When you’re listening to your favourite band you rarely think about the people who helped put it together, but a sound engineer is pretty important. We chatted to Robbie Nelson, a sound engineer with RAK Studios, about what he does each day, what you need to be one and the best bits of his job.
Completely different most days. One day you could be recording a choir, the next a heavy rock band, the next a singer/songwriter. The hours are long and sometimes tedious; spending 6 hours tuning a vocal or trying to put some dodgy drums in time is not that much fun. But on the flip side I still wake up and can’t wait to get to work most days.
Like most of us these days I did a short course to get the basics and see if it was what I wanted to do, and then typically you start at the bottom making tea. When I got my first job I think I was on £50 a week working 16 hour days, 6 days a week, for the first 6 months. The money gets a bit better but the hours don’t.
Don’t do it if you want to make money as you probably won’t – it really is a vocation and not a career. You can do a lot and learn a lot at home these days. With a small amount of money you can have a good computer studio and learn the basics. Then you should try and get a foot in the door at any studios you can by offering to make tea or bump gear and just sit at the back and absorb everything.
Patience - lots of it - and perseverance. You’ll spend half your life waiting for people and you need to be ready to spring into action at any moment. Learning to read people is great asset too; catching half a conversation between the producer and artist about wanting to do piano next and then quietly setting that up so that it’s ready to go, that type of thing.
For me the best part is often recording a great drummer. These days the drums are the only time you get to really experiment and have fun finding sounds and strange mic’ing techniques. And there’s nothing quite like the feeling you get standing in a room full of strings really going for it.
Either finally getting my first no.1 album with John Newman last year or getting to record some of Beck’s latest album. He’s someone I’ve grown up listening to and have admired for a long time.
Well they’re pretty much all dead now, but people like Harry Nillson, Elliott Smith or Sparklehorse. Artists who have interesting sounds and voices. Generally the slightly off kilter nutty ones.
Get us much experience as you can! Record friends, help out for free in small studios and realise that you will always start at the bottom no matter how much you think you know.
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