#PeopleStories: Insider Sneak Peek of Audio Engineering
After high school, I questioned myself: What did I want to do for the rest of my life? That is potentially a very long time and I better damn well enjoy doing it. After three months of cajoling my parents, I wrestled an enrollment into SAE Malaysia. I was going to be an audio engineer. It was the closest realistic career option to being a rock star.
Thursday, 28 May 2015
9:00 I wake up and immediately hit the snooze button.
10:00 The alarm finally gets the better of me and I drag myself out of bed.
10:30 I am sitting in the studio pantry and the coffee is still not kicking in. Clearly, I’m not a morning person.
10:35 My 11.00 am client arrives early. Tardiness is annoying, but so is being overzealously early. Well, good morning Thursday!
10.45 After some small talk in the control room, we get to work. Today’s client is from a video production studio and they are here to record the audio track for a ‘safety at work’ public service announcement video. The talent hasn’t arrived, so we go through the script and the client tells me his expectations.
Lesson #1: Being an audio engineer is not all about making music. It is also about audio, and that includes doing voice overs (VO) and commercial works.
11:00 The talent is here. He checks the script, takes some notes and proceeds to the recording room. I make sure he is comfortable with the headphone levels and after a few test lines, we start recording line by line. I make notes of good and bad takes.
11:30 We are done recording. The client writes a cheque to the talent and he takes his leave. We now start editing the tracks, picking out the best takes, removing any unwanted noise and artifact from the recording as well as sweetening everything up with equalizers (EQ) and compression.
Lesson #2: Know your terms! What exactly does EQ do, and what does it even mean to compress a track?
12:00 Job done and audio export finished. The client and I bid our goodbyes, and I head out to the mamak for lunch. My teh o’ ais is ready (I think I spend too much time here!).
13:00 Back to the studio. It is time to catch up on some paper works: send out the invoice from this morning, check up on past invoices, reply emails, and follow up on upcoming bookings.
Lesson #3: As a studio owner, you cannot run away from administrative work and business meetings.
14:00 My next booking, Shaneil Devaser and band, is here. We are currently working on their sophomore album and all the tracking has been done, but I am not happy with the lead vocals on one song. We listen to it again, and I voice out that the vocals can sound a little more upfront and intimate. I want the listener to feel like Shaneil was singing right in front of them.
We try again and are done in two takes and proceed to mix-down. I start by getting the drums nice, tight and punchy, and slowly introducing other elements to the song. Shaneil tells me that he wants the vocals to sound like it’s underwater, the guitars to sound as if it’s played on the moon, and the drums like giant bubbles popping.
Lesson #4: Understanding your client’s psyche is an important part of the job. It is my responsibility to understand where the client is coming from and what exactly they want to see in their recordings.
17:00 We decide to call it a day on the mix, but it’s by no means finished. We will be back at it, a day or two later. This will be a back-and-forth process till the mix is perfect, and this routine is repeated for every song. We head to the sundry shop to get coffee. They’re out of my usual brand because I had single handedly exhausted their supply, so I settle for a different brand.
18:00 I look at my to-do list. My ears are quite fatigued and I won’t be very productive in making critical mix decisions, so I open a project that needs some vocal pitch corrections. I use Autotune as it allows precise control over vocal and instrument pitch modulations. My approach to vocal recording is to capture the singer’s emotion the best I can. Although I can correct minor pitch imperfections, I cannot inject emotion into a sterile take although it is pitch-perfect.
19:00 Armon, an artist signed to Pulse Soundworks, arrives at the studio. He is rehearsing with his band later tonight but we are reviewing some work beforehand. I call up the project on my workstation, we make some tweaks, and I export the audio for further referencing.
20:00 The rest of Armon’s band arrives for rehearsal. I help them get the equipment set up and head out for dinner (at the same mamak). 21:00 The band is still rehearsing, so I catch up on Diablo 3.
22:00 As Armon’s band wraps up, another client arrives, bringing with him tracks recorded elsewhere. We listen to it together. The drums sounded great but everything else had to go. I do some quick edits on the drums to get the timings right, and we decide to record the parts for the bass guitar again.
23:30 We are done recording and I call it a night. I lock up the office and control room, and head to my room (yes, I live in the studio).
1:00 I am tired but not sleepy so I pick up my guitar and start noodling around until I hear something I like. I record the tune on my phone to work on later.
Lesson #5: A lot of song ideas start this way, and most end up being actual finished pieces.
2:00 Still can’t sleep! Back to the guitar, I play one of Armon’s songs from earlier today. Then it happens; that magical moment – I know exactly what the song needs! I rush to the control room, power everything up to start recording right away (this is why I live in my studio).
3:00 Feeling accomplished, I power down and get back to bed. I’m exhausted, but still excited about the new keyboard parts I just recorded. I pick up a book to read.
3:30 Still awake! I thought reading is supposed to help you fal.. zzzz..