During a recording session, there are many small details that can subtly derail the ideal flow of the work at hand. Outside of the technical end of capturing music, I think we all bring other habits or routines with us that define who we are while in the studio. These are things we might not consciously know that we do. Below are my quirky little behaviors. If these are self-imposed rules, then I'm sure I bend a few of them occasionally. But remember: these describe my actions only. I am not asking anyone else to abide by them; nor am I criticizing others that have differing practices. That would be foolish. Rules are for jerks.

I don't play music by other artists that might possibly be inappropriate in some way.

I never wear band t-shirts.

I'm here to record the client. I am wary of coming off as if I prefer some other artist, or style of music, and don't wish to be working on what's happening right now. If discussions lead towards outside music like, "Hey, how did the strings on that Carly Simon song go?" then, by all means, I'll pull up a track and listen. Otherwise I won't subject clients to what they may perceive as my preferred taste (or your intern's bad taste) and possibly alienate a client. But when I know my clients well, playing music we all enjoy can be a great way to unwind, get perspective and talk about new recording ideas. On one session we even played that first Chickenfoot album over and over for comedic relief. (Apologies to Chickenfoot producer Andy Johns, Tape Op #39.)

I don't talk trash on other artists I have worked with.

It's pretty obvious, but if you're telling your client how crummy yesterday's session was, they'll probably be thinking that you'll be telling tomorrow's client how crappy they were. Maintaining and building trust in the studio is important.

Make coffee.

I have to explain that for many years I was the odd-man-out engineer who didn't smoke or drink coffee. I still don't smoke (though I envy those smoke breaks that others always seem to get) but I did begin drinking coffee in my forties. I'll make a pot and have that ready before the client comes in. After I ascertain whether or not my clients drink coffee, I then remember their preference. That way I don't keep offering it if it's not needed. I make sure that we have coffee and brewing equipment on hand (thanks to Stumptown Coffee for hooking us up) and I never demand break times to "go get coffee." If the client wishes to do so, and wants to pick me up a cappuccino, that's fine. But it shouldn't be me asking!

Bring my own food.

Here's a similar situation. If you haven't worked out specific meal breaks, then bring something you can eat while punching in. Sandwiches, canned soups, nuts, fruit, salads or leftovers work well. On day one of a longer session I bring in extra snacks and set them out for the band/artist. This can create a great situation where we all start bringing in things to munch on. There ain't nothing better than two weeks of sampling gourmet potato chips.

Never discuss money or rates during the session.

I hammer this stuff out in advance, usually via emails (which I save in a folder, just in case). It should be made clear well in advance. By the end of the day/session/album the client should know how much to make the check out for without even seeing an invoice. Any other scenario invites disaster, especially if disputes arise during the session. Think about it: clients can easily be paying a dollar a minute or more. I don't want any grey areas about billing or money.

During sessions I won't drink alcohol (or do anything else similar).

On my first paying visit to a studio I watched in horror as the man recording us drank bottle after bottle of cheap wine coolers. I'd already noticed the mirror and razor blade under the console. (This was the mid-'80s.) When he repeatedly recorded my backing vocals and then couldn't find them during playback, I knew he was getting a good buzz on. I don't ever want to be that guy. I heard a great story once about a recording session that was paid for with sheets of acid. Turned out it was impossible to mix, as instruments randomly popped up on tracks, in no apparent order. I don't want to be that engineer either. I love beer, especially microbrews. In 18 years, I can count on one hand the number of times I've had a beer while "on the job." Beer can be my reward after a long day in the studio, and I keep it that way.

I bike or walk to the studio if possible.

Nothing like clearing my head by walking to work. A swift bike ride can also be nice. Both get my heart pumping and my lungs moving. I don't overdo it and show up sweaty and smelly. No one wants that. I fondly remember a session in Montreal at Hotel2Tango (Tape Op #47) where I would visit one of the two "competing" bagel shops on my walk to the studio every day. Not only did I get fed; but the lively discussion of which shop was better made for a good time.

Limiting personal communications.

In this day of texting, cell phones and email it's pretty hard to shut everything down for 10 hours while I work. But it's also rude as hell to think I can pick up the phone any time it rings, text during a playback or answer emails during a take. If urgent communication might be needed during the session, I announce that at the start of the day. Everyone is sympathetic in dealing with real life (like needing to set an appointment time with a plumber for a situation at home), but they are also trying to get their music recorded and mixed.

Have something to talk about other than music.

This one was a difficult discovery, but through years of self-analysis I figured myself out. I seem to subconsciously (not any more, I guess) set aside topics for discussion, either the night before or the morning of a session. Movies are fun to talk about, and I regularly watch a few during a normal week. Local restaurant favorites are also a great topic, and might inspire a visit later. Everyone loves travel stories and most active musicians have a few. I never thought about it, but these conversations always pop up and usually lighten the mood while inspiring people to think about things outside of music for a moment. Then it's back to overdubs!

No one should ever be waiting on me.

I rarely show up late, and I prefer a good extra half hour or full hour, in order to get gear warmed up, get the coffee on, check emails and clean the dishes. I'll wait to use the restroom until someone begins tuning or there's a playback happening that I already have a firm opinion on. And I'm now hyper aware of Daylight Saving Time. That shit really messed me up once.


Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

Or Learn More