There are always ways to improve oneself, and the beginning of a year brings a renewed inspiration to make oneself better. So whether your new years resolutions have a tendency to fade mid-February or become habitual, we thought we’d compile a list of ways we Audio Engineers can improve our work and ourselves.
Add your own tips in the comments below and let us know what you think of ours!
In No Particular Order…
1. Check crossfades prior to consolidating.
It can be as simple as doing a batch fade (highlighting across multiple edits and hit Command-F in Pro Tools), but neglecting to crossfade edit points will cost hours of work later trying to remove clicks and pops from the track. Before consolidating, we always duplicate the playlist in case something is wrong, and crossfade all the edit points. We know from experience, trying to copy/paste audio, or drawing with the pencil tool to remove clicks is a tedious and frustrating process.
2. Check disc allocation.
In today’s audio world, sessions are constantly moved from hard drive to hard drive and worked on by different engineers, in different locations, at different times. With all this change in location, Pro Tools sometimes gets a little confused as to where it should place your audio files and fade files. It is very good practice to hit Setup-Disc Allocation and be sure every track will write to the proper drive so sometime down the road you don’t get a call asking for a drive that should be located on your “Macintosh HD/user/desktop.” It is also great practice to keep the drives you’re not writing to in “Transfer Only” mode. In the Pro Tools workspace, keep your audio drive on “Record” and the others on “Transfer.”
3. Name Audio Tracks.
Don’t press record on that audio track you just created until you name it! It’s never convenient to look at a session and see Audio 1, Audio 2, Audio 3, etc. Big Synth, Ac Gtr, Ld Voc, is much easier to know, at a glance, what is on that track. Also, the name of the track is what Pro Tools will name the audio file you record on it. So when we lose an audio file, It’s good to know what it is that’s missing and have a name that makes sense in order to find it.
4. Back up… and do it again.
Music is expensive to create, and it can never be recreated exactly. Thus, when you put your heart and soul into a recording, take the time to back it up. Many have said, “it’s not backed up unless it exists in 3 locations.” Great advice, but at least have it in two! If your hard drive breaks, or is lost, or you accidentally delete the wrong folder, save yourself the time, money, and stress by having it backed up.
5. Print it.
So you just spent an hour and a half with the fancy new delay plug-in you bought and came up with the perfect delay for that one word in the bridge. You love it and listen to it on your rough mix for weeks while you send your session to your mix engineer, who then hears the delay in your rough and has a feeling you want it there, but has no idea how you got it and doesn’t have that obscure delay you use. Simple solution, print the effect – on a separate track of course; the mix engineer still needs control, but give him what you have. Chances are, if it’s really that good, he’ll want to keep it, but you can allow him more time to make the other parts of your song sound great if he’s not spending all his time recreating your delay.
6. Stay in Touch.
With the majority of music happening in home studios and project studios these days, an engineer can go weeks or even months on end without talking to other engineers. You don’t see them in the studio lobby because you’re not in the commercial studio that often. Call them up, have lunch, do whatever it takes to stay connected with other professionals. Community is a great tool for learning, staying current, and creating more business for yourself and your fellow audio engineers.
7. Study Music.
If music is your business, make it your business to know music. If you’re a young engineer and know all the current Top 40 hits, but don’t know the history, don’t know where that music came from, you’re not getting the full picture. Likewise, if you’re an engineer who’s been doing this awhile, but somewhere down the line lost interest in pop music and don’t know what the current guys are doing, you can’t stay relevant, and you can’t be your best. Make it a goal this year to improve your musical repertoire.
8. Do it right.
Whether in a major recording studio, a live recording session, or a bedroom with an Mbox, a good engineer will take the time to get their levels set correctly, make sure the sound is good, and make sure there’s no noise on the channel. The same is true through every step of making a record; if this audio is going to be heard, even if it’s only by those who made it, then it’s worth taking the time to make it right. This is your craft and your job, and your name will be on it, make that name stand for quality work.
9. Stay Organized.
It can get very difficult to stay organized as life gets very busy, very quickly, but it can really save you. Know where your sessions are, know where the backups are, know how you label things, and where you put things. Consistency and organization will really help when that client calls that you did one song with 3 years ago and asks you for a file, and it can save you a lot of costly and time consuming mistakes.
10. Never Say “No.”
You may absolutely know that your client’s idea is simply not going to work, or completely disagree with their request to change something, but they’re the client, and if they’re making a request it’s because they hear something that they think can be better and “better” should always be the goal. So maybe they are wrong, and maybe it feels like a waste of time, but just maybe something better will come out of trying.
11. Be healthy.
“Getting in Shape” is such a cliché New Year’s Resolution, but it’s a good one. The music business is hard on one’s health. From the sitting in front of a computer or a console all day, to being on the road all the time, to the never-ending supply of coffee and soda they have at the studio, to the long, long hours, it can do wonders for your future to eat healthily and exercise. And don’t forget to keep your ears healthy. Wearing earplugs to concerts, and not listening at full volume for too long will help keep your ears functioning properly much longer.