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May 15, 2018

Ask The Pros: What Is Easier/Harder Now?


It’s no secret that becoming a master of engineering, mixing, and mastering is a lifelong pursuit. As any veteran of the audio industry will tell you, you never stop learning.

You may have heard the expression from Malcolm Gladwell that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field. However, there are always new trends and technology as well as your own evolving personal taste to adapt to.

In this edition of “Ask The Mentors”, we asked the question: "As your career has progressed as an engineer, what has gotten easier? What has gotten harder?"

Special thanks to John Paterno for coming up with this month’s question.

Here is what they had to say:

As the years passed, it got easier to make artists trust the choices I make for them when things get tentative/fuzzy/insecure/tense/drama-prone or endlessly revised.

It got harder to suffer through records I did not really like. So my luxury in life became that I stopped doing those as a matter of principle, regardless of financial constraints.

Tracking is easier for me. I am really confident about my abilities as a tracking engineer. I feel very efficient when making decisions about the recording and what is being captured on the spot. Honestly this comes from years of working in great studios with really good musicians all the time. I am very lucky and blessed to have this experience. I am more aware of working in a room where sounds don’t come as easy that I might have to work really hard to achieve something just “OK”.

Hmm, that's a good one! Almost everything gets easier over time, if we were to look at the day on balance. Communication with clients is easier, including reading people and avoiding problems before they arise, managing my occasional mistakes, or client insecurities that come up. Trust from clients is up every year, meaning more eager and optimistic clients and seldom needing to convince people to hire my work, as it was in the beginning. The efficiency of my work product is up over time, the quality of the work is still very slowly going up (I would like to think). Confidence and ease with the options at hand while working is up. Satisfaction is up, appreciation from the outside is up. Income up. The signal path is still up in tiny increments when every few years I tweak a pre amp or DA. Troubleshooting equipment issues is easier.

The hardest part for me is having patience, as I think fast and only like to do things the best possible way. So dealing with some people can be hard, who are either too cheap or poorly organized in their thought process, to keep the momentum moving. They are unintentionally disrespectful in their fear, and slowing the momentum that would ultimately serve them and their music best. Luckily I don't deal with too much of that anymore, so as my patience went down it was in line with a reduction of instances where it was truly needed.

Not better or worse, yet an ongoing challenge to manage as the years fly by is bringing the full energy and care to each project that was automatic when starting out. It's a personal requirement I've always made, no singles or records phoned in. When I was younger each moment of addressing music was everything to me, and very easily. Today each moment is still everything, yet it means intentional attention. Every day is the same day, both new and familiar. From my chair every mix and every record lacks something that makes me inspired to work. That's why I have value, because of that perspective. Yet there are so many patterns that I hear in production, that staying in the moment is the daily challenge. Does it get harder over time, or easier? Neither one, but it's always there. To be fully present is essential.

Easier: As I keep doing this, I find that I have more paths/methods to get from what I hear in my head to what is coming out of the speakers. I also am better at switching from ‘leaf’ view to 'forest’ view. In addition, it seems like I get better results by doing less, most of the time.

Harder: Remembering that the client probably has been involved with several hundred less songs than I have, and I need to be more patient at times - and more firm at other times - so they are excited about their project in the end . And on the technical side, keeping up with the DAWs and plugins that are constantly evolving!