Recording assistants can work as freelancers or full-time at a studio. The recording assistant’s specific job can vary by studio and is based on the needs of the recording engineer. Typically, this person is tasked with setting up instruments and signal inputs before each recording session, and ensuring that when the recording engineer arrives, she or he can just sit down and mix.
The first task of a recording assistant before a session starts is to set up the tracks. This person will organize each session based on the preferences of the engineer with dividers, Pro Tools options, and input samples. The recording assistant will also bounce down backgrounds or backup instruments to keep the console clean of clutter. Next he or she will strip silence the tracks to streamline the arrangement profile, clean up tracks to eliminate bleed and draw out clicks and pops. Cleaning vocals may also be required. When the assistant puts tracks on the desk (either analog or digital) he or she will assign standard locations to common elements like vocals, drums, and bass, and then fill in other elements based on the needs of the engineer. The recording assistant must ensure that all inputs are patched correctly, toned out and passing signal.
During this process it is important to maintain documentation on each piece of gear used on a mix for later recalls. Without this it is nearly impossible to recreate the circumstances of the original recording if edits or other changes need to be made in the future. After the session, the recording engineer leaves and it is the responsibility of the assistant to print each version, back up all data, and make mix books to be turned over to the client and label. When the assistant is not in a session, he or she will maintain and repair studio gear and attend to administrative tasks like shipping packages, cleaning the studio, making cables, and doing food and coffee runs.
Skills & Education
This is considered an apprenticeship position toward work as an engineer. You are not required to be an expert in studio recording, but you do need to have a firm knowledge of mixing consoles, Pro Tools, instrument set-up, patching and signal flow. A specific degree is not required, but an education in recording arts, audio production or music theory is expected. The ability to tune multiple instruments is also an invaluable asset. Most of all you need to be a quick learner, able to anticipate the needs of the engineer and be a tech wizard capable of trouble shooting any malfunction.
What to Expect
The worst mistake you can make as a recording assistant is to interject your opinion during a session. This will almost surely irritate the engineer and severely harm your chances for future employment. Almost as bad is interrupting the artist’s process—never speak unless spoken to. Best advice is to keep your mouth shut unless specifically asked a question, and even then you should choose your words carefully. Watch, listen, and learn, and try to be invisible while you’re doing it. You will have the opportunity to closely observe producers, artists, and talented engineers, so soak up all the knowledge you can and focus on building strong professional relationships. Those contacts are sure to lead to your first gig as a recording engineer if you impress the right person.
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