For most people, the first time stepping into a professional music studio is a moment nothing short of magical. And for most, it never stops feeling that way. The image of the engineer adjusting levels on the boards, audio techs setting up mics, the pressing silence of the sound baffles in the recording booths. All of it adds up to a place where the magic of music happens.
Working in or running a music studio requires in-depth knowledge of a great many things and passable knowledge of a few others. Here’s an expanded view of what you’ll find in a music studio.
A well-equipped music studio is filled with machines, some of which have an obvious purpose, and others, less so.
The producer’s booth, often referred to as the control room, will house a large central mixing console will have a large number of channels, typically at least twenty but as many as seventy, in order to effectively accommodate a number of performers and instruments simultaneously. There will also be smaller mixing consoles ranging from six to twenty channels that may be used to record instrumentation in the isolation booths.
The control room will also contain several computers, all of which will have digital audio workstations available for recording input, equalization, and mastering. Some studios utilize multiple DAWs for the separate processes of recording and mastering music and other recordable materials. The mixing consoles and computers will be accompanied by high-quality headphones to ensure quality mixing.
In the main studio, there will often be a selection of different instruments, including a piano, drum sets, and electronic keyboards. Some studios will have guitars, basses, and orchestral instruments like strings and woodwinds on offer for better quality sound in the recording. Music stands, high-quality listening headphones, electronic tethers for co-recording and listening, chairs, and stools will be found in the main studio.
A wide range of microphones will be found in the main studio and isolation booths. Condenser mics for high-quality recording, especially for voice, are part of the standard repertoire of equipment, as well as good performance studio mics. Ribbon mics, specially designed for more delicate and natural-sounding recordings in large spaces, are sometimes found in larger studios as well. Specialized instrument mics, such as mics for drumkits, can frequently be found in the main studio or in the drum isolation booth, as well as a large selection of different mic stands.
Isolation booths for specific instruments ranging from voices to drums can be found in the studio. Different isolation booths may have different buildouts of baffles, foamboards, and other sound insulating equipment to better suit specific types of sound.
A number of accessories will be found in both main studio and isolation booths, including DI boxes, high-quality studio speakers of various sizes, preamps for voices and instruments, and a large selection of cables for networking instruments into the appropriate speaker sets or recording console outputs.
Last but not least, a music studio will be replete with area rugs, sound baffles, and foam buildouts to isolate and insulate sound and ensure smooth and high-quality recording.
The Staff in a Music Studio
All kinds of different professionals work in a music studio, and only some of them are necessarily music professionals.
To start with, there’s the studio manager. The studio manager oversees the day to day operations of the studio, much as a manager might in a retail store. They oversee maintenance, payment, payroll, and oftentimes booking (although in larger studios, these may be two separate roles).
Most recording studios will have a receptionist who fields calls, emails, and directs visiting artists to their appointments for studio time. They may also administratively assist the studio manager and marketing team.
Some studios will have a maintenance professional or team who handles cleaning, minor repairs to the physical space, and weather-related maintenance like shoveling snow or putting down salt in icy weather.
Inside the studio itself, the lead record producer will be one such person most recording artists will interact with directly. The producer oversees the entire process of recording production, from raw recording to final mastering. The producer will have a broad and deep range of skills, including audio production, lyrics writing, session musician selection and booking, and collaborating with the artist to ensure the best execution of their ideas and musical vision.
The audio technician, or recording engineer, has a very specific duty, ensuring the best possible sound for the final product. The audio technician will choose and set up the appropriate equipment for the recording session, record and closely monitor sound via the mixing boards during production and maintain backup copies of each piece in multiple formats.
The mastering engineer is responsible for taking the end results of the recordings and ensuring that they are properly edited for the final export of a product, both for digital release and physical recordings. They may make multiple masters for specific formats, such as MP3, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, CD, or vinyl record exports. In addition to ensuring quality sound, they are responsible for troubleshooting problems with the final mix and remedying it to the best of their ability, sometimes with the help of assistant engineers.
Assistant engineers help recording and mastering engineers during and after the recording process. In addition, they provide administrative support in the form of physical copy and file format organization to prepare for the final mixes of various works to expedite the work of the mastering engineer upon completion of the recording.
Sound designers are often found in larger studios, and their role is to design and record a wide range of sounds for use in music and commercials from quick “spot” sounds like pops or clatter to ambient sounds like storms or background conversation.
Finally, most studios will have what’s referred to as runners, who are sometimes interns but usually newcomers to the music industry. Runners are responsible for small tasks around the studio, like helping fetch equipment, ensuring the comfort of visiting recording artists, running errands off-site, and all the other tasks that keep music professionals comfortable and working. The goal of the runner is to learn the industry and eventually work their way into a specialized position.
The Specialization in a Music Studio
Different roles in a music studio require very different types of training for various specializations. The two largest specializations in audio production are studio recording or live sound. Most recording engineers will have training in both areas, but many focus most intensively in one over the other, and many also specialize in specific genres of music or performing arts. In both specializations, much of the same equipment and skills are used, but in dramatically different ways.
The studio recording specialization requires not only in-depth knowledge of DAWs and recording software but the static adaptation of specific spaces to record high-quality sound. This comes with its own unique challenges, as few spaces, even music studios, are fully designed and optimized for recording sound. These spaces must be specially adapted to the intended purpose, and studio recording professionals must have at least passing knowledge of acoustics and spatial limitations when working to adapt spaces to various kinds of sounds.
The Artists and the Music Studio
One day in the recording studio is never like the next, which is one of the reasons music production can be such a dynamic and fascinating. The difference from one day to the next? The artists.
Music performers and composers of every genre, instrumental specialization, and background visit recording studios. These range from solo singer-songwriters producing their first demo to classical orchestras and choirs recording masses, masterworks, and symphonies. Some music halls have their own in-house music studios, specifically for the purpose of recording exceptionally large groups of musicians like symphony orchestras.
In addition to musicians, many other kinds of professionals visit recording studios. These include spoken word and poetry artists, audiobook or video game voiceover artists, and theatre performance groups. Music studios are also hired for recording commercial voiceovers and jingles.
The music profession is a tremendously varied one, and a large number of routes to enter this fascinating profession are available. Through skill acquisition, hard work, and collaborative skills, a satisfying, lucrative, and rewarding career in audio production is well within reach, one that can last for years to come.
Audio Production Program
The Audio Production and Engineering Program at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.
At the end of the audio production and engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.
Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.