Contributor: Cliff Goldmacher, Owner/Founder of Nashville Studio Live
How to Stay Cool, Calm and Consistent
As a producer and engineer for the past twenty years, I’ve had the pleasure of being able to travel to various cities and studios for my work. Along with this privilege, however, comes a particular set of challenges, including: how to prep for working in a studio different from my primary one, keeping track of my sessions so I’m always working on the most current and, finally, achieving consistent mixes despite different control rooms and studio set ups. I’m going to list a few of the things that I’ve found to be the most useful and, hopefully, some of them will be useful for you as well.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the key to smooth sessions in various locations depends upon good preparation. As a matter of course, I keep a running checklist prior to each trip with reminders of the essentials I’ll need for each studio.
As a longtime DAW (digital audio workstation) user, two essential pieces that I’m never without are my laptop (with my recording software and all my authorized plug-ins on it) and a bus-powered hard drive that serves as both my travel/transfer drive and my backup drive. It’s a great way to make sure I’ve got my current studio sessions with me at all times. Also, as a secondary – I’m all about redundancy – form of backup, I use an online service called Gobbler which makes a copy of the session I’m keeping on my travel hard drive and saves it in the cloud. This may sound like overkill but I’m a big believer in the expression that “if it doesn’t exist in two places, it doesn’t exist.”
2. Staying Current
The key to working in multiple locations is the ability to build on and refine your mixes as you travel. These days, it’s not unusual at all to start a project in one location and overdub additional parts in a second location and mix in, yet, a third. This only works if you’re able to keep track of what version of your song is the most current.
A product like Gobbler also provides a secondary and very valuable function. Along with backing up my sessions to the cloud, it is constantly scanning my travel drive and updating the cloud version so that my current session (once it’s on the travel drive) is always backed up in a remote location. In other words, I’ll work on a main “working drive” in whatever studio I’m in but then back up the session to my travel/backup drive (the one I brought with me), which, in turn, is then backed up automatically to the cloud via Gobbler. It’s a great way to make sure I’m current and that I’m backed up in case the unthinkable (i.e. lighting strikes, fires, power surges, I can go on…) happens.
By the way, it never hurts to take a good, long look at the date on your session files before you begin recording or mixing to make absolutely certain you’re working on the latest version of your song.
3. Keeping Your Mixes Consistent
Finally, when it comes to the actual work, I’ve developed a few road-tested tricks that I rely on to make sure that my mixes are consistent across multiple studios.
The first of these is to always have a reference recording or two with me. By “reference recording,” I simply mean a recording I know backwards and forwards, sonically speaking. That way, I’m able to tell by observing the changes in a familiar piece of audio whether the current studio space I’m working in is a bit more mid-range heavy, for example, compared to my primary studio space. Another method I use is listening to my mixes on a variety of speakers from what I assume will be at least a fairly decent set in the studio to car speakers or even cheap earbuds and laptop speakers. Yes, your mix should STILL sound clear and balanced on those inexpensive earbuds and tiny laptop speakers.
But, recently, my favorite way to check the consistency of my mixes is by using high-end earphones like Shure’s SE846s. First and foremost, they take the room that I’m in entirely out of the equation. By sealing the ear canal and only allowing the audio from the mix in, I can be certain that what I’m hearing isn’t being colored by whatever space I’m in. This is a perfect way to have the same reference no matter where I’m working, from the best acoustically treated rooms to – heaven help me, it’s true – even a shuttle bus or airport lounge. Until relatively recently, many high-end earphones did a decent job with the mids and highs but lacked presence and definition in the low end. With my current SE846 earphones, this is no longer the case. They cover the entire spectrum beautifully and allow me the luxury of a baseline perspective on my mixes no matter where I am.
Being fortunate enough to have work opportunities in multiple cities and studios doesn’t come without responsibilities. If recording and mixing remotely is a goal of yours, the more you can do to stay prepared, current, backed up and consistent in your recordings, the greater the likelihood that you’ll enjoy your work and develop a solid reputation which, in time, can turn into a great career.
Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s company, Nashville Studio Live provides clients outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and vocalists for their recording projects.
Download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos”.