The Secret Herbs and Spices of Audio Production
This year, studio veteran Jeremy McPike joined the team as our Studio A manager. He’s spent over two decades working in some of New Zealand’s most iconic studios, including managing Roundhead and running and owning York Street. We tapped the guru for his top tips for up-and-coming producers and engineers. He shares his wisdom below.
While I fully endorse going to audio school, I’m pretty sure you can teach yourself everything you need to know technically to engineer a single. I’m also aware that technology now allows you to produce a number one single in your bedroom.
But if you’re considering a long-term career in recording and production, there is a little more involved than just running the equipment and making phat beats. Being able to rattle off the model numbers of the finest bits of audio gear is only fun for you and other audio boffins. It doesn’t help in making your clients’ music dreams a reality.
In the last 25 years I’ve worked with NZ’s finest producers and engineers as well as many visiting from overseas. I’ve seen engineers come and go, but the ones who are the most successful (success for me is loving what you do and have your clients love working with you) and the ones that have made production a viable career, all share one thing in common. They’re all technical or musical wizards, but that is a baseline skill, like a pilot being able to fly a plane. The ones that have stuck around have more than just technical skill, they are excellent communicators and always a pleasure to work with.
My top tips for achieving long-term success in the recording industry.
Communication skills are everything. You need to be the one who holds everything together, even if you’re “just engineering.'' It starts with marketing yourself correctly, honestly and professionally.
If you’re lucky enough that an artist has heard of you through all the noise out there (either through word of mouth or through your clever social media marketing), make sure you get back to their email or call in a super timely manner. I can't tell you how many projects I’ve won over my competition, merely because I was the first one (and often the only one) to get back to the client and say “Thank you for your email, I can sort this for you no problem at all!”
Let the client know they have come to the right place and give them confidence that they have the best person for the job.
Always be engaged, friendly and approachable. The client should never have to wonder what is going on or be afraid to ask a question. Let the client know that you love their project and you are on their side all the way.
Don’t drop the ball. Do everything you say you will do and when you said you would do it by. Finish every job you start in a timely manner.
Get the client on-side and they’ll know you’re genuinely excited about doing your absolute best for them. Be authentic and enthusiastic in your desire to help.
Give every project respect and 100% of your effort - always - regardless of how “cool” the project is. Stay off your phone during the session!
Make a plan like a professional, communicate your plan with the client so they know how things will go down. Don't make the mistake of assuming your client knows how everything works in a session or project. It is your job to communicate how the project will roll.
As the person driving the ship, it is vital to ensure you have created an environment where the artist is happy and comfortable enough to give you their most intimate and personal of performances. Far more important than the use of boutique equipment or the positioning of your fancypants German microphone are the skills needed to make the client feel comfortable enough to give you the best performance they can. Remember, the client is often baring their soul in an often pressure-filled environment, being watched through the glass.
You might have skills. You might think you’re Dr Dre on steroids, but if you’re disorganised, grumpy or a dick, people just won't like working with you, you absolutely won't last, which brings me to number 10.
10. Don’t be a dick.
This industry is difficult. It is for the passionate and dedicated. There is only room at the top for the most committed. So aim to be the best communicator you can be.