You are here

36 Tips For Budding Engineers & Producers

The Cheat Sheet By Robin Freeman
Published January 2024

The Cheat Sheet

We condense nearly 50 years’ worth of producing and engineering experience into 36 indispensable tips!

When SOS asked if I might like to share my ‘cheat sheet’ more widely, I was happy to oblige. It came about thanks to my role teaching the History Of Production course at the Abbey Road Institute in Amsterdam where, as well as delivering the standard course content, I’ve always been encouraged to supply tips and anecdotes from my personal studio experience. This approach went down well with students but a few years ago one of them asked if I had “anything on paper.” As you can imagine, it’s pretty hard to distil the knowledge gained over nearly 50 years in the studio into a few short tips. But I gave it a go and handed out a sort of ‘stream‑of‑consciousness’ list of many tips to my class. It met with some very positive reactions, and I hope you find something useful here too.

1. Performance First

The artist’s performance is far more important than any technical aspect of the recording. Whether engineering or producing, it is your responsibility to create conditions in which the artist will be able give their best performance.

2. Plan & Prep

With tip 1 in mind, prepare things in advance of the session where possible. The client does not want to wait while you get your technical stuff together.

3. Do Not Bluff

If something technical is wrong then let the client know, as if you don’t it will probably come back to bite you. (Not everyone agrees with me on this one!)

4. Know Your Place

The importance of quick navigation using markers is too often overlooked.The importance of quick navigation using markers is too often overlooked.Know where you are in the song. Make use of markers or cue points, so that if someone says “let’s hear it from the second chorus” you will be there right away.

5. Set Phase To Stun

The more mics you use to record a sound source, the more likely it is that phase cancellation problems will arise. A case in point is recording a drum kit, where multiple mics will capture the same sound sources from different angles and distances (the overheads versus the close mics, for example). By adjusting the phase relationship of the various mics, you will be able to achieve a fuller and more satisfying sound. Do this by adjusting mic positions where possible. After recording, you can compensate to some extent by micro‑shifting the various drum tracks in time (zoom in on the waveforms when doing this), or using a phase alignment tool (an all‑pass filter) such as Little Labs’ IBP, which is available as a Universal Audio plug‑in.

All‑pass filters can adjust the phase of a signal without changing the frequency response.All‑pass filters can adjust the phase of a signal without changing the frequency response.

6. It’s A Pass

A ‘bracket’ EQ, with both high‑ and low‑pass filters band‑limiting a signal, can be a useful tactic — with good judgement.A ‘bracket’ EQ, with both high‑ and low‑pass filters band‑limiting a signal, can be a useful tactic — with good judgement.Do use ‘bracketing EQ’, meaning high‑ and low‑pass filters, to reduce the volume of the parts of the frequency spectrum that are not needed for the instrument in question. The bit I italicised is crucial — I didn’t say “high‑pass everything except the bass and kick,” which is a common mistake. Try fairly soft filter slopes at first, perhaps 12dB/octave, as they generally sound more musical than steep slopes. Or try using gentle shelving EQ instead.

7. A Place For Everything

When mixing (and writing/arranging) try to ensure that each instrument has its own space in the audio frequency spectrum. Panning similar sounds away from each other may seem like it fixes a masking problem, but if you get it right in mono using EQ, the stereo mix will be fine too and you will be in better shape. It took me many years to learn this lesson.

8. Beware Treble Boosts

Don’t use equalisation to boost treble on everything. If you want the song to sound brighter, try using a bright instrument.

9. EQ In Context

Try not to adjust EQs when in solo mode, because if a sound is unpleasant in isolation but great in the mix, that’s fine. The sound in context (the whole mix) is what counts.

10. Near & Far

Sounds with more reverb and less high‑frequency content will appear to be further away. Dryer and brighter brings a sound to the foreground.

11. Where’s The...

You are reading one of the locked Subscribers-only articles from our latest 5 issues.

You've read 30% of this article for free, so to continue reading...

  • ✅ Log in - if you have a Subscription you bought from SOS.
  • Buy & Download this Single Article in PDF format £1.00 GBP$1.49 USD
    For less than the price of a coffee, buy now and immediately download to your computer or smartphone.
  • Buy & Download the FULL ISSUE PDF
    Our 'full SOS magazine' for smartphone/tablet/computer. More info...
  • Buy a DIGITAL subscription (or Print + Digital)
    Instantly unlock ALL premium web articles! Visit our ShopStore.

Claim your FREE 170-page digital publication
from the makers of Sound On SoundCLICK HERE