for the first time was unusual and a little tense. He was three hours late and "appeared" in the studio first without saying hi to the producer, record company people or anybody in the control room. The producer had the band already set up, jamming and working on new tunes for the record. Waylon sat down in his chair and started playing acoustic guitar and singing into muted vocal and guitar mics.

Back in the control room, I was totally unaware while talking with the producer and had my back to the studio glass when someone yelled and pointed: "Hey there's Waylon!"

I immediately rammed the faders up on his mics and, since Waylon had his phones on, he could now also hear himself. When he saw he now had everyone's attention, he glared and yelled at me saying: "You sure did that at the right time Hoss! Don't you know you're f#$%/>+#; with a legend!"

My reaction was mute: I was embarrassed a little but not humiliated - after all, he set me up to be the fall guy for his grand entrance! As it turned out, once I got to know him, Waylon was one of the kindest artists I've ever worked with. He just had his own way of meet and greet - probably honed from years of dealing with unsavory music business people.

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