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8 personality traits of a great audio engineer

8 personality traits of a great audio engineer

8 personality traits of a great audio engineerThis job can be challenging. It can make you want to curl up and cry yourself to sleep, but it can also lead to some of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences you’ll ever have. Regardless of which one of those things you’re currently going through, having these eight personality traits will make your job easier and are traits every great engineer has.

Patient

Working with people is hard, but collaborating with someone on something creative and personal is harder. Collaboration is a balancing act; it requires a delicate dance. A ballet is happening between the artist and the engineer. When you see a producer who knows what he’s doing, it’s remarkable how well they control the session. As an engineer or producer, you’re not always going to love what the client has to say, but it’s how you react and manipulate the situation so everyone is happy and the product ends up the way you promised that makes you a great engineer.

Well organized

Be on time, have everything set up, and make sure the studio is clean. All sessions should be edited, labeled, and backed up multiple times. It’s the engineer’s job to make sure the session is running smoothly, and the more organized you are, the smoother things will be. Recording multiple songs requires a lot of time management. You need to be able to make sure you have enough time to finish the project on schedule. If you are consistently not completing projects on time and clients need to pay more than what you initially quoted them, they will not be happy and will be less likely to come back for future projects.

Positive

Negativity is the single most morale draining characteristic when in the studio. There is nothing that can bring down the energy of a session more than negativity. “That sucks,” “that sounds bad,” “that’s a stupid idea”…… Leave all of these thoughts at the door. This attitude will only make a bad situation worse and a good situation bad.

Humble

Trust me you don’t know everything and probably never will. There is always room to grow and always room to learn. The best engineers are incredibly humble and always learning and looking for new ways to improve their skills– that’s how they got to be so good. There was never a point in their career where they stopped and said, okay, I’m good enough I don’t need to read or practice or experiment anymore.

Perceptive

Be aware of your surroundings. If a client isn’t enjoying themself or doesn’t like the sound of something, or is getting frustrated with a part, they’re not always going to tell you. Pay attention to how everyone around is acting and make sure you give them an environment that allows them to best do their work and be creative.

Eagerness to learn

In this rapidly changing industry, technology moves quickly, and if you don’t stay ahead of the curve, you’ll undoubtedly be left behind. Keep up with the news and the industry. Stay informed on what products are being released, demo them, and stay relevant.

The engineers that decided to learn Pro Tools before it was Pro Tools were the ones that had a head start and were able to land more work.

Diligent

Be attentive. Be persistent. Do your job with care. If I tell an intern to patch two 1176s to channels 19-20, then I expect them to make sure that they’re patching them correctly. If you’re asked to do something, take an extra few seconds to double check your work. Making mistakes is okay and will happen, but there is no excuse for being lazy and not paying attention to detail.

Reliable

Show up and finish projects on time, give accurate time frames for how long things will take, and answer emails, text messages, and phone calls in a reasonable amount of time. Being a reliable person shows that you care. It shows that you take pride in your work and are dependable, which is very important when clients trust you to see their project through and make their vision come to life.

Related articles:
What are the different types of compressors?
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon
Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
[Even more] Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering

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Setting yourself apart: recording unique sounds

Recording Unique Sounds

It seems the older you are in the recording industry, the more credibility you have, and for a good reason. An engineer who has been working since the 80s has seen the transition from tape machines to Napster and the first two channel interface in just a couple years. If someone has been working that long and been able to stay relevant, it’s a huge accomplishment in an industry that’s known to chew you up and spit out without any remorse.

As I mentioned in “[More] Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering,” there used to be a mentality in the audio industry that trade secrets were just that, secrets. Only the select few included in the inner circle would get to learn them. It wasn’t until the internet that people started to realize giving away these secrets was an excellent way to pad their pockets with a little extra spending money.

What I’ve learned from the older generation of engineers, that I see younger engineers sometimes lack, is going out of their way to be unique and original. In a world where everyone can have the same plugin, it’s uniqueness that will set your sounds and productions apart from the rest of the engineers using the same cracked version of RCompressor as you. I’m not saying you have to be Sylvia Massey and record drums through a garden hose (you’d be cooler if you did though). But, if you can use a weird guitar pedal as an insert or record vocals through a cassette player, then you’ll at least be able to include a sonic footprint that is uniquely your own. Not many people have that weird guitar pedal, and I doubt anyone is using the same cassette deck to saturate a vocal track.

Sylvia Massey’s special drum hose mic technique in action

The convenience of digital recording is the reason many of us are even making and recording music today. Computers have made the barrier to entry for musicians to record themselves almost nonexistent while the internet has made it easy to find information that was once only found under lock and key in the major studios of New York and LA.

But the problem with digital and the abundance of information is that it’s almost too convenient. Everyone wants to know how so and so got that sound? What guitar did they use? What microphone? Creativity thrives due to necessity, and it can’t flourish when everything is easy. You can’t be a revolutionary using a tool that everyone else uses trying to get the same tones that everyone else has. Can you imagine what Sgt. Peppers would sound like if they had Pro Tools in 1967?

Instead of being able to go to a plugin preset, George Martin, Geoff Emerick, and the rest of the crew at Abbey Road had to make everything on their own. Effects, tape loops, and any processing was all carefully thought out and made in house; but you don’t need a crew of electrical engineers to be original. Experiment with unusual mic placements, use real hallways and bathrooms for reverb. Think outside the box. All of these things will set your recordings apart from Johnny “Audio” down the street.

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What the f*ck is 32 bit floating?

What is 32 bit floating?

I, like, I’m assuming a portion of the people reading this have heard of 32 bit floating but are still unsure about exactly what it is. What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages? When I asked a friend of mine, who is also an experienced engineer about 32 bit floating point, he told me he didn’t know and had never used it.

After having this discussion and then immediately seeing this tweet from accomplished Brooklyn based producer Andrew Maury, I knew I had to finally figure out what the hell it was and if I should be using it.

So, what is 32 bit floating?

The Wikipedia article tells us it’s,

A computer number format that occupies 4 bytes (32 bits) in computer memory and represents a wide dynamic range of values by using a floating point. In IEEE 754-2008 the 32-bit base-2 format is officially referred to as binary32. It was called single in IEEE 754-1985. In older computers, different floating-point formats of 4 bytes were used, e.g., GW-BASIC’s single-precision data type was the 32-bit MBF floating-point format.

Alright, well, that about wraps it up… That was almost too easy. Ha. Ha.

Let’s start with the definition of bit depth because I know that one, and it’s not too difficult to understand. Bit depth is what decides the dynamic range of an audio file.

So 32 bit floating means more dynamic range, right? Not exactly.

So is 32 bit floating better? Higher bitrate means it’s better, right? Sort of.

So it turns out the reason no one knows what 32 bit floating is… is because it’s kind of pointless for most engineers even to bother worrying about it.

A video on the Reaper blog is one of the only sources I found that explained 32 bit floating in a practical way. This explanation is easy for a person that doesn’t like spending his time thinking about digital signal processing anymore than he has to.

So… 32 bit floating is a 24 bit recording with 8 extra bits for volume. Basically, if the audio is rendered within the computer, then 32 bit floating gives you more headroom. Within the computer means things like AudioSuite effects in Pro Tools and printing tracks internally. So say you decide to print a compressor, and the output level is peaking badly… If you are using 32 bit floating, you can bring the level down and restore the headroom so the file won’t be distorted. If you were recording to a tape machine, this wouldn’t be impossible. You can’t just record a bass that’s clipping and restore the headroom afterward. The benefit of 32 bit floating is when processing internally, BUT the downside is the files it creates are 50% larger than standard 24 bit audio files.

Most experienced engineers don’t need to worry about headroom as they probably already know how to make sure levels are never clipping when they aren‘t supposed to be. This article from ask.audio says 32 bit floating will also help reduce unnecessary noise introduced by AudioSuite dithering and rounding errors during signal processing in Pro Tools.

Maybe I’ll write an article in the future where I run some tests to see if there is a noticeable difference between AudioSuite effects processed with 24 bit and ones processed with 32 bit floating.

Update: Most DAWs process in 32 bit floating therefore, if you are processing any audio, it is converted to 32 bit to be processed and then converted back to 24 bit. If conditions permit, it is best to work in 32 bit floating all the way through until mastering to avoid any unnecessary conversion artifacts. Once the project is mastered, you can have the mastering engineer convert the final audio file to whatever sample and bitrate you need.