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Finding Time To Experiment In The Studio

Experimenting with quirky ideas can help to create a fun and creative environment in the studio — and can sometimes provide genuinely inspirational sounds!Experimenting with quirky ideas can help to create a fun and creative environment in the studio — and can sometimes provide genuinely inspirational sounds!

On paid sessions, every engineer has to get the job done. But it’s still important to find the time to learn your tools, discover new techniques — and foster creativity.

We live in an age in which production budgets are tight and every musician who wants it has access to decent recording tools. Consequently, many studio recording sessions are a bit shorter than they once were and they can be a bit more businesslike too: more of a focus on getting work done and less time for experimentation. As an engineer and owner of a commercial studio, I feel I must be reasonably confident that we’ll end up with something good before I choose to burn an hour setting up a mic inside a piano that’s sent to a Leslie speaker! But it wasn’t always this way, and I still feel quite strongly that a recording studio must be about more than good gear, competent engineering and nice acoustics: it should also be an environment that encourages creativity.

Even with a great live room to hand, it can help to try different spaces from time to time. (Drummers get to sit on a throne, so why can’t guitarists?!)Even with a great live room to hand, it can help to try different spaces from time to time. (Drummers get to sit on a throne, so why can’t guitarists?!)In the early days of running my studio, I’d regularly experiment with unusual mic techniques. Things like recording an acoustic guitar in the toilet, or putting mics in a tube or bucket in front of a drum kit. The client would be on board with whatever crazy idea it was, and actively participate in its execution. Of course, the result would often sound awful. But it was nearly always fun and, sometimes, it injected some much‑needed energy into the session or provided that spark of inspiration we needed to push the production in an original and more interesting direction. I think it was healthy for clients and artists to see me enjoying and being creative in my work too, and I gained valuable experience of what might or might not work on future sessions. In other words, all this ‘play’ made me a better engineer!

The Play’s The Thing

Fortunately, my reviewing gear for Sound On Sound has bought me back some of that time to experiment and play in the studio. When evaluating most equipment, I’ll typically start by throwing a device in at the deep end on a real session and then, over the course of several...

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