I have watched numerous recording engineers at work over the last few days along with a few producer/engineers. I sit in the back of the control room and observe everything that goes on. There is the technical side of the recording process which involves all of the electronic manipulations that the engineer does to the signal and waveform and they are many. I think there is an electronic something for everything in the music process. At least, that is how it appears to an uninformed on looker. There is also a psychological component between the producer and the artist.
Producer / Technician
The engineer can manipulate many variables at the console. One very valuable feature is the ability to play back all recorded information immediately with the push of a button. The ability to hear recorded information immediately at the touch of a button furthers the creative process with its immediate playback capabilities. The engineer can also narrow the focus of playback information down to one note if desired. He or she can also cut and paste various parts of the audio track into different parts of another audio track. An engineer can take a part from one take that everyone liked and cut and paste that part exactly in the place needed in another track. The engineer can look at tempo, pace, and add or subtract from this process as needed.The console can do many things to the signal produced by the equipment. The console can not assist the engineer with the musician as a human being. This must be accomplished person to person.
Producer / Psychologist
The relationship of the producer/engineer to the musician is a study in social psychology. The interpersonal dynamics of this relationship must be elevated to a much higher standard than normal day to day social interaction. There is something very personal about this dynamic. It is a dynamic of trust and discipline. The musician plays their music and uses their instrument and the engineer takes this information and tries to maintain the emotion into and through the song in a way and manner that translate to music in the final mix. The artist wants to give everything to the performance and the engineer must be able to extract this emotion from the artist and then translate this into the console with all its digital ones and zeros. This process is similar to the process involved in psychological therapy sessions.
Artist / Producer
The artist wants to give the performance all they can and most have some idea or preconceived idea of what that performance entails and what they want the final take to sound like. It is their self concept of how it should sound and what type and how much emotion they should interject. It is very personal and heartfelt because of the meaning it personally has for the artist. The producer/engineer may have another idea of how the song should be arranged and portrayed. The recording process is this give and take between both of these paradigms. It is not ones and zeros. It is very human with all the social complexities involved with human interaction.
Producer / Singer
The producer/engineer must lead the artist to portray their real emotions through the song. This process must be done carefully and slowly. A song to a singer is that singer’s personality in words. The producer must know where and what direction the vocals need to go even if the singer does not. The producer must work within the personality of the singer and be aware of their emotions and feelings in order to get the most out of the performance. The engineer must offer critique without criticism. The producer must be methodical and preserver with the artist until the best of the artist is achieved. When it arrives, both will know, but the engineer must know first because it is this knowledge and foresight that drives the process.
Multiple takes can be emotionally draining for both the engineer and the artist. The constant repetition of hearing everything over and over again can be mind numbing. The musician needs to feel the direction the vocals need to go and the engineer needs to guide the singer down the road. If the singer thinks everything is fine but the engineer thinks it can be better, an impasse is reached. This impasse and how it is handled by the engineer is critical. Sometimes it is better to take a break and remove everyone from the process for a moment. Sometimes it is not. It is the skill set of the engineer that now must be used. Communication must be established to encourage forward movement with the music without any hint of pressure from the control room.
If the vocalist is staining to achieve a certain sound quality the engineer desires, that stress will translate into the recording. Maybe this stress level can be used to obtain the desired result and the additional stress will motivate the singer to reach a higher level with their music. Maybe not. The stress level could become too high and productivity is effected. It is a delicate balancing act between personal psychology and business results. The engineer must know when to let the stress level remain or when to reduce the stress level by using a distraction such as taking a break or trying something completely different and then later returning to the issue at hand. I have also seen engineers go over parts that the vocalist has already “nailed” to assist with confidence.
If the engineer is also a musician, additional confidence is inspired in the singer. Musicians can relate to each other on the same level and communication is facilitated by this common language and understanding. If we are recording vocalist and the engineer are both singers then guidance and direction can be dealt out in a common language that leads to easier communication and understanding. If the engineer is a more accomplished vocalist than the artist who is recording, respect can be a very powerful tool to lead and guide the artist to find and portray there best efforts. It is a delicate balancing act of psychologically pushing and pulling on the art form to reach a thoughtful goal for both the musician and the producer.