Rusty's tip of the week #8 - Communication - How To Get The Best Performances

This topic is infinite and experiential, not something you'd easily be taught at audio college.

Something all great recording engineers know and utilise every session is their communication skills.

From countless hours recording with players and producers, they have discovered what works for both themselves and the artists, to find out exactly what they're after in a take or song and then how to coax them into achieving it in a relaxed and creative way.

This is a key element in recording that is so often brushed over because it's very personal and subjective. There's certainly a reason artists keep going back to a particular engineer or producer for their projects and it's much less about their gear and more about if they 'click' and feel confident and comfortable with that person.

Sales people certainly don't want to hear this but it's so much more about the people than the gear. A great engineer can work with a 4 track or an unlimited track Pro Tools rig and achieve amazing results every time because they understand the process and where the artist wants to go. For example, it may mean they only want to use one microphone and do no overdubs.

Some tips along these lines are -

1/ If you're recording a band get to know them as soon as they arrive, or have a meet beforehand, help them carry some gear in, find out their names and write them down alongside what they play for reference during the session, make them feel like you are part of the band for the day.

2/ Suss out what kind of music they listen to, what sounds they like, what recent and or classic albums and songs you have all heard. This way you can talk about the sonic side of things and have some references to draw from. Finding out what they want to sound like can be really invaluable. They may have previous releases you can discuss to find out what they do or dont like about their earlier stuff.

3/ You can then apply this little bit of inside knowledge in a big way when cutting tracks and takes, as you will be pretty much on the same page from the start.

4/ Spend time helping with their individual sounds, but always be careful about putting your own ideas across, it's a matter of judgement as to when is a good time. Always ask what they think of the sounds when playing back.

5/ With any ideas they ask to try out, start with "it's not a problem, lets give it a go", even if it sounds crazy. They'll figure out themselves if it works or not. You never know, it may end up being a great new part.

6/ Help remind the artists about time, e.g. if they are trying to finish a song in a day keep them moving along in a nice way.

7/ Speak in the positive, never say a part is really really bad. Instead,  'maybe give it another go' or "maybe that guitar needs tuning again'.

Its all about keeping the artists comfortable and not intimidating them. Raving on about some flash new mic you have that they aren't allowed to go within 3 feet of isn't going to do that, but saying - hey why dont we try the vocal on a 'hand held SM58 just for fun'? can be the difference between a nervous vocal take and a great one. Its a matter of spotting those kind of problems early on and solving them before the band have even realised.

This list could be endless of course but hopefully some of the above will help.

Russ T Rokk Pilling has been tracking and communicating with bands at Damien Gerards for over 25 years.

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