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Why Should You Use A Sound Engineer / Producer When Recording?

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Why Should You Use A Sound Engineer / Producer When Recording?

Modern technology has opened up possibilities to people that have previously been the domain of scientists and professionals.  It’s not too long ago that computers were the size of a small house, today you can own one that you wear on your wrist.

When I purchased my first PC, it was a 386DX/25 running a clock speed of 25MHz was only a fraction of the computer on which I am writing this.  It had 2Mb of memory (4000 times less than my current PC) and a 100Mb Hard disk drive, which I was told “You’ll never fill that!” My current PC has over 21000 time more storage than my first one.  So the drive I would “never fill” would only be able to store about 30 photographs from my digital camera.

So today’s musician can purchase recording equipment capable of producing commercial grade audio for less than £1000.  While this is more than a day’s recording in a professional recording studio, it’s less than you would likely spend recording an album, and you can take as long as you like and record as often as you want.
Commercial studios still exist, I run a mobile recording facility, while it’s not the Rolling Stones Mobile, and it is more than capable of producing quality sound. So when anyone can have a fully featured recording studio in their bedroom, why would anyone want to pay to use a commercial studio? Well, there are a number of reasons……

Let me start by recounting my experience. I have been interested in music for as long as I can remember.  When I was very young I remember receiving a toy drum kit for Christmas.  I used to watch Top of the Pops on the TV with my big sister, and play along to the songs on my drum kit, although I can’t vouch for the musicality of my input! Much later on I purchased a porta studio with a friend and we were going to record an album, and record albums for other musicians.  It wasn’t quite like that though, I could get a signal through the equipment and set suitable levels, but, mixing and using various processing was a mystery to me, and results were disappointing.

After a relatively successful career in IT I felt in need of a career change, and one summer I was on the beach in Scarborough at a free music festival which had an advertising hording at the side of the stage for The University of Hull Scarborough Campus.  Degree courses in Popular Music and Creative Music Technology were available.  I gave the university a call on Monday morning and explained my interest and basically enrolled to do a BSc. in Computer Music.  I got all the studio experience I wanted as well subjects like Multimedia , website design and Internet Psychology.

I collected a large amount of professional sound equipment during my time at university, and towards the end of my course I decided that the money I had invested would form a good foundation to start some form of studio business.

So why would anyone want to pay a third party to record with when they could do it all themselves?

Well, the first thing to remember is that most people need some help, and one of the things you get if you use a producer is an objective viewpoint.  Someone who is detached from the writing process.  A producer will tell you if he thinks you are making a mistake, or the arrangement is wrong, or any number of other things.  At the end of the day, the producer wants your music to be as good as possible, afterall, his name is going to be on it too.

The producer will help you all he can, quite often the artist will either not know what they want, or, not know how to get whatever it is they see as their vision. Recorded music is quite different from live performance.

When recording a live performance, you could buy a cheap desk and a couple of mics and record to tape from there, but there would be no scope for correcting any mistakes later.  When you record a live set, it might sound really good at the time, after all, the likelihood is you’re playing in a pub or club, your fans are all there to support you and both the members of the band and the audience are more than likely to have had a drink or two.  With the adrenalin flowing the occasional bum note will go unnoticed, but it will be caught on a recording and believe me it will stand out like a sore thumb when you listen to it again.

The producer or sound engineer will keep an eye on levels during the set, if you were doing it all yourself, your guitarist might start with his amp at a relatively low level and keeps turning it up throughout the set(s).  OK so you could set the levels in the sound check for the maximum volume they will play at, but then at the beginning of the performance the level may be too low, therefore getting lost in the mix.  If you’re recording using a couple of mics direct to tape or computer you’re stuck with that anomaly.  Using a producer will allow you to concentrate on the reason you’re there, to entertain your audience, without worrying about recording levels etc.

Mobile recording is not just confined to capturing live performance. ‘Guerrilla Recording’ is the means by which a location is used as a recording studio.  Perhaps the most famous example of guerrilla recording is Deep Purple’s 1971 album ‘Machine Head’.  This was eventually recorded at The Grand Hotel in Montreux using the Rolling Stone Mobile after The Casino was destroyed by fire during a Frank Zappa gig.

In a guerrilla recording session, or a traditional multitrack session, there are a lot of things that need to be considered during the tracking, mixing and even the mastering sessions. This is where a producer comes in.  There is a lot more to a producer’s role in the recording session than discussed here, but in the case of a band recording a demo the producer will almost certainly be the sound engineer as well.  The good thing about using an engineer is the extra pair of ears. The producer/sound engineer will focus on the overall sound of the recording; he may make suggestions for enhancements to the track and will invariably craft the overall sound of the band. 

It can save a lot of time, applying post production audio processing can be time consuming especially if you are not familiar with the concepts of the various processing techniques you are going to be applying, and you can spend a lot of time fiddling around with settings to get a result that really doesn’t do anything for the material.

No matter whether you are capturing a live performance or multi-tracking a future Grammy nomination, the producer/engineer can be your greatest asset during the process, he can act as a peace keeper, and extra pair of ears, make suggestions about the particular song you are recording and generally make sure you have everything you need in place to ensure the session goes as smoothly as possible. 

So you can invest in recording equipment that you use once or twice a year, if that.  Or, you can use that money to hire a recording studio with a producer who knows his equipment well and can help you through the process.


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