What am I? More than a few times I’ve been on the job for more than 30 hours at a clip without sleeping. And I’ve seen it all. Fires, floods, gun fights, assault, robberies, seams, orgies, drug deals and drug busts, counterfeiting … the list goes on.
No, I’m not a cop or an emergency-room physician, and I don’t own a pair of army fatigues. Have you guessed what I am yet? I’m a recording engineer in New York City, damn it!
I’ve always felt like the recording studio was the front line of the record industry. The recording studio is where it all starts — there would be no huge concerts or video shoots without the record to begin with. This is the place where the artists and producers settle in, roll up their sleeves (and sometimes other parts of their clothes), and hopefully come together to make some great music. But beware, because this is also the battle zone where egos run wild, feelings are hurt, fights break out, and bands break up. Everyone involved has an opinion, valid or not. No record ever gets finished without a certain amount of trial and error, or trial by fire.
Although sometimes the line between the responsibilities of an engineer and those of a producer can get blurred, there are basic guidelines. While in the studio, a producer makes musical decisions while an engineer makes technical decisions. However, a producer’s responsibilities extend beyond the musical boundaries. Producers can be involved in writing or selecting songs, choosing a direction for the artist, booking studios, musicians, and engineers, and delivering a completed project on time and within budget. Producers are faced with a lot of work that goes on outside the studio, like meetings with record companies, lawyers, accountants, and publishing and artists management companies. Then there are album credits to be written and submitted, money to collect, and money to pay out. Quite a headache. \
While the vast majority of my work is producing, I now find that I thoroughly enjoy the sessions where I am regulated to the role of an engineer. It’s liberating to be able to walkout of the studio a free man. That means no meetings, no rewrites, and no indigestion.
If you consign yourself to the role of an engineer and let someone else take the reins, you may learn a completely different approach to production and programming. It gives you the opportunity to really concentrate on the technical aspects of the recording without the distraction of producing. You may find engineering to be a much more creative skill than you originally thought.
I occasionally hear complaints from clients about engineers. These complaints range from “the engineer wasn’t recording when I did the best vocal take of my life” to “he was drunk and stoned and acted like he was producing before he wiped my master tape.” Some complaints are viable and some aren’t. Unfortunately, being an engineer can sometimes be a thankless job. If the mix is great, the producer gets all the credit. But if the mix r sucks, even thought the engineer may have been taking all his directions from a paranoid producer, the engineer a still gets blamed.
About now you are all wondering why anyone would s want to become an engineer in the first place and the answer is simple: We get off on manipulating and con trolling sound and we have a passion for cutting-edge technology. When we zoom in on a waveform and alter or remove some unwanted art I fact, it’s what I call “sound surgery,” and it’s … well, it’s a party.
So don’t fret if you feel more drawn to the engineering side of music. It’s a tough job, but someone’ s gotta do it. It might as well be you.
Arty Skye is a multi-platinum, Grammy nominated producer/engineer as well as the founder of SkyeLab Music Group. He has worked with thousands of musicians and renowned artists such as Will Smith, Madonna, Santana, Alicia Keys, Wu-Tang, Kelly Price, and more.