If you’re in audio school, there will come a time in your young career when it’s time to get out of the classroom and into the studio to assist a more experienced engineer. This opportunity is where you’ll learn the most about engineering, partially because it allows you to witness and mindfully observe the technical and psychological skills engineers incorporate into their work everyday. It’s not quite possible to let these skills unfold in a 2 or 4-hour class. Rather, you need the guiding force of a mentor who has been practicing engineering for a long period of time to lead by example.
This week, I’m assisting a friend of mine at his studio in Brooklyn. After this upcoming summer, there’s a good chance I’ll be making a move to NYC and so I’m starting to reach out to friends and like-minded engineers who may want to work together. Getting ready for this batch of sessions with Jon at The Gallery Recording Studio has inspired me make a post about assisting to help you all out there who are getting ready to start an internship or apprenticeship at a recording studio.
There are three important areas to focus on: your attitude, your skills, and your gear. If you make the most of these three areas, you’ll be a golden assistant!!
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
First let’s talk about attitude. Music making, just like other forms of art I’m sure, involves many layers of ego--for better or worse. So the most important piece of your attitude to constantly check-in with is your ego. The best assistants are selfless. They are able to take their own emotions or thoughts, and push them to the side for the betterment of the session and for the artist. They are good listeners… not just in the sense that they listen like an engineer listens, but they listen for implications so they can anticipate what is needed from them and what would make the recording situation better. This intuition is something that can be practiced, but it takes a certain level of self-awareness to be able to practice it. If you’re willing to be critically self-aware, not in a self-demeaning sort of way, but in a quiet attentive way, you have the right kind of attitude to become a great assistant.
THE RIGHT SKILLS
Skills. By definition, as an assistant, you might not be as “skilled” as the engineer you work for. But, there are a few skills you should be super on top of before your first day on the job. Each of these skills should be done in a quick and quiet sort of way, which may be a skill in and of itself. At the foundation, the two skills you should feel comfortable with are cable wrapping and mic stand function. These are two expectations the engineer will have of you. Beyond that, it is helpful if you know what different kinds of microphones look like and what different types of gear look like. If you want to be a superstar assistant straight out of the gate, ask the engineer for a microphone list before you start and look up each mic that is unfamiliar to you. That way, when the engineer says, “I’d like to use the e22s” you can hand it to them quickly and without hesitation. You’ll also be able to follow input lists without having to ask questions or look anything up. Asking questions is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it is encouraged. But the timing of when you should ask such questions isn’t always obvious, and sometimes is straight up inappropriate. So be prepared to know which gear is which so you can be super helpful to the engineer without taking too much of their attention.
THE RIGHT TOOLS
Lastly, there are a few pieces of gear you should bring with you on your first day. I’ll preface this by saying you may not need each of these tools everyday, but on the day they are needed, you’ll be the one prepared and will make your engineer very proud. Here is a list of tools I recommend:
Picks with varied thicknesses
Like I said, you may not need any of these during your session. But if a microphone stand starts to droop and you need to run out in the live room during a take to fix it, you’ll be thankful you have ear plugs, a multitool, and some tape to help fix the problem. The engineer will be stoked, and you’ll be well on your way to sticking around at that studio for many records to come.