Top 10 Skills All Audio Engineer Students Need!
Labeling and Organization
Take Notes, Take Notes, Take Notes! As an assistant, the lead engineer is going to depend on you to take notes of settings and organization of the session. Most things have full recall now, but there are still some parts of a session that may not (like patchbays, and vintage gear) so you should be the one to take detailed notes of where things are so that you can easily recreate the session when the need arrives.
Setting Key Commands & Developing Templates
This is not something you MUST have, but from experience it helps a lot. Take with you a set a key commands for all the DAWs that you work in and know them well. Speed is one of the things I noticed matters a lot in sessions that I’ve worked in, so starting with Great, well organized templates as well as uploading a set of key commands so that you feel at home in the session is crucial to making a great impression when you do finally get to run the Pro Tools/Logic rig or actually run a session. Essentially, quickness and accuracy is a highly valued combination.
Know How to Protect the Gear
Be sure to know how to keep your gear safe. Be familiar with impedance matching. Keep drinks and food away from integral gear, and of course you want to watch sensitive gear like tube driven mics, (often there is a "warm up period" before they are ready) ribbon driven tweeters, or amplifier and monitor relationships etc.
Mic A Variety of Different Sources With W/ Mic Techniques
Know the difference between dynamic, condenser, tube and ribbon mics, and what they are commonly used for. This doesn’t mean you can’t break rules, “There are no real rules” per se, but there are things that work and don’t i.e. most ribbon mics can’t handle high SPLs and Dynamic mics can etc. Certain mics handle certain instruments better than others, I’m sure you won’t forget much of this because usually these are some of the first things that you’ll learn in training, but it deserves a mention here. Oh! It always helps to know your Blumlein from your XY too!
How to Gain Stage
In this digital age gain staging is not as huge an issue as it once was with purely analog recording, but you still need this skill, especially when digital clipping is so unattractive to the ear. With analog recording you have a little more room to work, because often overages are pleasingly harmonic (ironically this is often where S/N ratios are most important). Knowing how to feed your pre-amps and your recording mechanisms with sufficient S/N ratio is something you want to be sure to understand, but note in most recordings these days S/N ratios (even in budget gear) is sufficient enough where you don't have to constantly worry about recording "hot". Working with analog outboard gear (where noise is often added in today's recording) is where this skill comes in handy most.
How to Set Up and Tear Down A Session
Assistants and interns are usually the first people in the room for a session so you want to always remember how to setup a session, how to get signal from your mics to your board/DAW, and how to make sure all of your equipment is patched in to your session engineer’s specifications. In turn, you also want to know how to break down a session by yourself, roll cables, put up the mics correctly, and turn down your monitors before you turn off your amps so you don’t blowout all or a portion of your monitors.
How to Roll Mic Cables Properly
As an intern or assistant one of your main duties will be session clean up as stated before, so you want to be sure to remember how to properly roll cables to prevent tangling, and unnecessary wear. The Studio Gods will thank you!
Take Every Menial Task Seriously
Be sure to take advantage of those menial tasks and take them seriously. You have to look at sweeping up and running the patch bay or even getting coffee or lunch as opportunities to prove your trustworthiness and your dependability. It’s even an opportunity to prove your attention to detail.
Trouble Shooting & Signal Flow
Murphy's Law, right? Yes! There will always be problems, so a way to be a big part of a session is to be logical and efficient while troubleshooting. Knowing how to trace your signal, and find where the problems are occurring is an often overlooked skill, but a vital one. If you aren’t getting signal from the guitar cab in the overdub booth you need to know how to trace your signal flow, and determine if the patching is wrong, if the cables are shorted or if you are bringing in the right channels. Etc.
Be A Sponge!
If you are new to engineering, you will always be in favor with your lead engineer if you are an autodidact, if you don’t ask the same questions twice and if you are constantly inquisitive. Ask questions, but know the right times to do so and take notes galore!
**If you know any more skills Audio Engineering students must have, catch us in the forum and let’s discuss!**
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