You may never work in a studio that has an assistant engineer, and if you own your own gear, you may never be one yourself, but it’s good to find out what an assistant in a major facility such as the Record Plant, Capitol, or United Recording really needs to know. Some of these tips come from the legendary Al Schmitt (who’s won more Grammys than any other engineer), and they will help you understand what’s expected of an assistant and how to run a professional session, regardless of the level that you’re on.
1. Good assistants know every piece of gear in the studio inside and out. This is especially helpful to engineers who’ve never worked in the room before.
2. Good assistants know the acoustics of all the live spaces. They’re able to suggest to the visiting engineer which instruments record best in a particular place in the room.
3. Good assistants know every mic in the studio very well. They know which pair of mics match, which mics work best on certain instruments, and which mics have a problem.
4. Good assistants are well-versed in Pro Tools. There are a lot of great DAWs available, but Pro Tools is the standard in every major recording and post studio in the U.S. Most assistants will also be in charge of running the DAW, and they are usually better at it than everyone else in the session.
5. Good assistants have great personal hygiene. No one likes to be in a room with someone who has body odor or bad breath, and artists and producers won’t put up with it. Take a bath, put on clean clothes every day, and keep the breath mints handy if you want to keep your job.
6. Good assistants are transparent. When you need them, they’re there; when they’re not needed, they’re in the background. A good assistant is always seen but not heard. He never offers an opinion, even when asked. He always has a great attitude and leaves his ego at the door.
7. Good assistants admit mistakes. If you make a mistake, admit it as soon as possible. You may have to take your lumps, but we’ll fix it and move on.
8. Good assistants don’t guess. If someone asks you something that you don’t know, be honest and don’t guess. There are plenty of ways to find out something in a hurry if you don’t know right now.
9. Good assistants keep a notebook. They keep track of all the details of the session, from the setup, to the players, to the mics used, to which songs were recorded in what order, to everything else. It’s a great learning tool, but it may also come in handy later in the project or on the next one.
10. Good assistants know how to make coffee. Coffee is still the fuel that powers a recording session. The better the coffee, the happier everyone will be.
All assistant engineers have these traits, but they apply just as much to any recording engineer as well (especially numbers 5 and 7).
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