There are many different capacities in which engineers can work with musicians, and my approach is always a very personal one. Working face to face with artists and performers in a recording situation is literally my favorite thing in the world, and there is nothing I’d rather be doing at any time than helping a musician or band bring their art to fruition. This is really why I don’t work in live sound at all; I would rather work with you creatively – from pre-production straight through the mix stage – than just in the capacity of making your live mix sound good. Conceptually speaking, I believe that our goal in the studio is to create the best songs possible – regardless of the barriers to performing the songs live in a concert setting exactly as they were recorded. This is all part of the idea that as your engineer, you aren’t just paying me solely to push “record”.
Unless you specify otherwise, a major part of my job is to act as a producer for you – providing creative feedback and different solutions to aspects of song craft such as arrangements, instrumentation, phrasing, general aesthetic, performance technique, and much more. If you can afford to hire a producer who’s job is manage all parts of your album production from day one, then you are a lucky minority in this day and age! But generally speaking, independent and signed artists alike have far smaller budgets to work with than even ten or fifteen years ago, which means hiring a producer in addition to paying for studio time and an engineer is often not feasible. So I try to combine these roles as best I can, providing you with the sonic excellence and knowledge you expect from an experienced engineer filtered through a producer’s lens.
A lot of bands and artists come to me asking if I have a particular “sound” that I impart on my recordings and mixes. While I think most good engineers develop a unique style of their own, I work hard to make sure mine doesn’t get in the way of your sound as the artist. I tell people that when you record here at Studio Wormwood you’re going to sound like YOU. I’m never going to take your amp away, throw your guitar through a Kemper modeling amp and say “Here’s your new tone,” and I will almost never replace your drum shells with other engineers’ samples. I typically ask my performers things like “Does this sound like you?” and “Is this the sound in your head?” as we’re dialing in sounds, because I want to make positive that your recording is a good representation of who you are as a musician. All that being said, I believe it’s my duty to make constructive suggestions and provide alternative options during the many stages of making a recording. For instance, when first getting guitar sounds I will typically ask the player to set his rig up in the amp room exactly as they normally would, and listen to that player’s style. Based on what we hear in the room, I may want to suggest we try a few different speaker cabinets, amps, and blends of gear – all with the goals in mind of deciding on a sound that suits the style of music, will mix well with our previously recorded tracks, and will suit the player’s personal taste. Whether it’s a drummer, guitarist, or other instrumentalist, I think hearing the player do their thing in the room that we’ll be recording in is crucial to making small (or large) tweaks as we go; it gives us a good starting point to work with.
The same idea applies in a mix situation. I prefer to have the band present with me during mix sessions because at every stage of my workflow, I like to check that the direction I’m going is getting us closer to the way you as the artist has always heard the music in your head. Of course I’ll have creative ideas and suggestions along the way, but my intent is always to bring your music out in the most vibrant of sonic color while maintaining the meaning and vibe that the piece was written with.
As a guitarist (and perfectionist) myself, I know firsthand how frustrating it can be to record and mix your own music. For most of the music I write myself, I end up being responsible for almost all of the arrangements, melodies and harmonies, lyrics, and have a clear vision for the final product in addition to having to record and mix the whole thing. Even though I’ve been wearing both the engineer’s and performer’s hats for years, it doesn’t get any easier to maintain clear perspectives on both sides of the glass simultaneously. One of the most fundamental jobs I have as your engineer is to separate these parts of the recording experience for you – allowing you to focus on your art, and me to deal with how best to record and mix it.
Every studio and every engineer or producer will have a slightly different allure, and different strengths on both the personal and technical levels. If you choose to make your next recording with me at Studio Wormwood, you’re choosing to make a recording based in natural sounds with an engineer committed to making the sound in your head a reality.